Karate-Do - My Way of Life

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Author: Gichin Funakoshi
Pub: 1975 by Kodansha International
Pages: 127
Ranking:Five Star Rating
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This is one of the 'classics' that belong on everyone's bookshelf. I highly recommend this book to everyone, it's a wonderful "autobiography" of the founder of Shotokan Karate. (I wonder how many people realize that Funakoshi Sensei taught at the Kodokan at the invitation of Jigoro Kano?)



 Foreword                    VII
 Preface                    XIII
 Entering the Way              1
 No Weapons                   21
 Training for Life            45
 Recognition                  69
 One Life                     87
 Important Points            105
 The Past, the Future        116


Inside Cover:

Linking the time when karate was a strictly Okinawan art of self-defense shrouded in the deepest secrecy and the present day, when it has become a martial art practiced throughout the world, is Gichin Funakoshi, the "Father of Karate-do."

Out of modesty, he was reluctant to write this autobiography and did not do so until he was nearly ninety years of age. Trained in the Confucian classics, he was a schoolteacher early in life, but, after decades of study under the foremost masters, he gave up his livelihood to devote the rest of his life to the propagation of the Way of Karate. Under his guidance, techniques and nomenclature were re-fined and modernized, the spiritual essence was brought to the fore, and karate evolved into a true martial art.

Various forms of empty-hand techniques have been practiced in Okinawa for centuries, but due to the lack of historical records, fancy often masquerades as fact. In telling of his own famous teachers-and not only of their mastery of technique but of the way they acted in critical situations-the author reveals what true karate is. The stories he tells about himself are no less instructive: his determination to continue the art, after having started it to improve his health; his perseverence in the face of difficulties, even of poverty; his strict observance of the way of life of the samurai; and the spirit of self-reliance that he carried into an old age kept healthy by his practice of Karate-do.



Much has been published in Japanese about the great karate master, Gichin Funakoshi, but this is the first translation in English of his autobiography. Written not long before his death at the age of ninety, he describes in succinct detail his own life-his childhood and young manhood in Okinawa, his struggle to refine and popularize the art of karate, his prescription for longevity- and reveals his unique personality and his somewhat old-fashioned way of viewing himself, his world and his art.

Through this volume the follower of Karate-do will gain greater insight into the master's own way of living and thinking and, as a consequence, a sharper understanding of the art of self-defense that he brought to a state of such high perfection. I most heartily recommend these memoirs of Funakoshi not only to those who already practice Karate-do, or plan to do so, but also to anyone interested in the culture and thought of the Orient.

The origin of karate remains impenetrably hidden be-hind the mists of legend, but this much we know: it has taken root and is widely practiced throughout East Asia, among peoples who adhere to such varied creeds as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Brahminism and Taoism. During the course of human history, particular arts of self-defense have gained their own followings in various regions of East Asia, but there is a basic under-lying similarity. For this reason karate is related, in one way or another, to the other Oriental arts of self-defense, although (I think it is safe to say) karate is now the most widely practiced of all.

The interrelationship becomes immediately apparent when we compare the impetus behind modern philosophy with that of traditional philosophy. The former has its roots in mathematics, the latter in physical movement and technique. Oriental concepts and ideas, languages and ways of thought have been to a certain extent shaped by their intimate connection with physical skills. Even where words, as well as ideas, have undergone inevitable changes in meaning through the course of human history, we find that their roots remain solidly embedded in physical techniques.

There is a Buddhist saying that, like so many Buddhist sayings, is ostensibly self-contradictory, but for the karate-ka it lends special meaning to his technical practice. Translated, the saying is, "Movement is nonmovement, nonmovement is movement." This is a thesis that, even in contemporary Japan, is accepted by educationalists, and due to its familiarity the saying may even be shortened and used adjectivally in our language.

A Japanese actively seeking self-enlightenment will say that he is "training his stomach" (hara wo neru). Although the expression has wide implications, its origin lies in the obvious necessity to harden the muscles of the stomach, a prerequisite for the practice of karate, which is, after all, a combat technique. By bringing the stomach muscles to a state of perfection, a karateka is able to control not only the movements of his hands and feet but also his breathing.

Karate must be nearly as old as man, who early found himself obliged to battle, weaponless, the hostile forces of nature, savage beasts and enemies among his fellow human beings. He soon learned, puny creature that he is, that in his relationship with natural forces accommodation was more sensible than struggle. However, where he was more evenly matched, in the inevitable hostilities with his fellow man, he was obliged to evolve techniques that would enable him to defend himself and, hopefully, to conquer his enemy. To do so, he learned that he had to have a strong and healthy body. Thus, the techniques that he began developing-the techniques that finally became incorporated into Karate-do-are a ferocious fighting art but are also elements of the all-important art of self-defense.

In Japan, the term sumo appears in the nation's most ancient anthology of poetry, the Manyoshu. The sumo of that time (eighth century) included not only the techniques found in present-day sumo but also those of judo and karate, and the latter saw further development under the impetus of Buddhism, since priests used karate as one means of moving toward self-enlightenment. In the seventh and eighth centuries, Japanese Buddhists had journeyed to the Sui and T'ang courts, where they gained insight into the Chinese version of the art and brought back to Japan some of its refinements. For many years, here in Japan, karate remained cloistered behind thick temple walls, in particular those of Zen Buddhism; it was not, apparently, practiced by other people until samurai began to train within temple compounds and so came to learn of the existence of the art. Karate as we know it today has been perfected within the last half century by Gichin Funakoshi.

There are innumerable delightful anecdotes about this extraordinary man, many of which he recounts himself in the pages that follow. Some have perhaps by now drifted into the realm of legend, and some Funakoshi did not bother to tell because they were so intimate a part of his way of life that he was hardly aware of them. He never deviated from his way of life, the way of the samurai. Perhaps to the young Japanese of the postwar world, al-most as much as to the foreign reader, Funakoshi will emerge as something of an eccentric, but he was merely following the moral and ethical code of his ancestors, a code that existed long before there was such a thing as written history in Okinawa.

He observed the age-old taboos. For example, to a man of his class the kitchen was forbidden territory, and Funakoshi, so far as I know, never trespassed upon it. Nor did he ever bother to utter the names of such mundane articles as socks or toilet paper, for-once again in the code that he rigorously followed-these were associated with what was considered to be improper or indecent.

To those of us who studied under him he was a great and revered master, but I fear that in the eyes of his young grandson Ichiro (now a colonel in the Air Self-Defense Force) he was merely a very stubborn old man. I well recall an occasion when Funakoshi spied a pair of socks lying on the floor. With a gesture toward Ichiro, he said, "Put those away!" "But I don't understand," said Ichiro with a look of utter innocence. "What do you mean by 'those'?" "Yes," said Funakoshi, "those, those!" "Those, those!" Ichiro retorted. "Don't you know the word for 'those'?" "I said to put those away immediately!" Funakoshi repeated, and Ichiro was forced to admit defeat. His little trap had failed; his grandfather still adamantly refused, as he had all his life, to utter the word for socks.

In the course of his book Funakoshi describes some of his daily habits. For example, the first thing he did upon arising in the morning was to brush and comb his hair, a process that sometimes occupied an entire hour. He used to say that a samurai must always be neat in appearance. After having made himself presentable, he would turn to-ward the Imperial Palace and bow deeply; then he would turn in the direction of Okinawa and perform a similar bow. Only after these rites were completed would he sip his morning tea.

Well, my purpose here is not to tell his story for him, merely to introduce him. And that I am very happy and proud to do. Master Funakoshi was a splendid example of a man of his rank born at the beginning of the Meiji period, and there are few men left in Japan today who may be said to observe a similar code. I am very grateful to have been one of his disciples and can only regret that he is no longer with us.




It was nearly four decades ago that I embarked upon what I now realize was a highly ambitious program: the introduction to the Japanese public at large of that complex Okinawan art, or sport, which is called Karate-do, "the Way of Karate." These forty years have been turbulent ones, and the path that I chose for myself turned out to be far from easy; now, looking back, I am astonished that I attained in this endeavor even the quite modest success that has come my way.

That Karate-do has now taken its place in the world as an internationally recognized sport is due wholly to the efforts of my masters, my fellow practitioners, my friends and my students, all of whom have unstintingly devoted both time and effort to the task of refining this art of self-defense to its present state of perfection. As for my own role, I feel it has been no more that of an introducer-a master of ceremonies, so to speak, one who was blessed by both time and chance to appear at the opportune moment.

It is no exaggeration to say that almost all the ninety years of my life have been devoted to karate-do. I was rather a sickly baby and a frail child; accordingly, it was suggested when I was still quite young that to overcome these handicaps I ought to begin the study of karate. This I did, but with little interest at the very first. However, during the latter half of my years at primary school, after my health began to improve noticeably, my interest in karate began to grow. Soon, I found, it had cast a spell over me. Into the task of mastering it I threw myself mind and body, heart and soul. I had been a frail, irresolute, introverted child; by the time I reached manhood, I felt myself to be strong, vigorous and outgoing.

As I look back over the nine decades of my life-from childhood to youth to maturity to (making use of an expression that I dislike) old age - I realize that it is thanks to my devotion to Karate-do that I have never once had to consult a physician. I have never in my life taken any medicine: no pills, no elixirs, not even a single injection. In recent years my friends have accused me of being immortal; it is a joke to which I can only reply, seriously but simply, that my body had been so well trained that it repels all sickness and disease.

In my opinion, there are three kinds of ailments that afflict a human being: illnesses that cause fever, malfunctions of the gastrointestinal system and physical injuries. Almost invariably, the cause of a disability is rooted in an unwholesome life-style, in irregular habits, and in poor circulation. If a man who runs a temperature practices karate until the sweat begins to pour from his body, he will soon find that his temperature has dropped to normal, and that his illness has been cured. If a man with gastric troubles does the same, it will cause his blood to circulate more freely and so alleviate his distress. Physical injuries are, of course, another matter, but many of these too may be avoided by a well-trained man exercising proper care and caution. Karate-do is not merely a sport that teaches how to strike and kick; it is also a defense against illness and disease.

Only recently has it attained international popularity, but this is a popularity that karate teachers must foster and use with great care. It has been very gratifying to me to see the enthusiasm with which young men and women, and even children, have taken to the sport, not only in my own country but all over the world.

That, no doubt, is one of the reasons that the Sangyo Keizai Shimbun ("Journal of Commerce and Industry") has asked me to write about Karate-do. Initially I replied that I am an old man and a plain ordinary citizen, with very little to say. However, it is true that I have dedicated virtually my entire life to Karate-do, so I have accepted the newspaper's offer on the condition that the editors permit me to write a sort of autobiography.

At the same time, setting about the task, I feel rather embarrassed, so I must ask my readers to forgive me for speaking of such inconsequential matters. I ask them to regard my book as little more than the ravings of a very old man. I, for my part, will stir these ancient bones of mine and, with the help of my readers, focus my energies on uncovering the great law of heaven and earth for the sake of the nation and of future generations. In pursuing this endeavor I beg the wholehearted support and co- operation of my readers.

I would like to express here my gratitude to Hiroshi Irikata of the Weekly Sankei Magazine, for his editorial assistance, and to Toyohiko Nishimura of the same magazine, for his book design [of the Japanese edition].

September, 1956



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