Funakoshi Gichin

The following is an introduction to "the Father of Modern Karate," Gichin Funakoshi, written by Shoshin Nagamine. Nagamine is the headmaster of Matsubayashi-ryu and is ranked a Hanshi 10-Dan.

Gichin Funakoshi was born in l868 in the capital city of Shuri, Okinawa. He initially learned karate under the guidance of Anri Pechin, Yasutsune Itosu and Yasutsune Azato and later founded the Shotokan . At first, Funakoshi was a karate instructor to children in Okinawa. In the year l922 he left to instruct in Tokyo at the request of the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Association). He also gave instruction at Waseda University, Keio University and even at Tokyo University. He was once given the honor of performing karate in front of the emperor.

In l939 Funakoshi opened up his first school which was called the Shotokan in the Zoshigaya suburb of Tokyo. There, he devoted his life to the spread of karate in mainland Japan. He is now known as the "Father of Modern Karate" and died at 90 years of age in l957. The following are referred to as Shoto's Twenty Precepts ( Shoto Niju Kun ):

Niju Kun

1. Karatedo begins with courtesy and ends with courtesy.

Karate, as it was originally taught, stresses the ideals of courtesy and respect. This is taught and encouraged in the dojo and is passed on by example. One not only respects their teachers, but also their peers, their family and their enemies. In a traditional dojo, courtesy and respect is the first thing a student learns when he or she enrolls for training.

2. There is no first attack in Karatedo.

Karatedo always emphasizes the do aspect. By this it is meant that karate has morality as its root. This statement reflects the ideals that above all karate is a method of self defense and is not meant to be used aggressively. The kata of Karatedo that has been passed on to the modern student often reflects this statement by beginning and ending the kata with a defensive technique.

3. Karatedo is a great auxiliary (assistance) to justice.

True Karatedo must be used in the right way. By this it is meant that one must have right on their side and use it as a means to help, defend or protect your family, friends or your country.

4. Know yourself first, and then others.

In his book, Karatedo Kyohan , Funakoshi wrote about the military strategist named Sonbu. Sonbu wrote the following: " He who does not know himself and doesn't know his enemy will lose and be destroyed in battle; He who knows himself but does not know his enemy may win through luck; He who not only knows himself and knows his enemy will always find victory. " Know and understand your weaknesses before you attempt to know and understand your enemy.

5. Spirit first; techniques second.

Funakoshi often stated that techniques are the easiest skills to develop but what made a true karate student was the developing and forging of their spirit. It is always easier to quit something when it becomes difficult like after an onslaught from a strong fighter but what a sensei instils in a student is the spirit of not giving up and quitting. This is the hardest characteristic to pass on and many students fall by the wayside due to their teacher trying to develop this within them.

6. Always be ready to release your mind.

In teaching Karatedo, the sensei must also stress awareness, understanding and knowledge. Learn to be open with your mind and absorb what ever you can.

7. Accidents always comes out of idleness (negligence).

In training and in life do not become distracted. This may cause you or your training partner to become injured or seriously hurt. In real life the lack of awareness can cause someone's death.

8. Do not think that Karatedo training is only in the dojo.

That which one learns in the dojo can also be applied to life. Funakoshi often mentioned that the ultimate goal of Karatedo was the perfection of one's own character. Learn to apply the teachings of Karatedo in your everyday life.

9. It will take your entire life to learn Karatedo; there is no limit.

One never masters the art of Karatedo. We are all students of Karatedo but some know the art better than others. Funakoshi died in l957 at almost 90 years of age. On his death bed he made his first claim of maybe having mastered a portion of Karatedo. He stated, " I was just getting a good understanding of how to punch! " He had been "punching" for over 75 years!

10. Put your everyday living into karate and you will find enlightenment (myo).

If one makes the practice of Karatedo as a regular part of their life this will enhance their attainment of " myo " (enlightenment). The character for myo is often translated as enlightenment and refers to an unconscious appreciation of life and all that is around one. So the ultimate goal of this so-called violent art deals with peace and a love of all life.

ll. Karatedo is like hot water; if you do not give it continuous heat, it will soon become cold.

Karatedo training should be done on a daily and regular basis to enhance one's skill. It is also easy to see old students who have dropped their training come back with little to no memory/skill of the art that they practiced. In Okinawa, one loses their "time in grade" after a three month absence from the dojo and all of their rank after a six month absence. If the student comes back after six months then they come back as a beginner.

l2. Do not think that you have to win. Rather, think that you do not have to lose.

This statement has to do with one's ego. Many karate students are often very interested in seeing how good they really are and will often accommodate some one looking for a fight. This is a poor attitude and one that can cause both fighters to be losers. Avoiding a fight is not winning and it is also not losing. One must understand that it often takes greater skill to avoid a fight than actually fighting.

l3. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.

This statement has to do with the depth of your style/system. Orthodox methods of Karatedo have great depth but students only recognize the " omote " or surface knowledge. With time and trust the student will see that there is more to Karatedo than mere physical technique.

l4. The battle is according to how you maneuver guarded and unguarded. (Move according to your opponent.)

Funakoshi's statement is based on Azato's teaching of karate and Jigen style swordsmanship. Azato felt that strategy was the most important skill that could be taught. With strategy a small man could defeat a big man and a smart man could defeat many men.

l5. Think of the hands and feet as swords.

Above all, Karatedo is a martial art. The hands and feet are weapons and that can be honed to a high degree of sharpness. This idea and attitude comes from Funakoshi's training with Azato who was a swordsman of the Jigen-school.

l6. When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behavior that invites trouble from them.

This statement has more to do with psychology than the philosophy of the martial arts. Funakoshi stated that by one's demeanor one could be a victim waiting to be attacked. He stressed that by training in Karatedo one would be more confident and would show this inner quality by his manner and behavior. People immediately knew that this individual was not a victim.

l7. Beginners must master low stance and posture; natural body position for advanced.

Funakoshi based his method of Karatedo on having a strong foundation and used the low posture ( kamae ) to accomplish this. By developing the legs and the spirit of the student in a low posture, the advanced student would then see that it was much easier and faster to fight from a "natural" posture.

l8. Practicing a kata is one thing, and engaging in a real fight is another.

Kata is a training aid that teaches discipline and builds strength in technique. It stresses perfection of not only technique but also perfection of form. Fighting is free and flexible. Kata stresses self-perfection while fighting stresses self-protection. Each one has different goals and each one is a part of the whole.

l9. Do not forget the strength and weakness of power, the stretching and contraction of the body and the slowness and speed of techniques.

Funakoshi often stated that this was the "secret" of correct karate movements.

20. Always think and devise ways to live the precepts every day.

This is based on the Japanese BUDO teachings of SHU - HA - RI . Learn from tradition, break the bonds of tradition, transcend tradition and find something new. At the end, you will find what you started with: tradition.