Gichin Funakoshi Shihan was a quiet, unassuming man born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. A frail, sickly child of eleven, he began training in Karate to develop his body and improve his health. He started his practice at the age of eleven under Yasutsume Azato and Yasutsume Itosu, two of the greatest Karate masters of that time.
For approximately 40 years, Funakoshi would dedicate his life to teaching Karate throughout Okinawa. In 1902, he was invited by Shintaro Ozawa, Okinawa’s Education Minister to make the first public demonstration of this very “secretive” martial art. In 1905, Karate was officially included in the school’s entire curriculum in Okinawa.
In 1912, he was invited by the Admiral of the Japanese Navy to again make a public demonstration; this event would later stimulate interest among the Japanese to promote Karate in the mainland. In 1917, Gichin Funakoshi was again invited to demonstrate before the Budokuden, the hall of martial virtues in Karakorum, Japan. And in 1922, he was formally invited to demonstrate before Crown Prince Hirohito in Tokyo, Japan. Karate, at no time, became popular in the whole of Japan because of the popularity of the Crown Prince (he was considered a god during that period).
In 1936, Funakoshi took the mantle as leader of the all the practitioners of modern Karate. Later, he changed the name from Karate, meaning “China Hand” to Karate-do, meaning “Empty hand Way”. Many Okinawans found this sacrilegious but Funakoshi had valid reasons- he wanted to promote Karate from a mere fighting art into a way of developing one’s character. With this change in name, also came change in form, content and purpose.
In a few years, Gichin Funakoshi was able to raise enough money to build a dojo. It was named Shotokan, or Shoto’s hall, the name Shoto being Funakoshi’s pen name. In 1945, there was an influx of students but many would also die (mostly the senior ones) because of the on-going war with the United States and its allies. His dojo was likewise destroyed by an evening Allied air raid.
By 1947 (2 years after the war), Gichin Funakoshi began the tedious task of rebuilding Karate-do. He, however, was already 79 years old. Curiously, Karate-do was not banned by the occupying American forces unlike Judo, Jujutsu, Aikido and the rest of the Japanese martial arts.
In 1949, Karate-do was included in official curriculum of almost all the Japanese Colleges; the Nippon Karate-do Renmei (Japan Karate-do Association) was likewise founded during this year.
In 1957, Gichin Funakoshi died at the age of 89. He left behind a legacy of behavior and practice which survives today as an example to those who follow in the way of Karate-do. His style, the Shotokan, has more than 10 million followers in 110 countries.
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