Article by Manuel Vignola

At this point Funakoshi began to have a first success especially in the university field, and with the increase in the number of students another famous character intervened in his support: Hakudo Nakayama (1872-1958), probably the most famous Kendo Master in Japan in that period, as well as a character well inserted in the world of Japanese martial arts. He offered Funakoshi the availability of his Yushinkan dojo premises when they were not being used for classes, and the two became friends. Funakoshi rented a small house nearby, but a little further on he was able to afford a larger one with a large courtyard where he could also teach; the number of students had increased and the Master's economic situation had improved considerably. Furthermore, in 1927, his third son Gigo (Yoshitaka) joined him, who after a period as a carpenter obtained the diploma of radiologist technician, and started working in a hospital. It is the second period of Funakoshi's life in Tokyo, the Yushinkan period (1924-1931).
In 1928 a meeting took place in Tokyo between Funakoshi and his two old friends, Kenwa Mabuni and Chojun Miyagi and, according to Shinkin Gima, Funakoshi was stunned to hear Karate defined as Shuri Te, Naha Te and Tomari Te; it was in fact a recent subdivision, dating back to the previous year, when in Okinawa the distinction in three villages was used for the first time, to present Karate to Jigoro Kano. On March 20, 1928, the Imperial Household (at Kano's suggestion) asked Funakoshi to organize an exhibition for the Emperor and his family at the Seinen Kaikan; it was the second time that the Master performed with some of his students in front of the Emperor, and this time he did it in the Imperial Capital and, moreover, the Emperor remembered the previous performance in Okinawa, as his Secretary told Funakoshi.
Towards the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, some disagreements began with some students who, having been brought up in Japanese society, felt bad with the traditionalist training system of Okinawa, and were more accustomed to the methods of Kendo and Judo: in 1927, for example, three students who taught at Shichi-Tokuda, Miki, Bo and Hirayama, introduced free combat into their courses using protective equipement taken from Kendo (which, by the way, was already performed in Okinawa, thanks to Kentsu Yabu and Kenwa Mabuni) running into the ire of Funakoshi and Otsuka who never showed up again in that course. Funakoshi was always opposed to free fighting, however Otsuka and Konishi managed to introduce, after persuading him, basic forms of prearranged kumite, similar to the basic exercises taught in Kendo and Jujutsu: around 1930 the gohon kumite (five steps to be followed by the three-step sanbon kumite, exercises taken from Kendo), in 1933 the so-called kihon kumite (already demonstrated in 1928 in front of the Emperor). Between the 1920s and 1930s other Okinawan Masters also began to spread their teachings in "mainland" Japan, Miyagi and especially Mabuni, who moved to Osaka after a year (out of respect for Funakoshi, who worked in the Tokyo area ), Motobu had already arrived, and also Kanken Toyama.

Mabuni sensei

Motobu sensei

Toyama sensei
Over time, however, the growth of both Kendo and Karate students began to be a problem, and the Nakayama dojo was no longer able to meet the initial expectations: the third period called the Masagocho dojo (1931-1938) began in where Funakoshi, who was now economically in a good situation, bought a house in central Tokyo, and organized a dojo in the garden, which a year later will also incorporate part of the neighboring house.
In December 1933, thanks above all to the tireless work of Yasuhiro Konishi, Karate was officially recognized by the Dai Nippon Butokukai (of which he was already an influential member for Kendo) as Japanese Budo, and Konishi himself was nominated in the commission that judged the issuing of official teaching licenses, creating complaints among various Okinawan Masters: Miyagi and Sannosuke Ueshima received the first degrees of Kyoshi (Teachers), and the various Masters were encouraged to name their respective styles. In 1938 he became Kyoshi Hironori Otsuka, and in 1939, thanks to Konishi's interest, the title of Renshi was given to the two Funakoshi (father and son) and to Mabuni; in 1941 Funakoshi obtained the rank of Kyoshi.
In this period (1934) the definitive break with Otsuka took place, and the reasons could be different: Otsuka's desire to give his own line and methodology to his teaching; the fact that, like Konishi (and in fact he too was heavily criticized), he too studied with Choki Motobu; the fact that according to some sources Funakoshi did not appreciate (and neither did his son Gigo) the inclusion of more and more Jujutsu techniques in his Karate; and, it seems, also a question of money had its weight: at that time Otsuka resigned from the Kawasaki Bank, making a contribution to create the official dojo of the Master, and being a bank employee, he was in charge of managing donations. However, Funakoshi's first son, Giei, was pressured by the debts he had accumulated from gambling, and he began to put pressure on Otsuka who, finally, after having a meeting with the other senior students, agreed to help him. Apparently, however, Giei never returned the money, and accused Otsuka of stealing it. The situation became so unbearable that eventually Otsuka decided to break away and found his own style, Wado-ryu. It is not known what the main reason was, however Funakoshi did not completely break off relations with him, so much so that he went to the inauguration of his dojo on April 1, 1934. His place was taken by another Funakoshi's senior student, Takeshi Shimoda ( 1901-1934), who unfortunately died shortly thereafter, so that Gigo Funakoshi in turn took on the role of main instructor. It was a time when Shimoda, Egami and Funakoshi traveled a lot around the country, doing demonstrations (Kyoto, Osaka, Kyushu, etc., and apparently they also visited Korea). 1934 was also the year in which Konishi distanced himself from Funakoshi, and in which he founded his style, Shindo Jinen-ryu.
In 1934 Funakoshi, Mabuni and Miyagi were asked by a Tokyo company (Hawaiian Pacific Times) to spread Karate in Hawaii, a sign of the strong interest in art; of the three only Miyagi went to teach in Hawaii for a short time.
In 1935 another book by Funakoshi was published, "Karate-do Kyohan", the fundamental text in which the break with the traditional way of understanding Karate is officially noted, as well as its adaptation to the canons of Judo, in order to obtain the official recognition by the Dai Nippon Butokukai. The kyu and dan system was introduced, that is the graduation system of the students, a Japanese terminology was introduced, the new term of Karate-do was made official in place of Tode-jutsu (from "Chinese hand / technique" to "empty hand" , which in truth was already used by Funakoshi since 1929, according to Tetsuhiro Hokama, after having discussed with the Abbot of the Zen temple of Engaku-ji), the Okinawan terminology, "daughter" of the Itosu reform, was replaced with the Japanese one, given the climate of strong nationalism (especially of the Dai Nippon Butokukai), and consequently the names of the kata were changed. Jiyu kumite, "free" fighting, was introduced, one thing that Funakoshi never appreciated.
1935 was also the year in which the Dai Nihon Karate-do Kenkyukai association was formed, a sort of Japanese version of the Okinawan Kenkyukai, with the aim of raising funds to build the first real Karate dojo in Japan, an initiative conceived by Kichinosuke Saigo, a senior pupil and member of an influential family. The organization changed its name a year later, becoming Dai Nippon Karate-do Shotokai, which is still in operation today.
In the spring of 1939 all the efforts of the various donors were crowned with the construction in Tokyo of the first Karate dojo in mainland Japan (in Zoishigawa, Tokyo), which will receive the name of "Shotokan" (officially inaugurated on July 29, 1941), taking inspired by Funakoshi's poetic pseudonym, Shoto. The name, as he himself pointed out, was chosen by the committee that raised the funds, in honor of him. Funakoshi, now an elderly man, had his dojo, and entrusted the responsibility to Gigo Funakoshi, who with his group (especially with Shigeru Egami) began a personal research that would have completely changed Karate (to which his father had certainly already brought some changes), detaching it in part from the art of Okinawa, and in part drawing from the Okinawan school Karate (the one taught, for example, at the Shihan Gakko of Okinawa. Which, among other things, already done by Gichin Funakoshi), making it become a "Japanese" art, with influences of principles also of Kendo (eg the predilection for long distance, lowering of the center of gravity, etc.), and probably also of Korean martial arts (high kicks). Thus began the last period of Funakoshi's life, unfortunately studded with various misfortunes...


  • "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)