Article by Emanuel Giordano

Often you can read many inaccurate things on the internet, which, unfortunately, end up being repeated like an echo by those who read them. The phenomenon of fake news is one of the aspects of the so-called infodemic, which also concerns the world of Karate. Although historical research has made great strides, and despite having dispelled many myths, one can still read a lot of incorrect information and clichés, based on nothing, repeated by the various karateka active on the internet.
A striking case is the fact that Funakoshi sensei (as well as his dissemination work) was frowned upon by his "colleagues" who remained in Okinawa. Nothing could be more wrong, as we will see later. It seems that the idea is based on some phrases extrapolated from their context, and not directed to Funakoshi sensei, but rather to the way of practicing of some unidentified "continental" Japanese karateka. One of these phrases comes from the minutes of the assembly of Karate masters, held in 1936 in Okinawa. The assembly was opened by the chief editor of Ryukyu Shimpo (local newspaper), Matayoshi Yasukazu, who said the following sentence:
“[...]Karate has recently become popular in Tokyo; however, in the wake of this popularity, there are people who seem to be doing it the wrong way. We believe it is our responsibility to ensure that only the Orthodox tradition that embodies the painstaking commitment of authentic Okinawan karate masters is the only one worth passing down.[…]”
As can be seen from the text, Matayoshi does not mention anyone in particular. At the time, mainly Funakoshi sensei, Mabuni sensei, Motobu sensei and Toyama sensei were active in mainland Japan, plus various clubs and university study groups.
Another often reported opinion is that of Nagamine sensei. In the second part of the Taidan article (09/25/1957, Okinawa Times) Nagamine writes:
So many dojos in mainland, and each dojo gives dan as it pleases. It's good that it's popular, but most of it is technically poor. Since Gichin Funakoshi sensei moved to Tokyo in 1922, his success in popularizing Karate is enormous. That Karate is spreading after the war, but the content is insufficient and it seems to be like a show. Many "so-and-so Ryu" are created in mainland. After all, I'm not sure it's a worthy development of Karate-do.”
Again it is evident that Nagamine sensei refers more to the uncontrolled proliferation of dojos and Karate styles in mainland Japan, rather than to Funakoshi sensei, although it is clear that they were born as a result of his dissemination work.
Instead, let's now see the opinion of a very important character: Chibana Choshin sensei. Chibana sensei, official founder of Shorin-ryu, was also the first president of the Okinawa Karate-do Renmei 沖縄空手道連盟 (the Okinawa Karate Federation), as well as the Karate heir of Itosu Anko sensei, its principal (but not unique) master. Chibana sensei was also the only student of Itosu (among those who later became Karate masters) whose Karate was not "contaminated" by the Karate taught in the school environment. In fact, he did not study with Itosu sensei at the Shihan Gakko (teachers institute of Shuri, Okinawa), nor did he teach Karate as a school discipline, as did Yabu sensei, Funakoshi sensei, Hanashiro sensei, Tokuda sensei, Gusukuma sensei, Toyama sensei, etc. , etc. His Karate, therefore, remained immune from some simplifications that occurred over time. A character like that, if you believe the opinion according to which Funakoshi sensei was not appreciated by his colleagues in Okinawa, should therefore have been very critical of him. Instead Chibana sensei quoted Funakoshi sensei very often in his articles, never speaking ill of him. Let's see an example extracted from the first part of the article Karate-do (07/24/1953, Ryukyu Shimpo):
Karate-do, since it was taught in Tokyo by Funakoshi Gichin and Motobu Choki, has gained a lot of credibility, and is expanding throughout Japan. In the future, its moment [of glory] will come, today it is already spreading on American soil. Seeing it expand not only in Japan but all over the world is a real joy for us karatekas.
The above words are very clear and easy to understand: Chibana sensei appreciated the dissemination work carried out by Funakoshi sensei and Motobu sensei, although he too negatively criticized part of the Karate practiced in "continental" Japan. In fact, in the Taidan article that I have already mentioned above, after Nagamine sensei's statement, Chibana sensei replied:
Karate [seen] in the videos is like an acrobatic show.
Finally I would like to mention another important character, Miyahira Katsuya sensei. A pupil of Chibana sensei, Motobu sensei and Tokuda sensei, Miyahira was also the heir of Chibana sensei, the second president of Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-do Kyokai (the first was Chibana), the founder of the Shidokan Shorin-ryu dojo, as well as the teacher of my teacher, Maeshiro Morinobu sensei. In the article Shorin-ryu no ayumi to tokucho (1973, Ryukyu no bunka) he wrote:
“[…] On the other hand, Funakoshi Gichin, the emeritus pioneer of the spread of Karate in the capital [Tokyo], had not even given a name to his Karate, but had only given a name to his dojo: Shotokan. […]”
It is plausible to think that someone may have leveled negative criticism of Funakoshi sensei's introductory work, but to say that both he and his efforts were heavily criticized by his contemporaries who remained in Okinawa is simply untrue, as just demonstrated. Instead, it is correct to say that a lot of negative criticism was directed at Japanese Karate, and the direction it was taking. Criticisms that, at times, were also moved by Funakoshi himself.
  • "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)