Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.

The following article originally appeared in the Journal of the Shoto Research Society International, and is reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright © Joe Swift. All rights reserved. See his website Traditional Karate Kobudo.

See parts 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the article.


Wisdom from the Past: Tidbits on Kata
Applications from Pre-War Karate Books.
Part Two: The Writings of Funakoshi Gichin

By Joe Swift

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the 1938 Karatedo Nyumon by Mabuni Kenwa and Nakasone Genwa. In this edition, let us now turn our attention to Funakoshi Gichin, the architect of Shotokan Karatedo. Funakoshi is often bashed by teachers of other styles as not having a grasp on the fundamental application principles of that kata that he taught. On the other hand, some Shotokan stylists tend to almost deify the man. It is the opinion of this author, based upon the writings that Funakoshi has left to posterity, he was no god, but then again he was no incompetent clod, either. In other words, I truly believe that he understood the application principles of the kata, even if he did not always teach them. Let us now take a look at some examples of what appear to be Funakoshi dropping hints in his four technical manuals, a case of Funakoshi lifting up one corner of the tablecloth, but leaving it to the student to look under the other three, to paraphrase Shotokan instructor Bob McMahon of Australia.

Ryukyu Kenpo Toudi (1922) and Rentan Goshin Toudijutsu (1925)

Iai Kumite  Iai Kumite
Funakoshi Gichin demonstrating defense from seiza
Nage Waza
Funakoshi Gichin demonstrating
a throwing technique

These two books are essentially the same in content, the second being a sort of revision and republication of the first. Ryukyu Kenpo Toudi was the first officially published book on the Okinawan defensive system, and featured line drawings of Funakoshi demonstrating his big 15 kata, namely Pinan 1-5, Naihanchi 1-3, Kushanku, Passai, Seishan, Wanshu, Chinto, Jion and Jitte. The drawings were done by Kosugi Hoan, an artist who was one of Funakoshi's first students. The second book featured basically the same information, but with over 200 photos of Funakoshi performing these kata.

With regards to the applications of the kata, the most outstanding portion of these two works are the sections on throwing techniques. The first book includes eight such techniques, whereas the second only described six. However, it is interesting that in both, Funakoshi describes one throw or grappling technique as an application from Naihanchi Shodan, and another from Passai.

Also, of special interest may be the description of hiki-te that Funakoshi gives. He describes it as grabbing and pulling the opponent. This is in direct contrast to the explanation given by later karate instructors, albeit mainly from modern competitive versions of the art, who claim that the retracting hand is to gain more power in the punching hand.

Other than these, there is very little reference to applications throughout these books. It was not until a decade later that Funakoshi made a bit clearer his knowledge of such practices.

Karatedo Kyohan (1935)

Kyusho Jintai
Kyusho Jintai
Heian 3
Heian Sandan application.
Note the use of Shiko Dachi

Funakoshi's next book on karate was his monumental Karatedo Kyohan. In this book we begin to see some of the major changes that Funakoshi and his students were beginning to make in their karate, including using the Japanized names for the kata, namely Heian (Pinan), Tekki (Naihanchi), Kanku (Kushanku), Bassai (Passai), Hangetsu (Seishan), Enpi (Wanshu), and Gankaku (Chinto). Jion and Jitte (a.k.a. Jutte) appear to have remained the same in pronunciation. However, it is also in this book that Funakoshi makes the most references to application of the kata. First of all, Funakoshi states on page 17 of the Japanese original, that there are throws in karate, but the main techniques consist of strikes, kicks, punches and gyaku-waza (joint manipulation). This statement is found in the chapter on the value of karate as self-defense. In the chapter on kata, Funakoshi drops hints about applications in the description of the kata, such as the arm-bar/break from Heian Nidan. Apart from these, Funakoshi and his student Otsuka Hironori (founder of Wadoryu Karatedo) can be seen performing several throws and seated self-defense techniques. Although some might be quick to point out that it may have been Otsuka to have taught these to Funakoshi, with his Jujutsu background, it should also be noted that most of these throws can also be found in Funakoshi's first book, published in 1922. One of the seated techniques is also described as an application to the Jion kata (see photos). Other than the specific techniques, however, one of the most interesting areas of this tome is the section of vital points and their effects. The chart and list of effects is said, however, to have come from Otsuka'sShindo Yoshinryu Jujutsu tradition, and was a gift from Otsuka to Funakoshi in commemoration of the publication of this landmark book. This is not to say that Funakoshi was ignorant of the vital points and methods of utilizing them, but may instead point to the prominence of oral transmission of the Ryukyuan fighting traditions in place of written records.

Karate Nyumon (1943)

Shuto Uke in Kokutsu Dachi
Funakoshi Gichin demonstrating
Shuto Uke in Kokutsu Dachi
This book, known to English readers as Karatedo Nyumon, introduced Funakoshi's basic Ten no Kata as well as several stories that serve to illustrate the history and philosophy of the art. One story in particular seems to hint at the so-called secrets of kata, that the author would like to reiterate here. It is in the chapter entitled Karate in Ryukyu and describes the transmission of kata.

The custom of secrecy lingered on in Okinawa until very recently. About ten years ago, I received word from an elderly gentleman who said, I know a kata that I have never taught to anyone but wish to pass it on to you before I die. I deeply appreciated his kind intentions, but unfortunately I could not easily make the trip from Tokyo to Okinawa and back. For one thing I was very busy with my work and could not take the time off. Just at that time, however, my third son Gigo had some business to attend to in Okinawa, so I asked that he be taught the kata in my place.

The old gentleman was highly elated by Gigo's arrival. When it came time to teach the kata, he securely shut all the doors and shutters so that it was impossible to peek in from the outside. When the instruction was over, the old man said, Now I can die in peace. Among the men I refused to teach it to there was one who kept pestering me until I finally had to agree. But I altered the form and the crucial movements. So if any doubts are raised about this kata in the future, tell your father that the kata I have taught you is the correct one. When I was a youth, incidents like this were still rather commonplace. (page 23 of the 1988 English translation by John Teramoto.)

In conclusion, although many would like to decry modern Shotokan as a watered-down sport version of the ancient Okinawan methods, it can be illustrated through the writing he left that the principle architect, Funakoshi Gichin, did indeed know something of the self defense applications of the kata. The only real question, in this author's opinion, is did he teach all that he knew to his students?

The next installment of this series will take a look at the writings of Funakoshi Gichin's arch rival Motobu Choki. Stay tuned!


Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.