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Hirokazu Kanazawa: The Life of A Shotokan Legend

Hirokazu Kanazawa belongs to the group of Shotokan pioneers, who made karate what it is today. In this portrait we give you an overview about his life as a Shotokan legend. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

For many Shotokan karateka Hirokazu Kanazawa is a living legend. His supporters place him behind Gichin Funakoshi and Masatoshi Nakayama in the hierarchy of the martial arts. However, it cannot be doubt that nobody has coined Shotokan karate like Hirokazu Kanazawa in the last 50 years. Thus, he is among the most recognizable faces of karate in general. This admiration arises from his exquisite technique and his humble approach of Shotokan.

However, who is Hirokazu Kanazawa? Why did he start Shotokan karate? And how did his karate career unfold? We are going to answer this question in the following portrait, which was co-authored with Patrick Donkor from Finding Karate.

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Early Years and First Encounter with Karate

Kanazawa was born on 3 May 1931, in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. His father was a fisherman who died young in the 1940s. Therefore, his mother, Masue, became a big influence on his life. The middle child of three, his older brother, Tatsuo, would eventually run the family’s fishing business. His younger brother, Hideo, became eventually a doctor. Therefore, his family background was rather labor class and nothing indicated his later career.

During high school, on the other hand, Kanazawa developed an interest in martial arts. For instance, he was describe to be a keen boxer and judoka. In Judo he eventually reached the rank of 2nd Dan.

Hirokazu Kanazawa first became aware of Karate in the 1940s while he was a senior at high school. The person, who got him in touch with the art, was an Okinawan friend of his brother named Yamashiro, who visited him during holidays. One night the small man from Okinawa became drunk and got into a fight with several local fisherman. Somebody called the police and Officer Kodama, a very big man and a renowned 5th Dan judoka attended the squad. After a while a fight broke out in which the smaller Yamashiro broke Officer Kodama’s nose. This was Kanazawa’s first experience of Karate in action. And it had a gigantic effect on him. As a result he wanted to become a karateka. However, there were no Karate clubs locally. Thus, he had to wait until he entered university.

Takushoku University Karate Club

In 1951, Kanazawa enrolled at Nippon University in Tokyo. He joined the university’s Karate club, but was soon disappointed with the training. In his perception the club was weak because it had only one black belt student and many white belts. Fortunately, he also had the chance to watch a training session conducted by students from Takushoku University. The performance of the Takudai´s impressed him so much, that he chose to transfer to Takushoku Unversity. This decision became formative for his later career.

Later the year, Hirokazu Kanazawa took and passed the entrance exams for Takushoku University, and transferred to the university. In addition, he also joined the university’s Shotokan karate club, which was considered the strongest in the country. Having developed close-range and ground fighting skills with boxing and Judo, he was impressed by the long-range fighting techniques of Shotokan karate.

A picture of the still very young Hirokazu Kanazawa from the 1950´s.
A picture of the still very young Hirokazu Kanazawa from the 1950´s.

Hirokazu Kanazawa Trained 5-6 Hours a Day

His passion for the art grew so much that he trained 5 to 6 hours a day beside his general studies. But Hirokazu Kanazawa also had to catch up with the other student. Some of them already studied Karate at high school. To overcome this deficit he trained by himself at night. He also used a lot of mental imagery to rehearse the techniques he practiced.

Every now and then, Gichin Funakoshi would come to the club to teach. Kanazawa had the responsibility to collect him from his home and to bring him to the club. As a result, he developed a string relationship to master Funakoshi.

Hirokazu Kanazawa in a video about karate self-defense.

How Hirokazu Kanazawa Became a JKA Instructor

In 1956, Kanazawa was promoted to 3rd Dan and graduated from Takushoku. Like many other young graduates he became interesting for the corporate world. So, the Taiyo Fisheries Company tried to recruit him. However, Masatoshi Nakayama the Chief Instructor of the JKA, wanted him to join the newly formed Instructors Course. Therefore, Kanazawa chose this option instead of becoming a corporate man. Because he already had joined the Japan Karate Association during university and felt the confidence that he wanted to become a karate instructor.

Alongside Takayuki Mikami he graduated from the grueling instructors course in 1957. Their instructors included Nakayama, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Taiji Kase and Teruyuki Okazaki. As a result, he became an instructor at the JKA Honbu dojo, at several companies, and universities. So, he gave training at organizations like Musashi Industrial University, Mitsubishi Shoji Company, and Arabia Oil Company.

Winning the First JKA Championships with A Broken Wrist and Becoming Grand Champion

On 28 October 1957, the 1st All Japan Karate Association Championships took place at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Therefore, Kanazawa had trained intensively for the championships. However, five days before the championships were due to start, he broke his wrist in two places.

The injury upset Kanazawa and he decided not to compete. But his mother had traveled to Tokyo to watch him compete in the tournament. She asked him whether he had other limbs he could use. Certainly, not wanting to disappoint her he entered the tournament. He used his good hand for blocking and his kicks for scoring, all the way through the tournament. To the astonishment of the audience and himself he won four fights by ippon. Moreover, he defeated Katsunori Tsuyama in the kumite final and became the first JKA kumite champion ever.

Hirokazu Kanazawa together with his mother after winning the first JKA championships in kumite.
Hirokazu Kanazawa together with his mother after winning the first JKA championships in kumite.

In the following year in 1958, he exceeded his success from the previous year. Hirokazu Kanazawa became the first ever Grand Champion of the All Japan Karate Championships. While his victory was clear in kata, kumite posted a bigger challenge. In a memorable kumite final he faced Takayuki Mikami. Both men fought as if it was a battle about life and death. In the end, the judges decided on a draw. Therefore, Kanazawa and Mikami shared the kumite title.

First Deployement of Hirokazu Kanazawa Abroad

The year 1961 hold many changes for Hirokazu Kanazawa. Firstly, he got promoted to the rank of a 5th dan. Secondly, the JKA send him to Hawaii to become Chief Instructor on 22 January 1961. For the next two years, he introduced the new art of Shotokan karate to the island.

Our partner website Finding Karate

However, his first deployment was not free of problems. For instance, he had to face challenges from other instructors of other karate styles and martial arts. They wanted to test the authenticity of his karate and his strength. He managed to prevent some escalations through talking many conflicts. However, five challengers post more difficulties. Even after several rounds of talking they still wanted a physical confrontation. They all lost.

Hirokazu Kanazawa: Very old fighting scenes.

Visit of Okinawa, the Birthplace of Karate

Always eager to experience other styles of karate, Kanazawa visited the birthplace of Karate, Okinawa. While on the peninsula he traveled around in order to train in as many dojos as possible. For instance, he visited the dojos of Shorin-Ryu founder Chosin Chibana and that of his student Higa Yuchoku. I would not be his last visit to Okinawa.

Hirokazu Kanazawa and The First JKA Promotion Tour

On 29 March 1965, Kanazawa embarked from Haneda Airport, Tokyo, alongside Taiji Kase, Keinosuke Enoeda and Hiroshi Shhirai on a world tour for the JKA. The tour aimed to introduce the JKA and Shotokan karate to the global stage. The touring party visited cities in the United States, West Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, England and South Africa. The tour succeeded and led to a request for JKA instructors to teach outside of Japan.

For Hirokazu Kanazawa himself the tour also led to another major change in his life: He became the resident instructor to the British Karate Federation (BKF), which had joint JKA. However, his contract duration was only for one year. When he left the BKF in 1966 many of his students felt a huge disappointment, because Hirokazu Kanazawa had gained popularity among British karateka. The reason for him leaving the BKF laid in the split of the organization. Thus, he became the chief instructor of the newly formed KUGB. That same year the JKA promoted him to 6th Dan.

One year later, Hirokazu Kanazawa moved again. The JKA asked him to become chief instructor to the German Karate Federation in 1967. So, Keinosuke Enoeda took over his role as chief instructor to the KUGB.

During this time in Great Britain he also must had got in contact with somebody from the film industry. In 1968, he played a very tiny role as a karate fighter in the British tv series The Saint with Roger Moore. As far as we know, this was his only detour to the film industry though.

When Kanazawa left the Germany to return to Japan in 1970, he recommended Hideo Ochi to take over from him.

Hirokazu Kanazawa in the tv series The Saint with Roger Moore.

Back to Japan and Moving Up in the JKA-Hierarchy

1971 became another year of changes for Hirokazu Kanazawa. The JKA promoted him to 7th Dan and he became general manager of the international division of the JKA International Section. Furthermore, he received appointments of Musashikogyo, Kantogakuin, and Kitasato universities to become their chief instructor

For the next few years, Kanazawa worked tirelessly as a senior member of the JKA. He was the General Manager of the Japanese team sent to the 2nd WUKO World Championships, held in Paris, France. He also referred at the 1st IAKF World Championships and the JKA Asia-Oceania Championships, both in 1976.

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s “Dismissal” from the JKA and Founding of SKIF

For many years, Kanazawa occurred as one of the main faces of the JKA. Thus, it came as a huge shock when he left the JKA in 1977. What really happened at that time is only in the knowledge of the participants. But two legends exist. The first one says that Hirokazu Kanazawa sent a letter of resignation as a JKA director to the honbu dojo. However, he did not resign as a JKA instructor.

Legend I

The reasons for his resignation was that one of his major tasks was to unify all the different JKA groups around the world. He felt he had failed to do this. Therefore, he step down as director of the international division. For some people within the JKA this came as treason and a sign of weakness and the wanted to see him expelled. While on a trip to Europe he received a dismissal letter from the JKA. He was shocked, because he had never wanted to leave the JKA.

Legend II

The second legends says that Hirokazu Kanazawa had already engaged in talks with other former JKA instructors, who had left the organization. Some of them already started to setup their own karate associations in Europe. They felt treated unfair within the Nakayama dominated JKA. Therefore, they organized and approached Hirokazu Kanazawa to become their figurehead. When high ranking official in the JKA honbu dojo became aware of the talks they preempted Kanazawa´s resignation and removed him from the organizations by themselves.

Hirokazu Kanazawa found the Shotokan Karate International Federation

Independent of which legend one beliefs, Hirokazu Kanazawa formed the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (SKIF) under his leadership in 1977. His technical prowess and international profile soon attracted many students and countries joined the organization. As a result, it is still one of the biggest Shotokan association world wide.

International Tournaments

In the 1980´s and 1990´s Hirokazu Kanazawa focused to established the SKIF on the international stage. He also acted as an international referee. In 1980, he was the referee at the 5th WUKO World Championships held in Madrid, Spain. The following year he acted as referee at the 1st World Games, held in Santa Clara, California. In 1983, the 1st SKIF World Championships took place in Tokyo, Japan. 25 countries took part. Hitoshi Kasuya of Japan won the kata title, with Aidan Trimble of England winning the men’s kumite title. H. Kumakura of Japan won the women’s kata title and Japan won the team kumite title. Two years later, the SKIF World Championships in Düsseldorf, Germany. Since then, they have become an important event in the Shotokan calendar.

In 1990 at Osamu Ozawa’s 10th Traditional Karate Tournament International, one of the biggest showcases in the world for traditional Karate styles, the organizers invited Kanazawa to demonstrate his style of Shotokan Karate. THe audience received his demonstration well. He was also invited to the 14th and 15th Traditional Karate Tournament international events, also held in Las Vegas.

Dan Promotions of Hirokazu Kanazawa

The International Martial Arts Federation (IMAF) promoted Hirokazu Kanazawa to 8th dan in 1988. Ten years later, he received the 9th Dan by SKIF. In April 2000 and at the 7th SKIF World Championships held in Bali, Indonesia, the IMAF awarded his 10th dan. Currently, he is together with Teruyuki Okazaki, Hiroshi Shirai, and Ueki Masaaki the only Shotokanka, who has ever promoted to 10th dan.

Hirokazu Kanazawa during a seminar in Germany in 1999.

Later Years and Retirement

In January 2009, Kanazawa suffered a skiing accident. He fell badly, crushing three of his vertebra. He was in his 70s. After he recovered, he continued traveling around the world conducting courses and seminars.

However, after decades of traveling, Kanazawa decided to spend more time in his native Japan in 2012. That year after the SKIF World Championships held in Sydney, Australia, he retired from active traveling and teaching. Over the course of his career he had traveled to more than 130 countries and instructed hundred thousands of students.

Two years later at a special ceremony held in Tokyo on 5 April 2014 Hirokazu Kanazawa officially passed the leadership of the SKIF to his son Nobuaki and Manabu Murakami.

Hirokazu Kanazawa together with his son Nobuaki (right) and Manabu Murakami (left)

Hirokazu Kanazawa´s Life Beside Karate

Kanazawa has practiced Tai Chi for many years and credits it for his longevity in karate. He started practicing the art in 1957 under the tutelage of Mr Yang. He has also made extensive studies of Okinawan weapons such as the sai, tonfa and nunchuku. A keen historian he has also researched many of the kata found in Shotokan Karate.

Kanazawa has three sons, Nobuaki, Fumitoshi and Daizo. Unfortunately, their mother died at a young age. All three of Kanazawa’s sons are professional karateka with an exceptional skills. Hiyori Kanazawa, daughter of Nobuaki Kanazawa and grand champion of the SKIF world championships 2019, has already step into to the footsteps of her grandfather. With her the 3rd Kanazawa generation coins the global Shotokan community.

Hirokazu Kanazawa with his grand daugther Hiyori.

Noted Shotokan practitioner, Terry O’Neill, once wrote about Kanazawa,

“He is the perfect specimen of the type of person the art of Karate can develop – there will never be a finer living example of what Karate at its highest level really is.”

Hirokazu Kanazawa is considered one of the most skillful karate masters of all time. A great technician and an excellent instructor, he has built up a loyal and dedicated following of students. A gentle and sincere man, he has been able to convey the concepts of karate to many generations of students. As prolific author, he has also had many instructional books and videos produced. It could be argued that many people would not have started karate if they had not seen demonstrations from this very talented master. In any case, he is a true legend of Shotokan karate.

Opener picture by Jim Palmer

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Taiji Kase: 9 Fascinating Facts About His Life

The picture shows Taiji Kase.

Taiji Kase is one of the most fascinating Shotokan karate masters ever. In this article we are going to present you the 9 most fascinating facts about him. By Patrick Donkor and Dr. Christian Tribowski

Taiji Kase lived a life of a libertine. Like no other, he chose his way of Karate dependent on his own interests and convictions. Younger generations might know him from videos as a stout elder Karate grand master with incredible fast hands. However, a look back into his biography reveals his fascinating life. We are going to present you the 10 most exciting facts about Taiji Kase.

Taiji Kase Searched for Gichin Funakoshi

Taiji Kase was born in 1929 in Chiba Prefecture. In February of 1944, the young Kase began his journey into the world of Karate. He had come across Gichin Funakoshi’s book, Karate-Do Kyohan, originally published in 1935. The book featured photographs of Funakoshi performing various techniques and kata. This was radically different from anything the young Kase had previously seen. His interest grew so strong in the new art that he contacted the book publishers to find the location of Funakoshi’s dojo.

Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi Refused to Teach Him, But Also Influenced Him

When he arrived at the “Shoto-kan” he found out that Gichin Funakoshi had retired from day to day teaching. Sensei Funakoshi was already in his 70´s. Therefore, his son Yoshitaka oversaw much of the daily classes, assisted by Shigeru Egami and Genshin Hironishi. But when Kase initially arrived at the dojo, Funakoshi’s son, Yoshitaka, refused to teach him. In the perception of Yoshitaka, he was too young for Karate. Fortunately for Taiji Kase, Yoshitaka realized his abilities after they had talked with each other. So, Kase began his his training at the original Shoto-kan dojo in the Meijiro district of Tokyo.

Kase recalled in later interviews that the younger Funakoshi’s dynamic style of Karate influenced him a lot. Yoshitaka Funakoshi had a very progressive approach to Karate.

Yoshitaka "Gigo" Funakoshi, who developed the style further, had a huge influence on Taiji Kase. He also introduced Mawashi Geri.
Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi, who developed the style further, had a huge influence on Taiji Kase. He also introduced Mawashi Geri.

Taiji Kase Wanted to Be A Kamikaze Pilot

During the war years, Kase was a cadet in the Japanese Navy. Because of the nationalistic and patriotic nature of the times he had enlisted in the infamous Kamikaze Corp of the navy. However, just before he was due to be deployed the war came to an end.

He Received His 3rd Dan With 20

Kase would train up to eight hours a day. By 1949, Kase had graded to 3rd Dan. At 20 he was the youngest to be awarded the grade. His grading had taken place in front of a panel of senior grades from Keio, Chuo, Takushoku, Waseda, Hosei and Senshu universities. The senior grades were from the Karate clubs and old boy clubs located at the universities.

Taiji Kase Worked as A Bodyguard

After graduating from Senchu University, Kase briefly worked as a bodyguard for a friend of his father whose business had run into some union troubles.

The young Taiji Kase was a tough fighter. It is said that he managed all the challenges the JKA received.
The young Taiji Kase was a tough fighter. It is said that he managed all the challenges the JKA received.

He Taught in the Infamous JKA Instructors Course

Hidetaka Nishiyama, who was the JKA’s Chief of the Instruction Committee, invited Kase to join the JKA. Kase had the the interest to teach. Therefore, joining the JKA provided a suitable opportunity. He was one of the few non-Takushoku graduates teaching at the JKA. He taught alongside Nakayama, Nishiyama and Teruyuki Okazaki, one of the originators of the JKA’s Infamous Instructors Course.

Apart from teaching at the JKA’s dojo, located in  the Yotsuya district of Tokyo, Kase also taught kumite three days a week on the Instructors Course. His students included future All Japan Kumite Champions Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, Hiroshi Shirai and Hideo Ochi.  Students knew him as a hard but fair instructor.

Kase Fought Many Challengers

Not much information exists, but people thought that he also handled any challenges made to the JKA.

When he arrived in Europe, Kase faced a number of challenges. He faced the challenge of being in a new country with its different language, cuisine and culture. In addition, he also faced the challenge from other martial artists who wanted to test the validity of his Karate. Suffice to say he successfully handled all of these challenges.

Taiji Kase was a Kumite specialist.

Taiji Kase Held a 3rd Dan in Judo

Henri Plee invited Kase to France in 1967. Plee, who had introduced Yoseikan Karate to France and the rest of Europe, would later recall the immense respect he held for Kase. Plee, who was also a Judo black belt, would like to test the skills of an invited instructor by sparring against them. He would occasionally perform a throw to test his opponent. However, against Kase nothing worked. He admitted that Kase was one of the toughest fighters he ever faced. Plee offered him a one year contract to teach at his Paris dojo.

Even in his later years, Taiji Kase was a very agile fighter.
Even in his later years, Taiji Kase was a very agile fighter.

He Founded his Own Association

Following Nakayama’s death in 1987, the JKA faced political in-fighting among some of the factions within the association. Never one for the politics, Kase founded the World Karate-Do Shotokan Academy (WKSA) in 1989, alongside Shirai. The aim of the association was to be free of the politics that plagued Shotokan Karate. It also taught Kase’s style of Karate called Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha. Kase always strived to continue the teachings of Yoshitaka Funakoshi. In his understanding the JKA seemed to had largely forgotten these teachings. In addition, he sought to explore other avenues, such as the principles of Miyamoto Musahi’s School of Two Swords. He spend much time to apply it to Karate. The WKSA broke away from the JKA.

The Shotokan Times has to express its gratitude to Patrick Donkor of Finding Karate – Journey of a Karate-ka, who provided the biggest part of this article.

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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.

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“The Center of Gravity”: Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Hirokazu Kanazawa

“The Center of Gravity” is the title of a very rare Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa. Right from the beginning the viewer gets the feeling to be very close to someone and to attend a once in a life-time event. In 2012, the youtube channel Adeyto Industries run by french but Japan-based artist Adeyto Rex Angeli published an extraordinary interview with legendary Hirokazu Kanazawa. It comprises four parts that give a very close, precious, and unique look into the life and thoughts of the greatest living Shotokan legend.

Content of the Interview with Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

In this first three parts Soke Kanazawa talks about his early years as a student at Takushoku University, his win of the national championship with a broken hand, breaking boars, his time as an young instructor in Hawaii an Europe as well as about challengers, who wanted to fight him and test his strength.

The 4th part deals with his understanding of Shotokan and the insights he has gained as a Shotokan-teacher. For him Karate is “a center of gravity” around which his live revolves. After 40 years of traveling the world he has learnt that the earth is is a tiny place. “The entire world is a family. Countries fighting each-other is a saddening nonsense.” Oss!

Part 1 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Part 2 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Part 3 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Part 4 Interview with Hirokazu Kanazawa

Picture by Jim Palmer – Oss!