Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin, November 10, 1868 – April 26, 1957) was the creator of Shotokan karate, perhaps the most widely known style of karate, and is attributed as being the 'father of modern karate'. Following the teachings of Anko Itosu, he was one of the Okinawan karate masters who introduced karate to the Japanese mainland in 1921. He taught karate at various Japanese universities and became honorary head of the Japan Karate Association upon its establishment in 1949.

Early life

Gichin Funakoshi was born on in Shuri, Okinawa, to ethnic Okinawan parents and originally had the family name Tominakoshi. His father's name was Gisu. After entering primary school he became close friends with the son of Ankō Azato, a karate and kendo master who would soon become his first karate teacher.

Funakoshi's family was stiffly opposed to the abolition of the Japanese topknot, and this meant he would be ineligible to pursue his goal of attending medical school, despite having passed the entrance examination. Being trained in both classical Chinese and Japanese philosophies and teachings, Funakoshi became an assistant teacher in Okinawa. During this time, his relations with the Azato family grew and he began nightly travels to the Azato family residence to receive karate instruction from Ankō Azato.

Shotokan Karate

Funakoshi had trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan karate of the time: Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. Shotokan is named after Funakoshi's pen name, Shoto, which means "pine waves" or "wind in the pines". In addition to being a karate master, Funakoshi was an avid poet and philosopher who would reportedly go for long walks in the forest where he would meditate and write his poetry. Kan means training hall, or house, thus Shotokan referred to the "house of Shoto". This name was coined by Funakoshi's students when they posted a sign above the entrance of the hall at which Funakoshi taught reading "Shotokan".

By the late 1910s, Funakoshi had many students, of which a few were deemed capable of passing on their master's teachings. Continuing his effort to garner widespread interest in Okinawan karate, Funakoshi ventured to mainland Japan in 1922.

In 1930, Funakoshi established an association named Dai-Nihon Karate-do Kenkyukai to promote communication and information exchange among people who study karate-do. In 1936, Dai-Nippon Karate-do Kenkyukai changed its name to Dai-Nippon Karate-do Shoto-kai. The association is known today as Shotokai, and is the official keeper of Funakoshi's karate heritage.

In 1939, Funakoshi built the first Shōtōkan dojo (training hall) in Tokyo. He changed the name of karate to mean "empty hand" instead of "China hand" (as referred to in Okinawa); the two words sound the same in Japanese, but are written differently. It was his belief that using the term for "Chinese" would mislead people into thinking karate originated with Chinese boxing. Karate had borrowed many aspects from Chinese boxing which the original creators say as being positive, as they had done with other martial arts. In addition, Funakoshi argued in his autobiography that a philosophical evaluation of the use of "empty" seemed to fit as it implied a way which was not tethered to any other physical object.

Funakoshi's interpretation of the word kara to mean "empty" was reported to have caused some recoil in Okinawa, prompting Funakoshi to remain in Tokyo indefinitely. His extended stay eventually led to the creation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949 with Funakoshi as the honorary head of the organisation. Funakoshi was not supportive of all of the changes that the organisation eventually made to his karate style. He remained in Tokyo until his death in 1957. After World War II, Funakoshi's surviving students formalized his teachings.

Legacy

Funakoshi published several books on karate including his autobiography, Karate-Do: My Way of Life. His legacy, however, rests in a document containing his philosophies of karate training now referred to as the niju kun, or 'twenty principles.' These rules are the premise of training for all Shotokan practitioners and are published in a work titled The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate. Within this book, Funakoshi lays out 20 rules by which students of karate are urged to abide in an effort to "become better human beings". Funakoshi's Karate-Do Kyohan "The Master Text" remains his most detailed publication, containing sections on history, basics and kata and kumite. The famous Shotokan Tiger by Hoan adorns the hardback cover.