Story of Gichin Funakoshi/ Precepts / Dojo Kun / Dojo Etiquette
Gichin Funakoshi founder of Shotokan Karate and his life
IF THERE IS ONE MAN WHO COULD BE CREDITED with placing karate in the position it enjoys on the Japanese mainland today, it is Gichin Funakoshi.
This Mejin (Master) was born in Shuri, Okinawa, Japan and didn’t even begin his second life as harbinger (someone who passes on information) of official recognition for Karate on the mainland until he was 53 years old!
Funakoshi was born prematurely in Shuri, Okinawa, Japan on 10th November 1868, he began as a weak, sickly and in poor health child, whose parents brought him to Itsosu for his martial arts training as well as his doctor, Tokashiki, who prescribed him certain herbs that would strengthen him. He became a good student and with Asato, Arakaki and Mastumura as his other teachers, expertise and highly disciplined mind.
From Yasutune Azato, he learnt Shuri-te (Shorin Ryu) and from Yastune Itosu, he learnt Naha-te (Shorei-ryu). It would be the melding of these two styles that would one day become Shotokan Karate.
When he finally came to mainland Japan from Okinawa in 1922, he stayed among his own people at the prefectural students Dormitory at Suidobata, Tokyo.
He lived in a small room alongside the entrance and would clean the Dormitory by day, whilst the students were in their classes and at night he would teach them Karate.
After a short time, he had earned sufficient means to open his first school in Meishojuku. Following this his Shotokan in Mejiro was opened and he finally has a place from which he sent forth a variety of outstanding students, such as Takagi and Nakayama of Nippon Karate Kyokai, Yoshida of Takudai, Obata of Keio, Noguchi of Waseda and Nakayama Otsuka, the Founder of Wado-Ryu Karate. It is said that in his travels and around Japan, whilst giving demonstrations and lectures, Funakoshi always had Otsuka accompanying him.
The Martial arts world in Japan, especially in the early twenties and up to the early 40s, enjoyed the ultra-nationalists were riding high and they looked down their noses at any art that was not purely called it as a pagan and savage art.
Funakoshi overcame this prejudice and finally gained formal recognition of Karate as one of the Japanese Martial arts by 1941.
Needless to say, many Karate clubs flourished in mainland Japan. In 1926 Karate was introduced in Tokyo University. Three years later, Karate was formally organised on a club level by three students; Matsuda Katsuichi, Himotsu Kazumi and Nakachi K. Funakoshi was their Teacher.
He also organised Karate clubs in Keio University and Shichi-Tokudo, a barracks situated in a corner of the Palace grounds.
Funakoshi visited the Shichi-Tokudo every other day to teach and was always accompanied by Otsuka, reputed to be one of the most brilliant of his students in Japan. Otsuka’s favourite Kata was Naihanchi, which he performed before the Royalty of Japan with another outstanding student named Oshima, who performed the Pinan Kata (Hiean).
One day when Otsuka was teaching at Shichi-Tokudo, a student named Kogura, from Keio University who had a 3rd Dan in Kendo (Japanese fencing) and a Black belt in Karate, took a sword and faced Otsuka. All the students watched to see what would happen. They felt no one could face the shinken (open blade) held by Kendo expert.
Otsuka calmly watched Kogura and the moment he made a move with his sword, Otsuka swept him off his feet. As this was unrehearsed, it tested the skill of Otsuka. It also bore out Funakoshi’s philosophy that Kata practise was more than sufficient in times of need.
In 1927 the men, Miki, Bo and Hirayama decided that Kata practise was not enough and tried to introduce Jiyu Kumite (Free fighting). They devised protective clothing and used Kendo masks in their matches in order to utilize full contact. Funakoshi heard about these bouts and when he could not discourage such attempts at what he considered belittling to the art of Karate, he stopped coming to the Shichi-Tokudo university. Both Funkoshi and his top student Otsuka never showed their faces there again.
When Funakoshi came to mainland Japan, he brought 16 Katas with him: 5 Pinan (Hiean) Hiean, Shodan, Hiean Nidan, Hiean Sandan, Hiean Yondan and Hiean Godan. 3 Naihanchi, Kushanku dai, Kushanksu sho, Seisan, Patsai, Wanshu, Chinto, Jutte and Jion. Many of these are still the same Katas we practised to day but most names have been modernised. He kept his students on one Kata for 3 years before they progressed (unlike modern days where you grade every 3-6 months) to the more advanced forms. The repetitious training that he insisted on paid dividends, his students went on to produce the most precise exact type of Karate taught anywhere.
In 1936, Funakoshi built the first Shōtōkan dojo (training hall) in Tokyo. While on the Japanese mainland, he changed the written characters of karate to mean “empty hand” (空手) instead of “China hand” (唐手) (literally Tang dynasty) to downplay its connection to Chinese boxing. Karate had borrowed many aspects from Chinese boxing. Funakoshi also argued in his autobiography that a philosophical evaluation of the use of “empty” seemed to fit as it implied a way which was not tethered to any other physical object.
Funakoshi’s re-interpretation of the character kara in karate to mean “empty” (空) rather than “Chinese” (唐) caused some tension with traditionalists back in Okinawa, prompting Funakoshi to remain in Tokyo indefinitely.
Jigoro Kano, the founder of modern Judo, once invited Funakoshi and a friend Makoto Gima, to perform at the Kodokan (then located at Tomisaka) Approximately a hundred people watched the performance. Gima, who had studied under Yabu Kentsu as a youth in Okinawa, performed the Naihansai shodan and Funakoshi performed the Koshokun (Kushanku dai). Kanso Sensei watched the performance and asked Funakoshi about the techniques involved.
He was greatly impressed! He invited Gima and Funakoshi to a special Tendon Dinner (Fish and Rice), during which he sang and made jokes to put Funakoshi at ease.
Irrespective of his sincerity in teaching the art of true Karate, Funakoshi was not without his detractors, his critics scorned his insistence on the Kata and decided what they called “soft” Kata wasted too much time. Funakoshi insisted on hito Kata sanen (3 years on 1 Kata).
Funakoshi was a humble man, he preached and practised an essential humility. He lived at peace with himself and his fellow men.
Whenever the name Gichin Funakoshi’s is mentioned, it brings to mind the parable of “A Man of Tao and a Little Man”; As it is told; A student once asked “what is the difference between a Man of Tao and a Little Man?” The Sensei Replies; “It is simple, when the little man receives his 1st Dan, he can hardly wait to run home and shout at the top of his voice to tell everyone that he made his 1st Dan, upon receiving his 2nd Dan, he will climb to the rooftops and shout to the people, upon receiving his 3rd Dan, he will jump in his auto mobile and parade through town with horns blowing, telling one and all about his 3rd Dan”
The Sensei continues “When the Man of Tao receives his 1st Dan, he will bow his head in gratitude, Upon receiving his 2nd Dan he will bow his head and his shoulders, upon receiving his 3rd Dan, he will bow to his waist and quietly walk alongside the wall so that people will not see him or notice him”
Funakoshi was a man of Tao, he places emphasis on individual self-perfection, he believed in the common decency and respect that one human being owed to another. He was the Master of Masters.
Master Funakoshi developed osteoarthritis in 1948 and passed away on 26th April 1957 at the age of 88 years old. Shotokan is named after Funakoshi’s pen name, Shōtō (松濤), which means “waving pines” the story is that Funakoshi used to walk from the his dormitory to his cleaning job through pine trees that waved as he walked.
Funakoshi wrote many books.
Funakoshi placed no emphasis on competitions, record breaking or championships.
He placed emphasis on individual self-perfection.
He believed in the common decency and respect that one human being owed to another.
He was the master of masters.
by Shihan Christine Alleyn 6th Dan
The Dojo Kun
|Japanese: Hitotsu! Jinkaku Kansei ni Tsutomuro Koto.
English translation: One! To strive for the Perfection of Character
Japanese : Hitotsu! Makoto no Michi o Mamoru Koto.
English translation: To Defend the Paths of Truth.
Japanese: Hitotsu! Doryoku no Seishin o Yashinau Koto.
English translation: One! To Foster the Spirit of Effort.
Japanese: Hitotsu! Reigi o Omonzuru Koto.
English translation: One! To Honour the Principles of Etiquette
Japanese: Hitotsu! Kekki no Yu o Imashimuru Koto
English translation: One! To Guard Against Impetuous Courage
The Dojo Etiquette
Is meant to serve as a way of ensuring a disciplined training environment.
- Bow upon entering and leaving the dojo.
- Show respect by helping others and keeping the dojo clean.
- Do not bring food or drinks into the dojo.
- Address the main instructor as “Sensei” and other teachers as “Sempai.”
- Arrive on time for classes and inform the Sensei if there is a delay.
- If late, wait at the door for acknowledgment before joining the class.
- If leaving early, inform the Sensei beforehand and wait for acknowledgment to leave.
- Use proper etiquette when unexpectedly leaving the class.
- Acknowledge the Sensei with respect upon entering the dojo.
- Show respect to all participants and bow to higher-ranking individuals.
- Keep your training Gi clean and tidy.
- Remove shoes before entering the dojo.
- Avoid chewing gum during class.
- Maintain short nails and clean hands.
- Do not wear jewelry during training.
- Tie back your hair during class.
- Keep your belt tied properly.
- Only wear the club T-shirt under your Gi.
- Wear only karate trousers with nothing underneath.
- Visitors should avoid interrupting ongoing classes.
- Avoid unnecessary violence both inside and outside the dojo.
- Line up quickly at the start of class, according to rank.
- Refrain from idle talking during class.
- Show attentiveness when Sensei is giving instructions.
- Give your maximum effort during training.
- Observe silence and meditation when called for.
- Maintain a valid karate license and insurance.