Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin FunakoshiFounder of Shotokan Karate

Blackbelt Magazine’s Significant Achiever

Blackbelt Magazine’s Black Belt Award winner

Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin, 1868–1957) was an Okinawan karate master who formally introduced karate to the Japanese mainland in 1921.

His son, Funakoshi Yoshitaka modernized the system of karate that he originally developed. This was accomplished predominately by lowering the height of some techniques such as zuki (punches), shoto uke (knife hand strike) and adding kicking techniques above the waist. Shotokan, as it came to be called, was influenced by kendo distancing and timings. Shotokan is named after Gichin Funakosi’s pen name, Shoto, which means pine waves or wind in the pines. Shotokan means Shoto’s house or Shoto’s school. Funakoshi had trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan karate of the time: Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu

In 1936 Funakoshi built the first Shotokan dojo in Tokyo. He changed the name of karate to mean empty hand instead of China hand, which sound the same but are written differently. His doing this upset some Okinawans, and afterwards, he never returned.

This eventually led to the creation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1955 with Funakoshi named as the chief instructor, however, Funakoshi was not supportive of all of the changes that the organization made to his karate. He remained in Tokyo until his death in April 1957, aged 88. After World War 2, Funakoshi’s surviving students (largely consisting of university students) formalized his teachings into a style that grew to be called Shotokan (松涛館 Shōtōkan), literally, the house of pine waves. Shoto refers to the pen name that Funakoshi used when writing poetry, and Kan refers to the hall or building where the students of Shoto practiced.

Funakoshi published several books on karate, including his autobiography- Karate-Do: My Way of Life.