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Martial Arts

Kenneth Funakoshi – Carrying on the legacy

The name Funakoshi is synonymous with martial arts, specifically Karate. Gichin Funakoshi was responsible for Karate being widely accepted by the Japanese. So successful was he in this that many people believe that Karate is Japanese. It is in fact Okinawan.

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Kenneth Funakoshi – A brief history
1938 – Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, September 4th
1948 – Began Judo under Arazaki Sensei
1956 – 59 – Attended the University of Hawaii after winning a swimming scholarship. Continued training in Judo and commenced training in Kenpo under Kajukenbo Founder, Adriano Emperado. Won 1st place Kumite in the first Kajukenbo tournament in Hawaii.
1959-60 – Joined the USAF and taught Kenpo in Mexico.
1960-63 – Transferred to Hawaii and began training in Shotokan under Hirokazu Kanazawa.
1963 – Travelled to Japan to compete in the JKA Championships
1963-64 – Moved to L.A. in order to train under Hidetaka Nishiyama.
1964 – 68 – 5 Times Grand Champion of JKA-Hawaii
Runner up in H. Nishiyama’s All American Karate Federation Championship kata and kumite several years.
1965 – Captain of Hawaii Team that defeated the All Japan Collegiate Championship Team
1966 – 69 – Trained under Tetsuhiko Asai.
1967 – Captain of Hawaii Team in JKA Championships in Tokyo. Advanced to the final day of competition in individual kumite.
1968 – Coach of Hawaii Team that defeated All Japan Collegiate Championship Team.
1969 – Appointed Chief Instructor of JKA-Hawaii.
1978 – Awarded ‘Instructor of the Year’ by Black Belt magazine.
1984 – Trained at JKA Instructor’s classes in Japan
Appointed Chief Instructor of JKA Pacific region by Masatoshi Nakayama, Chief Instructor of JKA>
1985 – Awarded 7th Dan by Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai, a multi-style karate association of senior instructors.
1986 – Moved to San Jose to teach Karate.
1987 – Founded Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association to develop perfection of character through karate training and following the philosophy of Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts.
1994 – Awarded 8th Dan by Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai
1995 – 2005 – Travels the world over teaching seminars, oversee gradings and supervise tournaments
2001 – Awarded 9th Dan by Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai
2003 – Sponsor of Annual FSKA World Championship in Las Vegas
Sponsor of Annual FSKA European Championship in a different country every year
2007 – Sponsor of Annual FSKA European Championship in England.
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Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts

1. Karate begins with courtesy and ends with courtesy
2. There is no first attack in Karate
3. Karate is an aid to justice
4. First control yourself before attempting to control others
5. Spirit first, technique second
6. Always be ready to release your mind
7. Accidents arise from negligence
8. Do not think that Karate training is only in the dojo
9. It will take your entire life to learn Karate; there is no limit
10. Put your every day living into Karate and you will find “Myo” (The subtle secrets)
11. Karate is like boiling water. If you do not heat it constantly, it will cool
12. Do not think that you have to win, think rather that you do not have to lose
13. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones
14. The battle is according to how you move guarded and unguarded (Move according to your opponent)
15. Think of your hands and feet as swords
16. When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. It is your behaviour that invites trouble from them
17. Beginners must master low stance and posture; natural body positions are for the advanced
18. Practising a kata is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another
19. Do not forget to correctly apply: strength and weakness of power, stretching and contraction of the body and slowness and speed of techniques.
20. Always think and devise ways to live the precepts every day.
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Semantics aside, the Funakoshi (who can trace their lineage back over 400 years) family are probably the most important martial arts family to date. Even General Choi, the founder of Taekwondo, owes a lot of the base techniques for his art to Karate, and specifically Shotokan. Most people, when they talk about Karate will be referring to Shotokan (whether they know it or not) because it is one of the most common martial arts in the world.

Kenneth Funakoshi is Gichin’s fourth cousin and has become a guardian of Shotokan Karate, even going so far as to found the Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association to develop perfection of character through karate training and following the philosophy of Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Precepts.

Shotokan (and the competitive side of the art) is based around one main precept (when talking about application); ‘One hit, one kill’. Kenneth Funakoshi’s dedication to this runs deep. An example as to how seriously he takes this is in the tours that he does in the U.S. On such tours he has been known to teach nothing but the reverse punch … for an entire week.

This does not mean that Kenneth Funakoshi lets tradition drive him and he has sometimes been considered the ‘untraditional’ traditionalist. Consider the quote below.

“My personal opinion is, as long as you teach good karate, strictly traditional, with repetition and perfection, there’s nothing wrong with lowering the stands of karate [ranking]”

At first glance, most readers would assume that he is saying that the standards required in order to attain belts should actually be lowered. Surely not, is he mad? Doesn’t he know that if you get a black belt in anything less than 4 years then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on? Doesn’t he know that it takes four years of 2 hours training a week to gain the required knowledge, experience and indeed wisdom that all black belts are required to have?

Well actually he, he isn’t and he doesn’t agree with the rest of it. Funakoshi’s beliefs fly in the face of tradition and challenge the very core of the Karate syllabus. Kenneth is in favour of relaxing ranking standards, studying other styles and black belts for children.

For those readers who come from an eclectic style, are free stylists or who study martial arts other than Karate it will be hard to understand just how much of an impact having a man with his lineage saying things like this is. Imagine if you will Master Choi Jung Hwa, General Choi’s son, saying that Taekwondo is nothing more than Korean Karate, or Jigoro Kano saying that he got it wrong when he founded Judo and that sport doesn’t have a place in the martial arts.

Kenneth Funakoshi’s encouragement of cross training is understandable considering he has studied Judo, Kenpo and Karate (in that order). Indeed, such an eclectic background is fairly common thing to come across nowadays. Back in the early 50’s to 70’s (and actually later) to say that this was rare is an understatement.

Kenneth Funakoshi still teaches Judo and Kenpo, believing that knowing one style is good, but that every style has its good and bad points. He is also honest enough to tell his students that winning medals does not mean that they are going to be good fighters in a self-protection situation.

“Karate is good as long as you’re standing on your feet and at a certain distance. Once the Judo man grabs hold of you, the karate man is dead”. If this article was a documentary on television there would be many a shoe put through the screen. Kenneth Funakoshi went on to state that Kenpo stresses the backfist strike a lot. “Karate does a lot of reverse punches; these are good, but occasionally there is a need for a backfist strike.”

It doesn’t matter what style you’re from, having a well-respected Master of that art publicly stating that it lacks the skills and techniques necessary to carry out the basic premise of that art i.e., self-defence, must hurt.

For many years, those that trained in Karate in the early days have stated that training has got easier, that belts are easier to get and that people are softer nowadays. Kenneth Funakoshi explains why this is; “To be honest, they have been lowered. Mainly it’s done for financial reasons, and I wouldn’t be afraid to admit it myself. Because if you start flunking half the people like they did in the old days, you’ll have a lot more people dropping out and quitting.”

Kenneth Funakoshi is not a man who’s letting history dictate the way he teaches Karate and in the early 90’s even the JKA was dropping the ranking requirements for branch schools from Sandan to Shodan. The reason for this was that the Karate market had changed and there were a lot more children starting to study Karate in Japan. As Kenneth Funakoshi puts it; “Why would you need a Sandan with a JKA teacher’s certificate to teach kids?”

However, if you let children train then you have to let them grade. If they don’t grade, there is no perception of progression and they will become dispirited and move on to another style or martial art that does let them grade. Unfortunately this then raises the somewhat contentious issue of children becoming black belts at the tender age of 8, having started in the martial arts at 4 and practicing for the required 4 years, usually demonstrating the techniques adequately for the standards required.

Kenneth Funakoshi sees nothing wrong with this and was one of the first instructors to implement a children’s programme. His system awards children with a black belt that has a white stripe which is removed (without further testing) when they reach the age of sixteen.

“I have a lot of kids start at five years old. By the time they’re nine, they’re ready for black belts.”

Kenneth Funakoshi firmly believes that children are the future of Karate and the programme he has implement takes into account that whilst they are more flexible “can do the kata better than the adults” the adults are obviously bigger and stronger.

Part Two of this article will explore why Kenneth Funakoshi has such a dynamic approach to Shotokan, as well as looking deeper into his thoughts on karate in the West and the way that character can be improved through karate.


About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.


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