Article by Emanuel Giordano

In the first half of this year, leafing through the book "Karate-do", written by Miyagi Hisateru in 1953, I came across an interesting chapter related to Funakoshi Gichin sensei. After a quick and brief translation, in June 2021 I decided to ask for the help of Aritomo Ito (founder of the Facebook page Shotokan Path), who kindly translated this chapter, simply entitled "Funakoshi Shihan no koto".

Below is the translation:
“The person who has contributed to the spread of Karate throughout Japan is Funakoshi Shihan. On June 3rd this year [1953], a convention to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the spread of Karate was held at the Kyoritsu Auditorium. It was said that it was difficult to organize the venue due to the excessive success, and finally the large door at the entrance was closed to refuse the applicants. It is only natural for many years of hard work by master Funakoshi. This fact is the proof of the personality of master Funakoshi and his mastery of martial arts. Many people of the Budo, including hundreds of thousands of disciples, already know about it without me talking about it.
In the Kaizo magazine Showa 10 (1935) March issue, masters of Budo contributed 60-70 page long treatise of each Budo.
Following master Jigoro Kano of Judo, asked to contribute for the second April issue of Kaizo magazine, my master Funakoshi published a 60+page long treatise of Karatedo. Some may still remember that this treatise showed master Funakoshi to the world, and it won a praise. The author made another trip to Hawaii as soon as the treatise was published. In Hawaii, Master Funakoshi's treatise in the Kaizo magazine and his spiritualism were well received even among ordinary people. I can still remember having people telling me it was such a great article, and master and I had a certain feeling about that during the trip.
We, students at the time, all knew that master Funakoshi was of a Shuri noble family, studied martial art since youth under both master Itosu and venerable master Asato who was equally known for his martial skills, and master Funakoshi was famous Karate practitioner ever since his younger age.
Our school was known as "soldier school" because physical education and Budo were the central spirit of the school. Judo and Kendo were elective subjects but Karate was required for everyone. Much of military training hours were spent on Karate practice. Karate club was strong since Master Yabu had a big influence at the school. Therefore, Karate conventions were held at least twice a year, and they were very successful where we customly had Karate masters of Shuri and Naha as guests. Having Master Yabu as the main instructor and maser Itosu as the supreme master, the principal, faculties and alumni were struggling in constantly welcoming guests. In these events, lower grades such as preparatory department or first grade were allowed to have one student participated at the most and was allowed to use Pinan 1 or 2. But, higher third or forth graders could use more difficult Kusanku, Passai, Gojushiho, Rohai, etc. Master Funakoshi was always present at our event from his place of employment in Naha. He always used some Te [Kata] every time. I can still see his Kusanku or Passai clearly when I close my eyes. My senpai, Yamashiro, was already famous as a Karate practitioner in my school, also in Karate community of Shuri and Naha. He was moaning "I wonder when I can be like master Funakoshi?" to me. To my question, he answered "Master Funakoshi's Te has no slightest waste or shortage. It is truly stunning." Which I think is quite natural. Since he was using his Te right in front of master Yabu as the main teacher and master Itosu, his technique and confidence must have been reached to the level of mastery. That fact speaks of position and ability of master Funakoshi as a karateman, and there is no need to say anything else. 
I used to visit him all the time when master Funakoshi opened Shotokan Dojo in Zoshigaya, and was teaching at universities. I also attended a training session at Keio university. I can never forget the appearance of him, around 70 years old yet no-wrinkle red baby face, wearing Geta sandals and sitting in the train. It is said that his disciples including Mago-Deshi (2 generations down like grand children) and Himago-Deshi (3 generation down like great grand children) are counting hundreds of thousands today, which I believe is no exaggeration.
I remember visiting Tokyo University with master Funakoshi. He was also teaching at Tokyo Kosho, Ichi-Ko, Waseda, Takushoku. Because he was teaching Karate at eight universities at that time, students must have increased progressively to hundred of thousands for the last 30 years.
He also published six books of Karate. He had dep knowledge in the study of the Chinese classics, which had polished his Karatedo. He was reflecting The Art of War of Sun-Tzu, The Analects of Confucius and Mencius's truth to the reality of society, giving lessons to his students, and was deeply through in teaching the significance of "Karate ni sente nashi (No first strike in Karate)". The concept of "Karate ni sente nashi" was established by master Funakoshi as an iron rule and fundamental philosophy of Karate.
As long as Karate exists, master Funakoshi's achievement in Karate needs to be taught and cannot be forgotten. It was when he was passed 70, I was listening to his lecture of martial art, and was shown hands-on techniques. He seized my wrist and flexibly responded to changing hand positions. I was surprised by his technique, agility and strength. We were walking on the street in the suburbs together, and he taught me many poems about martial arts and even some funny obscene songs.
I was touched by his young human kindness despite of his age. Although he is such a high age of 84 this year, he used Kusanku at Okinawa association meeting held at Shibuya public hall (Spring, this year). The body of a master is really strange. At 84, ordinary people would be bent at waist or mostly somehow disabled. He is at the same age as master artist Yokoyama Taikan and share a same mindset of a master or an expert. We should strive for that and be able to leave a mark on the history.
I pray for more and more of his health.".
Analyzing the text interesting aspects emerge. First of all the author speaks of Funakoshi's success in introducing Karate in "mainland" Japan, a success also due to the collaboration with the masters of Japanese Budo (Kano sensei in primis), with whom Funakoshi also collaborated in the drafting of a martial arts treatise on the magazine Kaizo.
The chapter continues by giving us a unique view (there are no other such clear sources) on the hierarchy of Karate in the school world, of which Funakoshi sensei was a part. The author highlights how Yabu sensei was at the head of the project, and how everything was supervised by the senior teacher, Itosu sensei. We also learn that military training was an important subject, and that although the practice of some martial arts was optional, that of Karate was mandatory. This was probably also due to the influence that the teacher and war "hero" Yabu sensei had on the school. We are also provided with interesting insights relating to the events that were held at the school, and about the kata practiced, as well as the fact that Funakoshi also participated in these demonstrations, in front of Yabu sensei and Itosu sensei. It is my opinion that these ties between Funakoshi and the Okinawan school world have subsequently given way to some of the many changes made to his Karate. His son Yoshitaka, when he returned to Okinawa during the summer, practiced with masters integrated in this environment, such as Oshiro Chojo. I therefore think it's plausible that some of the changes made to the Karate practiced at Shihan Gakko (see previous articles) and in the other Okinawan schools, were then exported to Tokyo by Yoshitaka himself. Consider, for example, the changes in the position of the Naihanchi kata (Tekki), or the introduction of kokutsu-dachi with the heel raised (which was abandoned in JKA, but kept in JKS), in fact a real ukiashi-dachi!
The rest of the chapter talks about Funakoshi's success in introducing Karate to Japanese universities and his profound study of Chinese classics (a typical element of the Okinawan nobility). Among the noteworthy elements are undoubtedly the mention of an Okinawan association in Tokyo, as well as the fact that Funakoshi went to Hawaii at least twice ("The author [talking about Funakoshi] made another trip to Hawaii as soon as the treatise was published"), where a strong Okinawan community already existed at that time!
I would like to clarify that the rest of the book also contains important information, and I hope that someone who is able to deal with it will undertake to translate it into English as soon as possible!
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)