Myths and misinformation with respect to Master Gichin Funakoshi

Many already know quite a bit about Master Gichin Funakoshi, but even so you can easily find a large amount of erroneous information and sometime information that has consciously been changed to confound the public or to benefit certain parties.

Gichin Funakoshi sensei was born in 1868 in the Yamagawasho neighborhood in the royal city of Shuri, Okinawa. In his autobiography he describes himself as a weak and sickly boy, this was so obvious that his family actually did not think he would live very long. At school he had the fortune of becoming friend of the son of Yasutsune Azato (in japanese Anko Azato) one of the most respected and main experts of karate on the island. Here he started his karate practice and in a few years he was no longer frail nor sickly, rather a strong and healthy youngster. This would be the beginning of a long and illustrious career in Karate that would make him the most famous of all Okinawan karateka. Among the most important masters Gichin Funakoshi studied with were Azato, Yasutsune Itosu and Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura.

I would now like to analyze some unfounded accusations and errors you very often encounter while surfing the web or read a book written by someone that was not a student of Gichin Funakoshi.

The first one I encountered recently in an article by Howard High, I think I remember him related to CyberDojo, but anyway he makes it very clear that Karate-do as a name was established by commission of Masters in Okinawa, well this is clearly not so, there are comments that an Okinawan Master used the term before Funakoshi but he did not officialize it. It was Master Funakoshi that first used it in an official fashion and actually had to participate in a very long public discussion with the Okinawan Master relating this change through a Japanese newspaper. He used the term in the first edition of Karate-do Kyohan in 1936 and a meeting organized after that event accepted the term officially.

Another one of these errors has to do with the alleged "fact" that Gichin Funakoshi sensei was not a good karateka and that it was only due to his culture and knowledge of the Japanese language that he was able to expand Karate-do in Japan mainland (Hondo). I quote a typical example of this slander:

"Funakoshi in Okinawa was not a good karateka, actually more like one of the mass... In Japan Funakoshi had a big break and was lucky in having the chance to expand and popularize karate." Salvador Herraíz, Wado-ryu

I think that first of all, it is very bad manners to talk that way about such a respected master but beyond education are the facts. I do know there must have been some hard feelings involved in the separation of some students from Gichin Funakoshi, that would in some way explain why the students later on take such liberty in attacking him.

The first fact and maybe the strongest argument against the slander is the fact that in the first decades in the 1900's he was president of the Okinawa Shobukai (Okinawan Martial Association). I now ask: Who would you choose among the martial artists to preside the association, one of the karateka from the mass, or one of the best exponents, or the best? The answer is obvious. I understand that there may be envies, but truth must be honored.

In 1906 Gichin Funakoshi and some of his friends formed a group that made public demonstrations of karate all over Okinawa, this must have been the first time karate was made public. They were present for the inaugural ceremony of the, at that time, new prefecture building, many important people were present at the event. Gichin Funakoshi was asked to preside a group of five great masters of karate. Master Funakoshi was also the first expert to introduce karate to the main islands of Japan, in 1916 (1917 by other sources) he did a demonstration in the Butoku-den in Kyoto, at that moment in time this was the official headquarters of all martial arts in Japan.

In 1922 (others say 1921) Gichin Funakoshi sensei was invited to Japan to participate in a very important event (he was once again chosen by the Okinawan Masters to preside this Okinawan representation to the event), the First National Gymnastics Gala en Tokio, here he made a very impressive demonstration of Karate. Many prominent and influential people requested him to stay and so he did.

Finally, considering the amount of important and influential students he had and educated, there is no way you can avoid the fact he was a great Master in every aspect and in no way one of the mass of Karateka in Okinawa, no matter what slanderous or disrespectful people may say.

Osu O-sensei.

September 25th, 1998


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