Gichin Funakoshi

- The Father of Modern Karate -


Written by Sensei Jon Davis

17 May 2024


I’ve always felt an odd connection to Gichin Funakoshi. Perhaps it’s because we share a birthday of November 10th? Whatever the reason, I do know that him and I were both deeply impacted by karate training at a young age. So much so that we would both dedicate our lives to passing on its rich traditions.


Gichin Funakoshi was born November 10th, 1868 (we do not share the same birth year! :)) He was born Shuri, Okinawa, is celebrated as the founding father of modern karate. Growing up in a time of cultural exchange between Okinawa and mainland Japan, Funakoshi was exposed to various martial arts traditions. Despite facing early adversity, his passion for martial arts led him to become a devoted practitioner.


Funakoshi was a sickly child. Once he began karate training under Anko Itosu and Yatsatsune Azato, both prominent karate masters of the time, his health began to improve rapidly. As he honed his skills, he also embraced the principles of discipline, respect, and self-improvement. 


He was a school teacher in Okinawa, and was influential in introducing karate into the Okinawan public school system in 1902. Between the years of 1902-1907, Itosu Sensei and Funakoshi together developed the heian (pinan) kata, to be taught to school children.

IIn 1917, he was chosen to travel to mainland Japan to demonstrate karate at the original Butokuden in Kyoto. 4 years later, in 1921, he demonstrated at the Shuri Castle in front of Emperor Hirohito. But it was In 1922, that he made history by introducing karate to mainland Japan during a demonstration at the First National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo, captivating audiences and sparking widespread interest in the art.


Gichin Funakoshi’s teachings emphasized not only physical techniques but also spiritual and philosophical aspects. Based on the writings of Chomo Hanashiro, he coined the term, “karate-do,” meaning “the way of the empty hand,” in 1936. This was in an attempt to reflect the holistic nature of karate as a path to self-discovery and personal growth.


In 1936, Funakoshi esablished the Shotokan dojo in Tokyo, which became the birthplace of modern Shotokan Karate. The term “Shotokan” was derived from Funakoshi’s pen name, “Shoto,” meaning “pine waves,” which he used when signing his poetry.


Throughout his life, Funakoshi dedicated himself to promoting karate as a means of fostering character development, physical fitness, and mental resilience. He authored several influential books, including “Karate-Do: My Way of Life,” and “The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate.” These works provide practical guidance and philosophical insights, making karate more accessible to people around the world. His writings helped codify the techniques and principles of karate, ensuring that his teachings could be disseminated widely.

Funakoshi believed that the true purpose of karate was to develop one’s character. He taught that karate practitioners should strive for humility, respect and continuous self-improvement. This emphasis on personal development has resonated with many people and has contributed to the widespread adoption of karate as a practice that goes beyond mere self-defense.


Funakoshi’s legacy extends far beyond the realm of martial arts. His efforts to promote karate as a means of personal development and cultural exchange laid the groundwork for its global popularity and recognition. Today, Karate is practiced by millions of people worldwide, each continuing the legacy of Gichin Funakoshi by striving to embody the principles of discipline, respect, and self-improvement that he esposed. Gichin Funakoshi passed away on April 26th, 1957, leaving behind a profound legacy that continues to inspire martial artists worldwide.

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