The story of Shotokan Karate begins begins in Okinawa on November 10, 1868 with the birth of a son to Gisu Funakoshi and his wife. A small and rather frail child, Gichin had hoped to become a doctor, but settled for a career as a schoolteacher which, although a poorly paid position, brought him a certain amount of social status and respect. This decision would prove crucial when he introduced Okinawan karate into mainland Japan through famous universities such as Keio, Wasea, and Tokyo.
Taking up karate in order to improve his frequent health problems, Funakoshi (center in highschool tunic) became a student of both Ankoh Itoso and Ankoh Azato. Okinawans considered them paragons of the unarmed fighting arts or “ti,” and referred to them as “Bushi,” the Okinawan equivalent of Samurai. What he learned from these classical Shuri Ryu karate masters would become the foundation of both Shotokan as we know it today, and many modern derivatives.
Crown Prince Hirohito stopped in Okinawa at the beginning of his extended tour of Europe in 1921, perhaps because the captain of his ship, Kenwa Kanna, was a famous Okinawan. Gichin Funakoshi and a select group of karateka showed “Ryukyu Karate” before the Prince in front of the Seiden (Great Hall), of Shuri Castle (right) on March 6th of that year. Because of this, they invited Funakoshi to show karate in Tokyo where his exhibition before Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo, made him an instant celebrity. His success prompted him to stay and promote Okinawan Karate in Japan.
Funakoshi’s success generated tremendous support from the most famous martial artists of the period including, Hakudo Nakayama, Yasuhiro Konishi, and Morihei Ueshiba. While living in a hostel for Okinawan students in Tokyo’s Koshikawa district, called the Meishojuku, he worked as the janitor, delivered mail and so forth to offset his rent, and this allowed him to open a small karate dojo in the hostel. His modest dojo was a landmark in the development of karate in Japan, and its students would become the pioneers of Shotokan throughout country, and later the world.
One of the most energetic members of the Meishojuku was Yasuhiro Konishi, a graduate of the very prestigious Keio University and also its kendo teacher. With Konishi’s help, and that of his famous martial arts friends and acquaintances, the first university karate club in Tokyo was opened. The first dan grades were awarded to students of Gichin Funakoshi on April 12, 1924. Yasuhiro Konishi should be considered the Father of karate in Japan as he also supported and promoted, Choki Motobu Sensei other Okinawan teachers.
Konishi’s energy, to say nothing of his generosity, allowed other Okinawan karate teachers to establish themselves in mainland Japan. Soon many more of the most prestigious universities had organised karate clubs, and Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Kanbun Uechi and other karate masters began actively promoting Okinawan karate in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and elsewhere.
The US Military Staff who occupied Japan after WWII soon realized the value of Japanese self-defence methods. They reasoned that, if Strategic Air Command aircrew were brought down over hostile territory, strong defensive skills would would give them a practical and psychological advantage over the enemy. Classes were quickly organised that brought together the top Japanese Judo, Aikido, police tactics, and karate instructors to train SAC instructors. Funakoshi, Obata, Nakayama and Nishiyama represented the JKA.
After WWII, Karate training started again around 1947. However, although the various Shotokan groups could not get on, Funakoshi taught them all. After his death in 1957, his funeral ceremony was marred by a loud dispute who his legitimate heirs were, the students who had trained with him since the 1920s, or the younger ones who had trained with him for only a short period, or not at all. The former wanted to preserve karate as the “art of virtuous men,” while the latter had sporting aspirations. The Shotokai, JKA, and other groups would have little contact from that point onwards.
The Japan Karate Association grew out of the Takushoku University Karate Club. Its strong reputation was developed by the young instructors it sent overseas to promote what was in the early days, an offshoot of Funakoshi’s teachings.. Kanazawa, Enoeda, Okazaki, Shirai and others taught a more sport orientated style of karate that was dynamic and appealed to young men. Their efforts created the largest single style karate organization in the world based at the JKA Honbu Dojo in Tokyo.
This book should be included in the library of every serious martial artist, not just Shotokan practitioners, for understanding the whole picture is the best way to gain insight into one’s own style and thereby further personal development
This is not merely a dry organizational History. Numerous stories concerning the more famous karate-ka and extensive quotations illustrate and give vibrant life to the historical narrative.
“Shotokan Karate,” is a valuable addition to my personal library and a great resource for anyone who wants an accurate and documented account of traditional karate do, from hitherto mysterious beginnings to the here and now!
“In the last few years, a small number of extremely good books have been published on the Japanese/Okinawan martial arts, books which have made important contributions to our understanding of these martial arts. Shotokan Karate: A Precise History is the most recent addition to this select list. This book is one of the two or three finest historical treatments given to any martial art, and it is not merely a first class reference work, it is also a grand read. For once, the cliche is true. It does belong on the shelf of every serious karateka and martial artist.” Journal of Asian Martial Arts.
Printed on 100 GSM Pavarotti Silk coated European paper by a famous English Press that was founded in 1746 and has been in business continuously ever since.
Gathered into 16 page signatures then French sewn, the linen covered hard cover with top and tail bands is blocked in gold characters before being “pulled on.”
Old World Finish
Printed endpapers of a complete kata sequence performed by Choshin Chibana Sensei and the addition of a laminated full color cover show this volume's European pedigree
This book mets an important need. In the past, much that was published on Shotokan was written from the heart rather than the head. Authors of popular material did little research, and almost everything that appeared in print was derivative: new generations of authors repeating and embellishing the tales woven by their predecessors. Until now, factual material was rare and reliable sources rarer. Wild claims were made, absurd statements published, and ludicrous positions adopted by otherwise rational individuals.
For some Shotokan became a cult with Gichin Funakoshi as its principal deity He was, we were told, the true and only source of knowledge, the greatest karate master who ever lived, the originator of a style so perfect it would never change, yet we continue to find clear evidence in Funakoshi sensei’s own words to refute this.
Within the 500 plus (A4 paper size 12” x 8” shipping weight 5 lb.) pages of this enormous, heirloom quality volume, you will find a story more fascinating that anything dreamed up by folklorists and storytellers of the past. The true roots of Shotokan, the achievements of its founders, and the accomplishments of its pioneers, are greater and perhaps nobler than we were told by its greatest advocates. This is all supported by the most active and respected karate historians in the world.
This book does not simply debunk the many myths but makes the reader aware of the strength of the movement started by this diminutive retired schoolteacher from the prefecture of Okinawa.
Never heard of Shotokan’s Dai Nippon Ten No Kata? Gichin Funakoshi published his booklet describing this kata on September 20th 1941.
Do you believe that Gichin Funakoshi developed Shotokan? Many serious scholars believe that actually his son Giko (above) was responsible.
Does the JKA represent Shotokan karate in Japan? Yes, but it it only one of many groups that can trace their roots back to Gichin Funakoshi.
Contents: Shotokan Karate A Precise History.