Article by Manuel Vignola
In 1921 the Ministry of Education was organizing the 1st Athletic Martial Arts Exhibition for the following year at the women's high school in Ochanomitzu, Tokyo district, and had contacted the Department of Education to find a suitable subject that could present the art of Karate. Some rumors claim that initially it was thought to invite Choki Motobu, however they finally turned to Funakoshi as he spoke Japanese (he was a school teacher), as opposed to Motobu (faithful to the Okinawan language), as well as being a progressive teacher in line with the ideas of the Meiji Renewal. Another version reported by Graham Noble suggests instead that it was Norikazu Kanna (himself an Okinawan), captain of the ship that transported the Imperial Prince on a visit to Okinawa, who supported Funakoshi after the exhibition, so that he could evaluate to commit himself to spreading the art in the mainland Japan, and Funakoshi himself got in touch with his colleague, Saburo Kinjo, director of the Ochanomitzu school, so that Karate was included in the program of the planned performances. The exhibition was organized with the help of photographs arranged on scrolls and was a success. Funakoshi had planned to stay only a short time in Tokyo, however the situation evolved differently. After the performance held in May 1922, Jigoro Kano, founder of Kodokan Judo, asked Funakoshi to demonstrate Karate at his residence and later asked for it to be repeated at the Kodokan headquarters in front of his senior students. Kano's interest should be briefly explained.
The founder of Judo was an educator, like Funakoshi, with duties at the ministerial level, he appreciated the qualities of martial arts and believed they could improve the qaulities of the Japanese people. With the Meiji Restoration many martial arts had no longer found a place in the new Japanese society (unless they had evolved), and with this idea, starting from the teachings of various schools of Jujutsu, he had developed Judo. However, after a short time, this new art began to focus mainly on competition, losing some essential concepts. To overcome these problems, and feeling that Judo was not complete, he hoped that the study of weapons would be included, in particular Bojutsu and Kendo, as well as the exchange with other martial arts to create a complete art. For this purpose, Kano was interested in Karate (in 1927 he would have institutionalized a study group, the Kobudo Kenkyukai, having his senior students trained with Kendo and Aikido Masters in primis), which he had already seen in 1908 as head of Tokyo Higher Normal School. He had seen six students from Shuri's school introduce Karate to the 10th Martial Arts Youth Gathering, and in 1910 he had organized a technical exchange at the Kodokan, precisely with Shuri's middle school, and had already contacted Funakoshi. However, the latter had declined, still not considering himself up to the task.
This time, however, Funakoshi accepted, and asked for the help of a young university student who was in Tokyo to study. Already a student of Itosu and, mainly, of Kentsu Yabu, as well as a black belt in Judo, this student was called Shinkin Gima (1896-1989). Gima performed Naihanchi, Funakoshi instead performed his favorite kata, the Kusanku. They later demonstrated some techniques and applications. Funakoshi had prepared an uniform similar to the Judogi, both for himself and for his partner, however it was with reluctance that he wore a black belt he obtained on the spot, having no official rank (Karate / Tode had not yet adopted any graduation system). Subsequently it seems that Kano proposed to Funakoshi to teach at the Kodokan, however he declined the offer, believing that Karate should evolve independently. Kano continued to support him, so much so that the first registration of Karate at the Butokukai, the highest institute that regulated the Japanese martial arts, took place within the Judo departement. Funakoshi himself received the honorary rank of 5th dan in Judo. Finally, Funakoshi was inspired precisely by Judo for the realization of an uniform, a system of degrees, and in organizing the programs, in order to adapt his art to the canons of the Butokukai.
After the presentation to Kano, another delay in his departure came thanks to an artist, Hoan Kosugi, who was impressed with Karate after a trip to Okinawa and eager to learn together with his group of artists, the Tabata Poplar Club. Thanks to this interest, Funakoshi made the decision to stay and teach in Tokyo, and he decided to write his first technical book about Karate, Ryukyu Kenpo Tode, published by the Bukyosha publishing house, reviewed by senior officers of the Armed Forces and prominent Okinawan personalities, and illustrated by Kosugi, who also painted the symbol that would become famous in the world, the famous "Shotokan Tiger": an animal that expressed elegance and power, but also recalled Mount Torao, in Okinawa, known for its pine vegetation (hence the name of the Master's pen, Shoto) similar to the mantle of the tiger, a mountain where Funakoshi loved to walk as a young man writing poetry. Furthermore, tiger in Japanese is Tora, and Tora no machi identifies the official book of an art. Since this would have been the first book on Karate (excluding the book Karate kumite, written by Hanashiro sensei in 1905), it was in a sense the tora no machi of this art, and playing on this term the chosen symbol was particularly suitable under all the points of view. We will talk about this first book, mainly composed of text, drawings and a few photos, as it is particularly important for analyzing the changes that have occurred over time in Funakoshi's Karate.
Having made the decision to teach Karate, the beginnings of Funakoshi's path were tough.
He was very poor (the Okinawans have always been underpaid compared to the collogues of the capital, where the cost of living is higher), and in the Okinawan student hostel, the Meiseijuku in the Koishikawa district where he had found accommodation, he performed the humblest jobs, also resorting to the pawnshop to be able to feed himself, and teaching very few students, including the first who received degrees on April 10, 1924: Shinkin Gima and his cousin Antei Tokuda, Akiba, Shin'yo Kasuya, Shimizu, Hirose and Hironori Otsuka, already Master of Jujutsu and future founder of the Wado-ryu style. Gradually Karate began to attract people's attention, and the students increased in number (it will also benefit in the future from the indirect publicity guaranteed by Choki Motobu's victorious fight against a foreign boxer in Kyoto, which was echoed in the newspapers in 1925, when Kingu magazine published the story, and the illustrator portrayed Funakoshi in the drawings copying from his book, rightly attracting the anger of Motobu, the true winner of the clash).
In September 1923 Tokyo was exhausted by the great Kanto earthquake, and Funakoshi with his pupils helped the population as best he could, but he had to suspend classes as the hostel was not put back in order, working on the mimeograph of the Daichii Saigo bank. On this occasion the original matrices of his book were lost, and Funakoshi republished in 1925 a new version of the book, updated, replacing the drawings with photos. In this book, entitled Rentan Goshin Todejutsu, some technical changes are already evident compared to the Karate presented in the 1922 book.
Even the universities began to open courses, first the University of Keio on the impulse of prof. Kasuya and with the support of one of the first students, Isao Obata, in September 1924, followed by Takushoku, Waseda, Hosei, etc., as well as the institutes of Commerce and Agriculture, Military Academies, high schools, etc. , also attracting the attention of various white-collar workers, wrestlers, politicians (such as Kichinosuke Saigo), exponents of other arts such as Yasuiro Konishi, who had good merit in having the martial art recognized by the Butokukai, where he held high positions as a Kendo Master, in addition to having allowed the creation of the first dojo at the University of Keio.