BUCKS Karate Club

Bucks Karate Club - Buckinghamshire


Gichin Funakoshi was born on November 10, 1868. After entering primary school he became close friends with the son of Ankō Azato, a karate and Jigen-ryū master who would become his first karate teacher. Funakoshi's family was stiffly opposed to the abolition of the Japanese topknot hairstyle, making him ineligible to attend medical school, despite having passed the entrance examination. Being trained in both classical Chinese and Japanese philosophies and teachings, Funakoshi became an assistant teacher in Okinawa. His relations with the Azato family grew and he began nightly travels to the Azato family residence to receive karate instruction from Ankō Azato.


Shotokan Karate

Funakoshi had trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan karate of the time. In addition to being a karate master, Funakoshi was an avid poet and philosopher who would reportedly go for long walks in the forest where he would meditate and write his poetry.

By the late 1910s, Funakoshi had many students, of which a few were deemed capable of passing on their master's teachings. Continuing his effort to spread interest in Okinawan karate, Funakoshi travelled to mainland Japan in 1922.

In 1930, Funakoshi established an association named Dai-Nihon Karate-do Kenkyukai to promote communication and information exchange among people who study karate-do. In 1936, Dai-Nippon Karate-do Kenkyukai changed its name to Dai-Nippon Karate-do Shoto-kai. The association is known today as Shotokai, and is the official keeper of Funakoshi's karate heritage.

In 1939, Funakoshi built the first Shōtōkan dojo (training hall) in Tokyo. He changed the name of karate to mean ‘empty hand’ instead of ‘China hand’ (as referred to in Okinawa); the two words sound the same in Japanese, but are written differently. It was his belief that using the term for ‘Chinese’ would mislead people into thinking karate originated from Chinese boxing. Karate had borrowed many positive aspects from Chinese boxing, as they had with other martial arts. In addition, Funakoshi argued in his autobiography that a philosophical evaluation of the use of ‘empty’ seemed appropriate as it implied a way which was not tethered to any physical object.

Funakoshi's interpretation of the word kara to mean ‘empty’ was reported to have caused some recoil in Okinawa, prompting Funakoshi to remain in Tokyo indefinitely. In 1949 Funakoshi's students created the Japan Karate Association (JKA), with Funakoshi as the honorary head of the organisation. However in practise this organisation was led by Masatoshi Nakayama. The JKA began formalising Funakoshi's teachings, although Funakoshi was not supportive of all of the changes that the JKA eventually made to his karate style. Funakoshi began to suffer from osteoarthritis in 1948 and died of colorectal cancer in 1957.


Funakoshi published several books on karate including his autobiography, ‘Karate-Do: My Way of Life’ (currently available, published by Kodansha). His legacy, however, rests in a document containing his philosophies of karate training now referred to as the niju kun, or ‘twenty principles’. These rules are the premise of training for all Shotokan practitioners and are published in a work entitled ‘The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate’ (also available, published by Kodansha). Within this book, Funakoshi lays out 20 rules by which students of karate are urged to abide in an effort to ‘become better human beings’ (listed on our page ‘Principles of Karate’).