Funakoshi (1868-1957) was a poet, calligrapher, and a deeply spiritual man. However, it is his involvement with karate which is most memorable and historically significant.

The Father Of Modern Karate

Karate was a fairly secretive art even in its native Okinawa until Funakoshi and his peers began public demonstrations around 1914. Things progressed fairly rapidly from the first known demonstration outside of Okinawa in 1917, to an important nexus in karate's history.

The future emperor of Japan's diplomatic travels found him in Okinawa on March 6th, 1921. He was reportedly fairly impressed with the island and its wonders, including a demonstration of karate organized by Funakoshi. In 1922, the Ministry of Education in Japan had Funakoshi over fun, games, and poking somebody's eye out (only in theory, of course.) His visit, originally for a single demonstration, turned into a long stint teaching his beloved art in Japan.

Uh-oh, Here Comes Mom...

So Funakoshi is karate's dad. Who's the mother? Next week on Jerr... ahem. Virtually every karate style scampering about these days has been very strongly affected by two primary things, Japanese culture and Funakoshi's successors and peers.

The rigid structure of modern karate is thought to be largely due to the strong Japanese influence as it began to grow and become well-known. Karate primarily became popular through its adoption by the Japanese school system for its physical education needs, and was shaped by those needs.

It is also important to remember that Funakoshi had several teachers and many students and peers in karate. He is neither the final authority nor necessarily the greatest master. His accomplishments were great, but no one exists in a vacuum.

His Side of the Story

Funakoshi's ideals of karate are quite different from most of today's styles. If he'd had his way, things would be quite different today. The most obvious difference would be that word above - "styles." Funakoshi believed that karate should be a unified whole, without styles or different schools.

It is interesting, then, that he is so often claimed as the founder of shotokan karate. The style's etymolygy involves his pen name and it is generally considered the most directly based upon his teachings, but it was not directly founded by Jes... umm, Funakoshi. Oh, the things we do with great men's teachings after they're safely tucked away in a six foot deep centrifuge.

Funakoshi also strongly believed in the practice of kata as being the heart of karate. His distaste for rough sparring and competition was strong - he refused to visit dojos who continued with this sort of training. Karate as a sport, rather than a martial art, is something he would undoubtedly have disapproved of quite strongly.

Karatedo, or at least the sort of karatedo esposed by Funakoshi, strengthens the body, the mind, and the spirit. Self defense and good health are the most pragmatic results to the karateka, but properly done in a proper environment, it can be a great deal more than silly guys in white pants kicking, shouting, and racking up medals. This is the karate that Funakoshi learned, taught, and loved.
Karate-do Kyohan by Gichin Funakoshi, trans. Tsutomu Ohshima,
discussions with a local sensei.