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Gichin Funakoshi

Karate has existed in different forms for hundreds of years but when you think of the popularity of Karate today, one man changed everything. His name was Gichin Funakoshi.

Gichin Funakoshi was born on the 10th of November 1868 in Shuri Okinawa. With Samurai links in his blood it is little surprise he grew to love and study the Martial Arts.  By the age of eleven he had already made a name for himself in Ryukyu-style martial arts, beginning his training under Master Azato Anko, while also learning karate-jutsu from his Sensei.

Funakoshi Sensei continued training, developing his skill, becoming chairman of the Okinawa Martial Arts Society, as well as an instructor at the Okinawa Teachers School. In 1922 at the age of 54 he introduced Okinawan karate-jutsu at the first Ministry of Education. This was the first ever display of Karate-jutsu in Japan and went down a storm. Resultantly, this made Funakoshi a famous name in the world of the Japanese Martial Arts and drew attention to the art he was so desperately trying to popularise.

Funakoshi was quickly asked to demonstrate kata for the founder of Modern judo Kano Jigoro, which was also such a success that it was necessary for him to remain living in Tokyo, not returning home.

Master Funakoshi then subsequently began teaching it at Tokyo's Meiseijuku, a dormitory for Okinwan students there, while also publishing a book entitled 'Ryukyu Kempo Karate'. In 1922 the first ever book on the subject in Japan. Much of the boom that subsequently took place after the release of the book can be credited to its publication. Funakoshi sensei was also responsible for the publications 'Karate-Do, My Way Of Life', 'Karate-Do Nuymon' and 'Karate-Do-Kyohan', which have had many re-prints and are collected by most who study the art even today.
As the popularity of karate-jutsu began to spread, Master Funakoshi produced the first ever 'Dan Ranking Certification' in April 1924.

Under the guidance and encouragement of his Buddhist teacher about Furukawa Gyodo of Enkakuji Temple in Kamakura Master Funakoshi started practicing Zen, learning much from the teachings.

Master Funakoshi developed his understanding of the study, thinking about the concept 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form'. He could see the relevance of that teaching to his martial art and ultimately changed the characters for Karate from kara + te ('Chinese' + 'hand'} to kara + te ('empty + hand').

To make the teaching of the Okinawan art easier in Japan, he changed many of the kata names, which were originally Chinese and Okinawan, into standard Japanese. He took this one step further in 1929, changing the name from karate-jitsu (Chinese-hand Martial Art) to karate-do (the way of the empty hand). He then defined the Twenty Precepts of Karate, and established the karate philosophy that we respect and understand today.

Karate was gaining popularity across Japan. Due to the sudden rise in popularity, he established the 'Shotokan Dojo', 'Shoto' being his pen name. However, during the air raids during the Second World War, the dojo was destroyed, but after the war the members re-joined.
In 1949 they formed the Japan Karate Association with Funakoshi Gichin as Supreme Master. In 1957, the JKA became a legal entity following the formal recognition from Ministry of Education. Sixteen days later his dream was realised and Japan had its' own official Karate establishment, Funakoshi Sensei died at the age of 89. A large Memorial Service was held in Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku National Sumo Hall) attended by more than 20,000 people, including many famous names who came to pay their respects.

The Niju Kun are Funakoshi's Twenty Precepts, written to help the student understand how they should conduct themselves in Karate, and in everyday life.

Each of the principles is explained in detail in 'The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate' by Gichin Funakoshi.

  1. Karate is not only dojo training
  2. Dont forget that Karate begins with a bow and ends with a bow
  3. In Karate, never attack first
  4. One who practices Karate must follow the way of justice
  5. First you must know yourself, then you can know others
  6. Spiritual development is paramount, technical skills are merely means to the end
  7. You must release your mind
  8. Misfortune comes out of laziness
  9. Karate is a lifelong training
  10. Put Karate into everything you do
  11. Karate is like hot water. If you do not give heat constantly it will again become cold
  12. Do not think you have to win. Think that you do not have to lose
  13. Victory depends on your ability to tell vulnerable points from invulnerable ones
  14. Move according to your opponent
  15. Consider your opponents' hands and legs as you would sharp swords
  16. When you leave home, thnk that millions of opponents are waiting for you
  17. Ready position for beginners and natural position for advanced students
  18. Kata is one thing. Engaging in a real fight is another
  19. Do not forget (1)strength and weakness of power, (2)expansion and contraction of the body, (3)slowness and speed of techniques
  20. Devise at all times
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