Gichin Funakoshi Timelines: History of Karate

In 1868 Gichin Funakoshi was born and was very weak as a child / baby because he was born premature. Luckily he went to school with the son of Azato and was soon being taught in secret and at night by Azato himself (Shuri-te). He was later also joined by a 2nd teacher, Itosu who taught him Naha-te.

When Funakoshi grew up he became a school teacher and one day decided to give a demonstration in the school that he taught at, even though it was still against the law. It was so successful that soon his form of self defence (Known as okinawa-te at that time) became a lesson in all schools over Okinawa.

He later (1912) decided to travel to Japan and gave a demonstration on a Japanese Navy fleet on the way over. The people on board were so impressed they told Funakoshi to show it all again when he got to Japan. When he got there he done private demonstrations for the Emporer (1917) and the Prince (1921), he was then asked to properly establish it in Japan. So in the same year Funakoshi returned home and resigned his job as teacher and then went back to Japan, where he performed in his first offical demonstration to the Japanese public in Tokyo. He started getting followers and interest, so he held the first official karate lesson in 1922 in a hall called the ‘KODOKAN’ which was a judo hall.

In 1924 Funakoshi’s karate hall in Okinawa (Mesei Juku used for various martial arts) was almost destroyed in an earthquake and for a while he held his classes in a friend Nakayama’s Kendo hall. The hall was in a state of disrepair and his classes were getting too big for this friends hall.

The Shotokan

Behind Funakoshi’s back a group of supporters were building him his very own purpose built karate dojo and named it after Funakoshi’s pen name (Shoto). The hall had a plaque above the door saying ‘Shotokan’ meaning Hall of the waving pines. This is when Funakoshi decided to call his type of karate, Shotokan. He also then created ‘the dojo kun’ which were karate rules and also Kyu and Dan which are the belt system we still use today. As he was in Japan he realised the martial art could not be called Kara-te meaning Chinese hand or okinawa-te meaning okinawa hand. He soon took the Chinese character that was used to signify “Chinese hand,” as karate was known, and adapted it to mean “empty hand.”, because this martial art was for everyone now to learn (not just Okinawa or China) and it also showed the fighting with no weapons.

The JKA (Japanese Karate Association)

The Japan Karate Association (JKA) was established by Funakoshi in 1944, so that all his clubs, schools and university clubs from all over Japan could all be associated under one organisation all following the same teachings. Funakoshi was the chief instructor of this. There started to be disputes after a while about whether teachers should be paid and in 1955 there was a split. Groups of instructors and students broke away and formed their own type of karate. There was now Funakoshi’s Shotokan and another called Shotokai. Shotokai decided to make karate into a sport with fighting and competition and this was against Funakoshi’s principles and teachings. Because of all this, Funakoshi stood down as Chief Instructor and gave this position to his best friend Nakayama, Funakoshi was now the honory chief instructor. Funakoshi died a few years later (1957).

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