The birth of Shotokan Karate in Japan

In 1922 Gichin Funakoshi, aged 53, travelled from his home in Okinawa to the Japanese mainland to give a demonstration of the little known art of karate.

A school teacher by profession, Funakoshi Sensei was the favourite student of Anko Azato and also studied under Anko Itosu and to a lesser extent their teacher Sokon Matsumura.

While Yasutsune Itosu is the most famous of Matsumura’s students, Itosu was actually more of a Tomari stylist. Matsumura’s style was more closely represented by his student Yasutsune Azato, whose senior student was Funakoshi.

Funakoshi stated: “Azato followed Matsumura and Itosu followed Gusukuma.”

He reiterated: Masters Azato and Itosu were students of Matsumura and Gusukuma respectively. Masters Azato and Itosu were the teachers who instructed this writer and to whom the writer is greatly indebted.”

Funakoshi Sensei lived in a small room in the Meisojuku, a boarding home for Okinawan students, and to make ends meet he had to take odd jobs around the hostel as a caretaker.

Funakoshi sensei had actually made an earlier visit to Japan, giving a demonstration of the art in Kyoto in 1917 but it was not Crown Prince Hirohito visited Okinawa in 1921, and a karate demonstration was given in his presence, that Funakoshi was “noticed”.

The Okinawan captain of the prince’s ship suggested to Funakoshi that Karate should be introduced to the Japanese mainland.

Funakoshi was also asked to give a demonstration at the Kodokan Judo hall, in front of Judo founder Jigoro Kano himself and his senior instructors. To assist him, he took along Shinken Gima, a twenty-five year old Okinawan living in Tokyo, who had studied karate under Kentsu Yabu and Anko Itosu

Funakoshi demonstrated Kushanku (now called Kanku Dai in Shotokan) and Gima demonstrated Naihanchi (also called Tekki Shodan) and the two demonstrated Bunkai.

Gima recalled:

“When I arrived at the Kodokan with Funakoshi sensei not only were the seniors there to greet us but the Director, Jigoro Kano himself. More than 80 members of the Tomishinsoku Kodokan branch were there too, so there were over 200 people assembled for the demonstration. We were both overawed. It was natural we should feel nervous because the Kodokan was considered to be the mecca of Japanese budo.”

“Kano sensei was eager to learn about karate and he asked such detailed questions that Funakoshi sensei sometimes had difficulty in answering them. I believe that because we demonstrated at the Kodokan, karate was more easily introduced into mainland Japan. In other words, the fact that Kano sensei recognised karate meant that in turn karate was recognised by the Japanese budo world.”

In July 1922, Funakoshi began teaching his karate to a small group of students who had heard about him by word of mouth. For a dojo he was allowed to use the lecture hall of 20 tatami (mats) in the Meisojuku.

Funakoshi taught classes of around 8 students and taught mostly kata. By the 1930s, his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) assumed most of the teaching responsibilities.

These are the roots of the original Shoto Ryu Karate Jutsu before students like Nakayama and Egami conquered the world with the Shotokan movement.

Terry Wingrove 9th Dan who commenced study of Karate in 1957, one year after Gichin Funakoshi died said: “I was very fortunate to have contact with Shinken Gima sensei almost on a daily basis when I was working at FAJKO from 1968 and he would often have lunch with [Hideo] Tsuchiya sensei and myself and tell us stories of the early days of Karate in Japan.

“We must not forget that in those days of the rise of Imperial Japan the formal introductions and who-you-knew was a key element in the development of any enterprise not only in Martial Arts.

“In the case of Gichin Funakoshi the “fixer” without doubt was Yasuhiro Konishi (1893- 1983) as the first demonstration at the Kodokan, apparently did not impress Jigoro Kano (the founder of Judo) as he criticised it for not being an organised system as Funakoshi and Gima gave a disjointed display.

“It was at Konishi sensei’s dojo that Funakoshi formalised his “style” for general consumption. Also do not forget that an application was made via the Kodokan for Karate to be accepted as a division of the Kodokan by the [Dai Nippon] Butokukai in 1923. This was not acceptable to Funakoshi so no further action was taken.”



  1. No one at that time thought karate to be a martial art worthy of formal study..but more a gutter type of street fighting.
    Hense more emphasis put on teaching kata to elevate the status and intoduction to college where competition jiyukumite sparring flourished.
    Plus japanese budo denied its application.
    When Motobu defeated the foreign boxer Funakoshi was mistakenly given credit


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