Gichin Funakoshi’s Life
Master Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa on November 10,1868. He died in his sleep in Tokyo, Japan on April 26,1957. He taught Shotokan Karate right up until he died.
Master Funakoshi was the person who came up with the Japanese word “karate” (empty hand) to call, and describe, his art. Through his efforts the word “karate” became known and accepted worldwide. For this, and his many other contributions to the martial arts, Master Funakoshi is regarded by many as the “father of modern day karate”.
During his youth Funakoshi began Okinawa-te martial arts training to improve his health. He trained in both Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu (styles) of Okinawa-te. His two main teachers were Azato and Itosu, who were both excellent, and highly-regarded, martial artists of that time.
Gichin Funakoshi was an educated man who planned on attending medical school and he had passed the entrance exam. However, his family’s politics ended up preventing his admission to medical school. So instead of becoming a doctor Funakoshi became a teacher on Okinawa. He was also a life-long poet and writer who signed his works with his pen name of “Shoto” (wavy pines). At one point in his life he decided to quit teaching school so that he could concentrate on teaching karate full time.
After training in Okinawa-te for many years Gichin Funakoshi was invited to Japan to demonstrate his type of martial art. After his demonstrations he was invited and encouraged by Jigoro Kano, the Father of Judo, to stay and teach his art in Japan.
In 1922 Funakoshi moved to Japan to teach his style of “karate”. He taught at several universities where he set up “karate clubs”. His style of karate became quite popular at these university karate clubs and he had many students. Master Funakoshi later sent many of his best students, who were now black belts, around the world to live, teach and spread Shotokan Karate.
In 1939 the very first building designed to be a karate dojo (school) was built and opened by Master Funakoshi in Tokyo, Japan. His followers put up a sign that read “Shotokan”, which meant house (or hall) of Shoto (Funakoshi’s pen name). Now Master Funakoshi’s style of karate had it’s official name! During World War II this dojo was destroyed by bombs dropped by allied planes. It was later rebuilt after the war had ended.
In 1949 the “Japanese Karate Association” (JKA) was formed. Master Funakoshi was installed as the first head of the JKA, a position he held until his death. The JKA is still the largest governing body of Shotokan Karate in the world.
When Master Funakoshi died he was ranked as a Godan (5th. degree black belt). He had refused many attempts by his peers to promote him to higher rank. He felt that Godan was a high enough rank for him and he did not want further promotions. Since his death almost all of his followers, and most other martial artists, have now gone to rankings as high as tenth degree black belt.
In an effort to honor the memory, teachings and humility of Master Funakoshi we here at Golden Tiger also stop our ranking system at Godan (5th. degree black belt). We will not accept any promotions beyond the rank of Godan.