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Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint – Book Review

The picture shows the Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint.

Karate-Do Kyohan is one of the foundational works about Shotokan Karate Do by Gichin Funakoshi. Last year, Laurent Poliquin published a new facsimile reprint. Gichin Funakoshi expert Henning Wittwer reviewed the book for us.

Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint

Some time ago I was asked by The Dojo to review a “new” book by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957). I thought my task would be to check the Japanese to English translation and share my opinion on that matter, since I wrote earlier about some translation problems in Funakoshi’s biography. However, when I received the book, I was baffled. While the cover is in English, the content turned out to be Japanese. I found that strange. Would it not be more logical to publish a Japanese work with a Japanese title?

The cover proclaims that the book is a “facsimile reprint of the original 1935 edition” of Funakoshi’s 1935 Karate-dō Kyōhan. I made out an English “foreword” by Laurent Poliquin, who identifies as “senpai” and a member of a karate organisation, which turned out to be one of the many derivatives of JKA. The reason he wrote the forward is unclear to me. Is he the person responsible for the facsimile reprint copy? The copyright of the book refers not to him but a company in Canada.

Gichin Funakoshi

Objections to the Forward

In the “foreword” Poliquin tries to connect the facsimile reprint copy with the previously published English edition by Ōshima Tsutomu, and a translation done by Harumi Suzuki-Johnston in 2005. Poliquin is quick in pointing out that the two English versions did not have the benefit of a “revision by the author.” He wrongly claims that some of the content of Ōshima’s English edition has been altered. While this seems to be true when we compare it with the early editions of Funakoshi’s Kyōhan one has to understand that Ōshima translated a 1958 version of Funakoshi’s work that was finished during the lifetime of the author. Ōshima decided to include some parts of the 1935 edition to enhance the content.

Another uninformed claim by Poliquin is that the Suzuki-Johnston edition is a close reproduction of the 1935 version of Kyōhan. While this is what the advertisement states, in truth it is based on a Japanese reprint from 1985, not identical to the first edition as it claims.

The Page Order of Karate-Do Kyohan

First, the pages were “adapted” so that one can turn over the leaves in the “western” way, which means one reads the left page first and continues with its facing right page next. This works in theory only in this case, since the Japanese version is an old-style book intended to be read from the right to the left page. This reversed order of the original Japanese pages results in creating an awkward reading experience. To give an easy to understand example I simply refer to the photos for the kata Heian Shodan, which are presented side by side in the order of the kata. In the Japanese original the order of the photos is:

4 – 3 – 2 – 1 ←

This makes perfect sense if one reads it as intended from right to left, which everyone able to read Japanese would do. However, in the facsimile reprint copy the order of the photos from left to right is:

→ 2 – 1 – 4 – 3

So even if one is able to recognize the Japanese numbers for the sequence of the photos, one has to concentrate in order to understand the intended flow of the illustrations, which is mixed up now. In fact, already looking for the original page numbers turns out to be difficult since they are in the middle of the fold, just one example of how the printing quality of the facsimile reprint reminds me of cheap photocopies.

The Digital Version of the Karate-Do Kyohan

Since I was asked to review this book, I have to emphasize one important point. Years ago, a digital version of Funakoshi’s Kyōhan appeared online, which is what the publisher of this facsimile reprint copy appears to have copied, although the publisher does not mention this.

For example, Ogasawara Naganari (1867–1958) presented Funakoshi with a beautiful calligraphy. A photo of it appears in Funakoshi’s Kyōhan. In the digital version two little paper marks can be seen in the upper part of this picture. Naturally these paper marks are absent in other exemplars of the Kyōhan. Yet, one can see them in facsimile reprint.

Similarly, the photo illustrating the hand weapon “ipponnukite” in the digital version shows a scratch on the back of the hand as well as a white circle bottom corner. The same signs appear in the facsimile reprint.

Finally, notice to the seals at the imprint of the book. If one compares the position of the seals in the digital version with the facsimile reprint copy one notes that they are identical.

This means that the editor of facsimile reprint copy simply makes profit out of an initiative to advance academic research in karate. The result of such behaviour is that other researchers or institutions will be more hesitant to share the fruits of their labor in the future.

About the Author

Henning Wittwer took up his karate practice in 1992. From the beginning he followed the Shotokan current, initially in the more sport and tournament orientated organizations. Since 2005 he published his translations of old Japanese sources and his research regarding karate in German as well as in English journals and magazines. Wittwer is the author of many books. For his English books please see Amazon.

The picture shows Henning Wittwer´s book about Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Henning is also our reviewer of the Karate-Do Kyohan.
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How the Samurai Art Bujutsu influenced Shotokan Karate

Bujutsu, the martial and military arts of the samurai, had a great influence on the evolution of Shotokan karate do. Especially Gichin Funakoshi was highly impressed by Jigen-ryu, a bujutsu style from the south prefecture Satsuma in Japan. Later, Gigo Funakoshi enriched Shotokan with elements from kendo and other types of Japanese fencing. The following historical reconstruction illuminates the relationship between the samurai art bujutsu and Shotokan karate do. Thus it offers a new foundation to reflect about the style in general and its techniques and ideals in particular. By Geoffrey Wingard

How has traditional bujutsu (武術, martial and military arts) influenced Shotokan karate do? This question has to be addressed because Shotokan karate do, the ubiquitous karate of post-war Japan, is unique. It differs in significant ways from its Okinawan roots and from karate on Okinawa today. But how could that happen? Was Gichin Funakoshi not from Okinawa and did he not learn karate from Okinawan masters? Both facts are true.

Bujutsu, Jigen-ryu, and Shotokan Karate Do?

But Funakoshi and other pioneers of Shotokan designed their karate differently than most other major karate styles in Okinawa. The reasons for this difference can be found in the strong influence by traditional bujutsu in general and the southern Japanese swordsmanship Jigen-ryu in particular on the Shotokan. For instance:

  • Shotokan places great emphasis on the perfection of basic form;
  • While traditional, tries to avoid symbolic and esoteric techniques that obscure its singular focus;
  • It requires an austerity of practice unlike that of many other systems;
  • Shotokan karate uses longer stances;
  • It emphasizes fighting at greater distances;
  • It places much more emphasis on the ideal of ikken hissatsu, one hit – certain kill. 

These elements can be found in traditional Japanese swordsmanship.

However, Shotokan karate do shares tactical and strategic characteristics with both Okinawan and Japanese martial arts. It combines various Okinawan styles of karate with post-Meiji-era budo and koryu Japanese bujutsu. 

When Started the Influence of Bujutsu and Jigen-ryu on Shotokan Karate Do?

Funakoshi Adjusted Shotokan after the he moved to Tokyo

But how could this incorporation of Japanese bujutsu elements and concepts happen? The answers to these questions are complex. Both because Gichin Funakoshi had to face certain challenges when he moved to Japan, which made him adjust his style and because Shotokan continued to evolve throughout the twentieth century. Following his expatriation from Okinawa to Japan Funakoshi consciously molded his form of budo to appeal to Japanese audiences. The changes include 

  • the introduction of ranks and uniforms similar to those devised by Funakoshi’s Japanese sponsor Kano Jigoro of Kodokan Judo, 
  • the establishment of clubs at elite universities and
  •  the introduction of an “old boy” network, a system of informal yet important client/sponsor relations that characterizes many successful Japanese enterprises (Ashkenazi, 2002). 

Bujutsu Influence on Shotokan before Funakoshi Moved to Tokyo?

However, some of the particular technical aspects of Shotokan pre-date Funakoshi’s time in Tokyo. Therefore, the influence of Shotokan by bujutsu must have begun earlier than the 1920´s.

For instance, Shotokan’s stances undeniably got longer and deeper in the 1930s and 1940s under the influence of Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi, Gichin Funakoshi’s son and heir. But they were already longer and deeper than many Okinawan styles during the elder Funakoshi’s time. The same goes for Gigo´s emphasized ikken hissatsu in his new randori–style kumite. The concept of total commitment to initial technique was already present in his father’s karate. Furthermore, the introduction of kihon kata, shiai karate and bogu kumite also existed to some degree in the karate of other teachers from Okinawa, both in the Ryukyu Islands and on the Japanese mainland.

How did Bujutsu influence Shotokan Karate Do?

So, where did the differences that characterize Shotokan originate if they didn’t suddenly emerge in 1922 from the imagination of Gichin Funakoshi, a middle-aged displaced schoolteacher? In other words: is it logical that a socially conservative, impoverished, fifty-five year old man, living alone hundreds of miles from his home would abandon a lifetime of orthodox karate practice and come up with a new, untested methodology to sell to the Japanese public on the fly? Would Funakoshi, the former kaicho (president) of the Okinawa Karate Shobu-kai, simply abandon or radically alter karate-do on a whim? This seems unlikely. 

Another hypothesis, as I am going to show, is more likely: Shotokan, already contained characteristics that made it distinct from other Okinawan styles prior to its expatriation from Okinawa.

Anko Azato and Jigen-ryu

Famed British karate historian Steve Cattle argued that the distinctive characteristics of Funakoshi karate arose from the budo of one of his primary teachers: Azato Ankoh. According to Cattle (1990), the unique qualities of Shotokan emerged due to its association with Jigen-ryu kenjutsu through Master Azato. Azato was renowned on Okinawa for his Jigen-ryu swordsmanship. And he  impressed upon young Funakoshi the importance of training one’s hands “like a sharp steel sword” (Funakoshi, 1975, p. 94).

Furthermore, the Jigen-ryu was, as Cattle observes, the official style of the former Satsuma daimyo and their retainers, the closest samurai to Okinawa (based in what is now Kagoshima prefecture). Azato’s teacher, Matsumura Sokon, had mastered this style due to his association with the Satsuma clan as a bodyguard for the Okinawan king

The picture shows samurai of the clan Shimazu, which reigned Satsuma prefecture for several centuries. The Shimazu practiced the bujutsu style of Jigen-ryu, which later influenced the development of Shotokan.
The picture shows samurai of the Shimazu clan, which reigned Satsuma prefecture for several centuries. The Shimazu practiced the bujutsu style of Jigen-ryu, which later influenced the development of Shotokan.

Characteristics of Jigen-ryu

Jigen-ryu has distinctive characteristics. Many parallel with those in Shotokan karate do. 

  • It employs long stances, direct linear strikes, lunging attacks and an almost obsessive cultivation of perfect, basic techniques. 
  • It requires constant attention to technical efficacy trained through hitting springy wooden poles (not so unlike karateka hitting the makiwara). 
  • It is concerned primarily with training for an initial, instantaneous lethal blow, similar to Shotokan’s storied emphasis on ikken hissatsu. 

Historian G. Cameron Hurst explains that, “Jigen-ryu emphasized an initial offensive attack designed to either split the opponent in two or fell him with a single blow.” (1998, p. 62). Students of modern Shotokan will recognize both philosophical and technical similarities between the Jigen-ryu and Shotokan karate do.

Lunging Strike in Jigen-ryu and Oi-tsuki of Shotokan karate do

In 2001, at the University of Missouri – St. Louis’ Budo Symposium, koryu bujutsuka Ellis Amdur demonstrated the similarities of the primary lunging strike of Jigen-ryu to the oi-tsuki of Shotokan karate do. Amdur explained and demonstrated with startling ferocity how the lunge from what Jigen-ryu calls tonbo-no-kamae or dragonfly stance to a full extension of the sword following an overhand strike is analogous to Shotokan’s full extension into zenkutsu dachi with a lunge punch. Both techniques require total commitment to attack, the full extension of the arm and body, and synchronized stepping and striking movements.

These characteristics employed in seizing the initiative will be familiar to Shotokan karateka, but they are also present in Jigen-ryu, which has been described as “a system of all-out attack.” (Amdur, 2002, p. 165).

Kiai in Jigen-ryu and Shotokan Karate

Other, circumstantial evidence supports Shotokan’s association with Jigen-ryu swordsmanship. For example, Jigen-ryu is known for its unique kiai sometimes called a monkey’s shout (enkyo). It is a wailing, high-pitched yell performed with every downward cut of the sword. In English, the Jigen-ryu shout is most often transliterated as “Ei!” rather than kiai.

In Funakoshi’s final written work on his form of karate, Karate-do Kyohan, he uses the term kiai to describe the technique of shouting/expelling breath. But he also uses the English transliteration “Ei!” to describe the sound the karateka should make when performing kiai (1973, for example on p.75). In formal kumite training Shotokan karateka, like Jigen-ryu swordsmen, kiai to emphasize their lunging techniques.

The emphasize on a single-blow also leads to a rigorous trainings regime of Jigen-ryu.

Students of Funakoshi had Bujutsu Background

Another intriguing aspect underlines the relationship between Jigen-ryu and Shotokan. In the decades following Funakoshi´s introduction of karate to Japan he relied heavily on a few trusted senior students. Among these were Okinawans living in Japan such as Makoto Gima and Japanese natives trained in other bujutsu who became his students, notably Hironori Ohtsuka and Takeshi Shimoda. Each of these men brought their own preferences to Funakoshi’s style. But none succeeded him, meaning that the Shotokan we have inherited is more likely directly influenced by Funakoshi’s own budo than by outside contributors. 

Makoto Gima

Gima remained a follower of Funakoshi. However, he retained elements of his Okinawan teachers’ karate in his version of Shotokan. Schools of his lineage, the Kenkojuku, differ slightly from orthodox Shotokan today. A plausible reason might be the influence of Ankoh Itosu and Kentsu Yabu (n.b. Funakoshi had also studied extensively under Itosu, but not under Yabu). While the Kenkojuku is clearly a lineage of Shotokan karate, it does not necessarily reflect a pure lineage of Funakoshi’s particular style. 

Hironori Ohtsuka

Ohtsuka eventually left Funakoshi’s tutelage to train under rival teacher Motobu Choki. While Funakoshi never publicly spoke ill of him, neither did he train with him after the break. Ohtsuka founded the Wado-ryu karate style and did not inherit Shotokan.

Takeshi Shimoda

Shimoda, Funakoshi’s senior student in Japan, died unexpectedly after a brief illness at only thirty-three years old. While Shimoda’s expertise in nen-ryu kenjutsu inevitably influenced his personal interpretation of Funakoshi’s karate, his death limited his influence on the Shotokan method. That left Funakoshi’s third son, Gigo (Yoshitaka), to carry on the Shotokan tradition in Japan.

Bujutsu, Gigo Funakoshi, and the Evolution of Shotokan Karate Do

As a boy on Okinawa, Gigo had trained under both an elderly Itosu Ankoh and under his father. In Japan he was junior to Shimoda and studied directly under him and the elder Funakoshi. After Shimoda’s death, however, when the weight of inheritance fell upon him, Funakoshi Gigo began to train in earnest. At this time, he began to change the Shotokan curriculum and develop it into what many would recognize as a more modern form of Shotokan. He didn’t do this in a vacuum, however. 

The pictures shows Yoshitaka "Gigo" Funakoshi, who developed the style further of Shotokan further. Research shows that he was influenced by bujutsu and brought this influence into Shotokan karate.
Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi developed Shotokan further and implemented bujutsu elements into the style.

Gigo Funakoshi´s interest in Kendo and Gendai Budo

Kendo and other gendai budo influenced Gigo a lot (an influence in Shotokan that would grow after Gigo’s passing as most Shotokan dojo came under the direction of the Nakayama Masatoshi and the JKA), particularly concerning o-waza or long-distance techniques. Taiji Kase explained that Gigo Funakoshi developed and practiced o-waza in Shotokan for the same reason that kendoka practiced o-waza, “in order to develop and strengthen the body.” (Rincon, 2000).  But there are hints that some of Gigo’s changes to Shotokan may have, in fact, arisen from some continued association with the legacy of Jigen-ryu kenjutsu or from other lesser known Okinawan sources.

Gigo Funakoshi´s Time in Okinawa

Sometime between 1934 (after Shimoda’s death) and 1937, when Japan went to war in China and travel became restricted, Funakoshi Gigo traveled back to Okinawa to study karate. Who he studied with and what he studied are still something of a mystery. Both of his father’s primary teachers had passed away, Azato Ankoh in 1906 and Itosu Ankoh in 1915. However,  both had students remaining on Okinawa. 

Itosu’s legacy is impressive and he had many branch dojo and students teaching throughout the region including many in public schools. Azato’s karate is more of a mystery. However, research has shown that Azato had at least one son, a close friend of Funakoshi Gichin. He also practiced karate and remained on Okinawa. Azato also had other descendants and family members who practiced karate, a lineage of which is rumored to be extant in Kagoshima prefecture today. One can plausibly argue that Gigo could have studied with these men or with others influenced by them.

Did Gigo Bring Bujutsu Elements from Okinawa to Tokyo?

Were any of these influences related to the Jigen-ryu or in other ways formative for Shotokan? It is intriguing to think so for a few reasons. We know, for example, that upon his return to Tokyo from Okinawa Gigo introduced new techniques and stances to Shotokan that he may have learned on Okinawa. Other styles  related to the Shotokan/Shorin-ryu lineage do not accept these. He reportedly trained harder than ever upon his return and made great advances in his personal technique.

Gigo’s students, including Kase Taiji, one of the JKA’s renown masters, recalled Gigo attacking the makiwara over and over with powerful lunge punches and thrusts putting all his spirit and will into the practice after his return from Okinawa. There is an axiom in Jigen-ryu kenjutsu that states students should strike the tategi or freestanding striking pole, “3,000 times in the morning and 8,000 times at night”. Is this what Gigo was doing? Was this indomitable dedication and his new impressive lunging technique what he had learned in Okinawa?

The picture shows Gigo Funakoshi practicing at the makiwara. His interested in makiwara training might be influenved by his exposure to Jigen-ryu and other bujutsu, which also use striking devises made from wood.
Gigo Funakoshi during makiwara training.

Bujutsu and Shotokan Karate Do: A Close Relationship

Unfortunately, we may never know. Like Shimoda before him, Gigo’s life was cut short by disease at a young age. He died of tuberculosis at age thirty-nine and the Shotokan dojo itself was destroyed in the ravages of the Second World War. The Shotokan karate that emerged after the war took time to reform and was reconstructed to meet new challenges. The post-war karateka who followed Funakoshi made changes of their own to the style for both technical and political reasons that have unintentionally obscured some key details necessary for a comprehensive analysis of early Shotokan. 

What we can say with confidence, however, is that Shotokan karate, while distinct from other lineages of Okinawan martial arts, has a tradition that is both linked to traditional karate and that is intriguingly similar to other classical bujutsu, especially Jigen-ryu.


Amdur, E. 2002: Renovation and Innovation in Tradition. In: Skoss, D. (ed.): Keiko Shokon: Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan Volume 3. Berkley Heights, NJ: Koryu Books, pp. 145-178.

Ashkenazi, M. 2002: Ritual and the Ideal of Society in Karate. In: Jones, D.E. (ed.): Combat, Ritual and Performance: Anthropology of the Martial Arts. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, pp. 99-118.

Cattle, S. 1990: What is Shotokan? In: Shotokan Karate Magazine. Issue 24.

Funakoshi, G. 1973: Karate-do Kyohan: The Master Text. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Funakoshi, G. 1975: Karate-do My Way of Life. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Hurst, G.C. 1998: Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rincon, Martin 2000: Interviewing Sensei Taiji Kase 9º Dan Of Shotokan Ryu Karate-Do. In: Karate-Do Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha Albacete – España.

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Gichin Funakoshi: The Effects of the Wrong Translation of his Biography

The pictures shows Gichin Funakoshi who was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do. He coined the Shotokan Karate Philosophy in a pacifistic way. He although wrote Karate-Do Kyohan.

The Importance of Gichin Funakoshi´s Autobiography for Shotokan Karate

Today’s convictions about Shotokan Karate are predominantly based on karate literature. Gichin Funakoshi´s autobiography (1868–1957) has become one of the most popular and influentially books for the understanding of Shotokan Karate. One reason for this is that it was also published in English as Karate-dō: My Way of Life (1975) and in German as Karate-dō – Mein Weg (1993) as well as into other languages.

By Henning Wittwer

Translation Problems between Languages

Translations from one language into another pose difficulties. Above all Gichin Funakoshi’s autobiography shows to what wrong translstion lead. They mostly happen especially between those languages without common cultural roots. Therefore, the English version already contains various inconsistencies. They all emerged due to defective and incorrect translation and/or “smoothing out” the text. The German version, which is based on the English version, adopted these problems. Unfortunately, they spread as “truths” of karate and about the person of Funakoshi in the field of Shotokan.

In this article, I highlight four problematic passages by comparing them with the original Japanese text and additional Japanese sources. For reasons of thoroughness, I am going to use the first edition from 1956 of Gichin Funakoshi´s Biography and the following editions from 1976 and 2004.

Example 1: Prohibition of the Karate Practice in Ryūkyū

“Prohibition” in the English an German Translations

Especially widespread and popular is the conception of karate as a forbidden fighting art on the Islands of Okinawa. In the chapter “Losing a Topknot” of the English version of Funakoshi´s autobiography can we find traces of this supposed prohibition:

“At that time the practice of karate was banned by the government, so sessions had to take place in secret and pupils were strictly forbidden by their teachers to discuss with anyone the fact that they were learning the art.”

Following this, the German version reads in the chapter “So verlor ich meinen Haarknoten” (“The way I lost my Topknot”):

„In jener Zeit war die Ausübung des Karate durch die Regierung verboten, und die Treffen mußten deshalb geheimgehalten werden.“

The German citation underlines that wrong translations easily gain an unpredictable momentum. It differs considerably from the English edition.

The Statement in the Japanese Original

My own translation of the corresponding passage of the Japanese original has, however, a somewhat different tenor:

“At that time one could not learn karate in public [oyake].”

It is important to mention that wording and grammar of this sentence are the same in the Japanese original editions.

So, what happened in the English translation? The Japanese word oyake (“public”) became “government”. Misleadingly, the German edition picked up on that and used the term “Regierung”, which means  “government” in English. But the original text only states that Karate “could” not be learnt in publicly. It neither mentions a prohibition or even a prohibition ordered by the government. On the contrary, the royal government of Ryūkyū encouraged the karate practice at the end of the Edo period (1603–1867). In this case we must clearly differentiate the two aspects “secret practice” (fact) and “karate was forbidden” (historical nonsense).

Example 2: Is Karate a Sport?

“Sport” in the English Translation

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Now and then, the term “sport” arises in the English and in the German edition. Naturally the reader associates this word with notions like Olympic sports, sport tournaments etc. It also might seem to support the modern idea of sports karate. However, we find the following sentence in the chapter “Chinese Hand to Empty Hand” of the English edition:

“What is most important is that karate, as a form of sport used in physical education, should be simple enough to be practiced without undue difficulty by everybody, young and old, boys and girls, men and women.”

Karate as “Physical Education” in the Japanese Original

Let’s proceed to my translation of the Japanese original:

“Of course, karate as physical education [taiiku] has to be an easy to do matter for whosoever, old and young, man and woman.”

The original text uses the term taiiku, which means “physical education”. Then it somehow became “sport”. The Japanese language offers equivalents for the English word “sport”. Yet, Gichin Funakoshi did not refer to it in any way. In the cited passage he writes that “karate as physical education” must be “easy” respectively “without (too much) trouble” practicable for young and old, man and woman. Funakoshi speaks nowhere about a “form of sport used in physical education”, or “sportlicher Form” (“sportive form”) as later suggested in the German edition. These are interpretations of the translators and/or editors.

Gichin Funakhoshi´s Understanding of Shotokan Karate

Gichin Funakoshi saw karate from three angles in his books:

  1. Physical education (taiiku 体育),
  2. Art of self-protection (goshin-jutsu 護身術), and
  3. Spiritual practice (seishin shūyō 精神修養).

Gichin Funakoshi´s Understanding of Physical Education

The Japanese term for physical education, taiiku, consists of the two characters for “body”/“physique” (tai) and “to raise”/“to educate” (iku). (It should be noted that “physical education” doesn’t automatically refer to the educational activity PE in school curricula.) Gichin Funakoshi chose the term consciously and it should not be reinterpreted. He explained the term in his earlier works: all five parts of the body are well-proportioned moved to the right and left, upwards and downwards. So, the body is exercised. Moreover, he points out that exactly this well-proportion of exercise of a karateka is an advantage over practitioners of other disciplines like, for example, the rower or the jumper.

The Benefits of Physical Education trough Karate-Do

He also believed in the development of tendons and bones as a particular strong point when compared Karate with other fighting arts (bugei). Above all, he underlined this by mentioning the increase of strength through karate practice. Men, women, and children alike exercise Karate without being unchallenged or over-challenged.

For Gichin Funakoshi´s the physical education through karate practice resulted also in a healthy and long life – another positive argument for him. Therefore, even older karateka could compete with the several people. All these points are not related with “sportive tournaments” etc.

  • Gichin Funakoshi training Kumite with an American military officer
  • Gichin Funakoshi doing some Shotokan techniques during kumite

Besides of the distortion of the term taiiku the editors also used the term “sport” as a filler word in some cases. This happened without reason. It also happened directly in Funakoshi’s foreword.

Example 3: Funakoshi an Anti-Alcoholic?

Sometimes, karate is connected with certain values or even ways of life. Therefore, Karate pioneers serve as role models in this respect. Reading Funakoshi’s autobiography it seems to be evident that he lived the life of a teetotaller (a person who does not drink). The chapter “Difficult Days” of the English edition states, for instance:

„Although I do not drink alcohol, my complexion is quite ruddy, and as my skin is also extremely smooth, I could understand how, in this little boy’s mind, I looked like a melon that becomes bright orange when ripe.”

Gichin Funakoshi´s “Snake Gourd” Anecdote

This passage belongs to an anecdote: Funakoshi has been loudly derided by children, who repeatedly named him a “snake gourd” (“melon” in the English edition). Funakoshi could not understand, why they compared him to a snake gourd. But, when he looked into the mirror “later”, he realized the reason. He explained it as follows:

“I am drinking no sake [right now]; however, also today I [still] have a red face which does not resemble my age. Since at that time it was the same and the brightness [of my face], too, was good, that is the reason that I really was a magnificent snake gourd.”

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The first sentence refers to a present situation taking place in the present. In doing so, Funakoshi finds out that he has a red face in that moment, although he does not drink alcohol at the moment. In the following sentence he compares this situation with his condition at that time. As a result, he realized that it was like the children said. Although, he had not drunken alcohol, he had a red and bright face.

However, in other writings Funakoshi talked about his alcohol consumption. In his Karate Stories he reveals, for example, that he completed the draft of his first karate book tipsy after a party. Moreover, I also asked witnesses, who personally met Funakoshi, like Asai Tetsuhiko (1935–2006). They confirmed that Funakoshi drank alcohol.

Example 4: Karate-Dō is One. Isn’t It?

The title of a chapter in the English version sounds like an important and profound epigraph:

“Karate-dō is One”

Analogous it reads in the German edition:

“Karate-dō ist Eins”

But what is the Japanese original of this “principle”? The title of the corresponding chapter is almost unrecognizable. It simply runs:

“The Schools of Karate” [Karate no ryūha]

Translated more literal it means the “Currents and Branches of Karate”. Funakoshi did not express with the title a unification of Karate. A creative interpreter or editor inserted it.

Ad: Higaonna Kamesuke: on Karate in Okinawa,
Japan & Hawaii by Henning Wittwer

In his very first works he already discussed “The Schools of Karate”. From the beginning, they were equivalent for him to the concept of shorei-ryu and shorin-ryu. They in turn had nothing to do with the traditions (ryūha), which were known in mainland Japan back then. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Shōrei and Shōrin were used as two rough categories. They classified types of students (small and light on the one hand, tall and heavy on the other hand). Gichin Funakoshi described this concept constantly under comparable headings. Above all, he emphasized that in his opinion a karate student shall ideally learn from both categories to become a balanced karatea. He puts it into practice by teaching his students the Heian as well as the Tekki series as fundamental kata.

His biography at the end of this section in the book states that various denotations had been created for currents and branches recently. He offered a remark that it would be more adequate to simply speak of “karate-dō” in such cases. However, here he wrote nothing of a presumed “unification”, or that supposedly “karate-dō is one”.

The Consequences of Wrong Translations for Shotokan Karate

These examples show that even simple but wrong translations cause today’s widely spread misunderstandings and misconceptions of Karate. We must also take into account that Japanese books might have been manipulated as well during the process of publishing new editions.

When I was a teenager I read Gichin Funakoshi’s German biography for the first time. It naturally influenced my understanding of karate and my expectations. Therefore, I am convinced that a correct translation would have saved me to follow a few wrong tracks and dead-end roads on “my way” of karate.


I sincerely would like to thank Pierre Dobrzykowski for helping me with the 1956 edition of the Funakoshi biography as well as Mark Tankosich for providing me with a copy of Funakoshi’s Karate no Hanashi.


About the Author

Henning Wittwer took up his karate practise in 1992. From the beginning he followed the Shotokan current, initially in the more sport and tournament orientated organisations. Since 2005 he published his translations of old Japanese sources and his research regarding karate in German as well as in English journals and magazines.