When Gichin Funakoshi came to Tokyo in the early 1920s, the
art of karate was virtually unknown outside of his native prefecture of Okinawa.
His purpose in making the trip was, at the invitation of the Ministry of Education,
to give a demonstration of the art, and his intention had been to return to
Okinawa. This he did not do, however, because of the advice he received from
Jigoro Kano, the father of judo; Hakudo Nakayama, a great authority on kendo;
Having decided to spread Karate-do (the Way of Karate) throughout Japan, he
endeavored to do so with determination and enthusiasm, but not without difficulties.
The number of students who came to him for instruction was very small at first,
with the result that he lived in poverty and had to do a great number of odd-jobs
simply to make ends meet. Who would have thought in those days that the popularity
of this art of self-defense would spread beyond Japan to all parts of the world
recall trips that we followers of Funakoshi made to the Kyoto-Osaka area and
the southern island of Kyushu under the leadership of Takeshi Shimoda, our instructor
and the most talented among Funakoshi's students. That was around 1934, about
twelve years after the master had given that first demonstration in Tokyo. Karate
in those days had the reputation of being merely a way of fighting, but it did
have an aura of secrecy and mystery. Consequently, it would appear that what
attracted capacity crowds to our demonstrations was nothing more than curiosity.
Although I am not familiar with the details of Shimoda's career, I understand
that he was an expert in the Nen-ryu school of kendo and also studied
ninjutsu (the art of making oneself invisible). In one of those unfortunate
twists of fate, he became ill after our demonstration trip and died soon afterwards.
had been acting as Master Funakoshi's assistant, teaching us when the latter
was busy, and his place was taken by the master's third oldest son, Gigo, who
was not only a man of excellent character but one highly skilled in the techniques
of the art. There was no one better qualified to instruct the younger students.
However, since he was working as an x-ray technician at both Tokyo Imperial
University and the Ministry of Education, he was understandably reluctant to
take on this additional task. After being strongly urged by both his father
and the students, he finally agreed, and he soon won our admiration as well
as our respect. I still remember vividly how we used to call him "Waka Sensei;"
meaning "young teacher,'; to differentiate him from his father, whom we then
called "Ro Sensei,'' which means "old teacher." [Used in this way, ro
has none of the not-quite-complimentary, or even derogatory, overtones that
the English old might imply.] (It should be noted that Gigo was also
called Yoshitaka, which is another way of reading the two characters that make
up his first name.)
Like Shimoda, Gigo Funakoshi died in the prime of life, while still in his thirties.
That was in the spring of 1945, and I feel that he must have died of a broken
heart. During the early years, Master Funakoshi had been without his own dojo,
but finally in the spring of 1936, the Shoto-kan Dojo was completed in the.
Mejiro district of Tokyo. Then in March; 1945, there was a great air raid in
Tokyo (of course, there had been many others), and that splendid dojo went up
in flames. It had required the efforts of a great many people, not the least
of whom had been Gigo. Already in the hospital at the time, it must have been
too much for him to see that cherished dream destroyed.
At the present time, karate is being practiced in many countries throughout
the world; in fact, it is riding the crest of a wave of popularity. But what
is the meaning of this phenomenon ? What is so attractive about this art of
self-defense? Why do people practice it? What is their objective ?
That Takeshi Shimoda and Gino Funakoshi died at such an early age was a great
loss for the world of Karate-do. If they were still alive today, what would
they think of the present situation?
The karate practiced today is quite different from that of forty years ago,
and the number of styles now is said to total nearly one hundred. Many schools
send instructors abroad to propagate their respective techniques. While it can
be said that there are certain groups in the United States and Europe that,
with the objective of understanding the soul of the Orient as a means of counteracting
the impasse arising from materialistic civilization, place emphasis on the spiritual
side of karate, the sad truth is that many styles teach only the fighting art
and neglect the spiritual aspects. And the practitioners themselves, who offer
lip service to the spirit of the art, have as their real objective the winning
of matches. They speak of fostering an indomitable spirit, which in itself is
praiseworthy, but we have to think of the results if this spirit is improperly
used. As in the case of a hoodlum or madman wielding a knife, gun or other weapon
against innocent people, the results could only be disastrous.
The present situation, then, is that the majority of followers of karate in
overseas countries pursue karate for its fighting techniques, and it must be
admitted that the proclivity to engage in combat is no less common in humans
than in other animals. It is extremely doubtful that those enthusiasts have
come to a full understandingly of Karate-do.
Mention should also be made of the-negative influence of movies and television
on the public image of karate, if not on the art itself. Depicting karate as
a mysterious way of fighting capable of causing death or injury with a single
blow or kick and thus appealing to man's fighting instinct, the mass media present
a pseudo art far from the real thing.
Gichin Funakoshi was an advocate of the spiritual aspects of Karate-do and placed
much greater emphasis on this than on the techniques of fighting. Moreover,
he always practiced what he taught. If he were alive today to see what is happening
to Karate-do, what would he think ? Those of us who are adhering strictly to
orthodox karate as an art of self-defense must do all in our power to see that
it is practiced in the proper way and that its spiritual side is understood
to the fullest extent.
Shigeru Egami Gallery Index
Karate Do Shotokai Enyclopedia on Karate-do and Japanese Martial Arts
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