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Perhaps Gichin Funakoshi Was Not the Greatest Karateka of All Time

Updated: 6 days ago


Gichin Funakoshi

This might come as a surprise to many who train in Japanese karate, who have come to regard Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) as the most towering figure in the art, the man who brought it from the countryside of Okinawa to Japan and the man who oversaw its introduction to the rest of the world. But it’s true.


While Funakoshi was a central figure in those accomplishments, we know that there were others — some with more experience in karate than he had — who also contributed. We also know that a primary reason Funakoshi was promoted to bring karate to mainland Japan was the fact that he was well-educated and able to communicate with the Japanese at a level that wouldn’t lead to his dismissal as an uncouth hillbilly — which is how many Japanese regarded Okinawans back then.


So it’s reasonable to remove Funakoshi, gently, from his pedestal and view him in a more realistic light. However, in doing so, we should avoid going too far in reducing his stature. He wasn’t a saint. He was, though, a remarkable figure.


FUNAKOSHI LEFT 20 precepts, a distillate of his karate philosophy. They are engraved on a plaque at his grave at Engakuji, the Kamakura temple where he’s buried. His sixth precept is a win- dow into the character of the man.

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