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Martial Arts

Kenneth Funakoshi Part 2


In part one of this article, we explored Kenneth Funakoshi’s belief that the grading system should be changed (and standards lowered), that other styles can and should be studied and that children should be awarded black belts.

Having studied Judo, Kenpo and Karate (in that order) Kenneth Funakoshi is very open minded when it comes to seeing the value in cross-training and examining others styles to see what they can offer Shotokan.

The FSKA takes this approach into their study of kata. The three Ks are very important to the FKSA and as a result, kata play a large part in their training. Unlike many associations however, they also look at why they are performing kata and why they are performing certain moves the way they are.

Kenneth Funakoshi was once asked to categorise kata and its relationship to modern-day self-defence. Kenneth Funakoshi believes that kata is necessary if someone wants to be good at kumite but that the correct emphasis has to be understood in order to benefit from it. He went on to explain that “kata wasn’t meant to be used in fighting exactly as it’s executed in the form. That would be suicide. Instead the student must adapt in a real situation – shorten the stance, block with a half movement and open hand, whatever is necessary.”

This last statement coupled with Kenneth Funakoshi’s cross-training history is a good example as to why he is viewed to have such a dynamic approach to Karate. Kenneth Funakoshi believes bunkai “to be an integral part of our style.”

In the Shotokan system, kata is used to gauge a student’s progress. Kenneth Funakoshi sees kata as a training tool and the bunkai being the key to understanding the kata. As Kenneth himself said, without kata there is no bunkai and without bunkai there is no kata.

Kenneth Funakoshi believes that there are three types of instructor. Those that know and understand kata and bunkai and pass it on to their students; those that do not understand the kata fully, but who teach the bunkai as self-defence but with no conception or real progression and those that use kata for fitness and who neither understand the art nor the kata.

In order to give his students a better understanding, Kenneth Funakoshi has a basic bunkai for every kata that uses the moves solely as they are performed in the kata. This is his first level of understanding and he finds that some students never progress beyond it. These basic bunkai are a grading requirement.

In his advanced bunkai, Kenneth Funakoshi does not shy away from altering the techniques. Sometimes there will be half-steps, the stance height might be changed but the core fact remains; “what is important – wherever you are on the technique – is to react efficiently.”

Having been born and raised in Hawaii to 100% Okinawan parents, as well as having lived in both Japan and the United States, Kenneth has had a somewhat unique experience of the differences that are found between the East and West. When he first went to Europe, he lectured on the development of character and the dojo kun, to his great surprise “they didn’t know what I was talking about.”

“kata wasn’t meant to be used in fighting exactly as it’s executed in the form. That would be suicide. Instead the student must adapt in a real situation – shorten the stance, block with a half movement and open hand, whatever is necessary.”

This was because at that time, Europeans viewed Karate solely as a sport and so were only exploring the physical aspects of the art. Since he has started to introduce the teachings and philosophy of Gichin Funakoshi he is finding that those who have spiritual needs are starting to understand his mission. The result is that whilst there will always be people who only study Karate for the competitive angle, there are more and more people joining his association who have been missing something in their Karate training.

Kenneth Funakoshi appears to be on a moral crusade, very much like Choi Jung Hwa of the ITF. Both of these great masters see the martial arts as much more than kicking and punching, much more than perfecting a certain technique so that your kata looks good and much more than training hard to score that extra point. They both truly believe that martial arts can help people develop their character, their loyalty and to be better people. With better people you then have a better society.

Kenneth does not believe that the character building is anything new. “This is what a samurai practice from the old samurai class, his loyalty to his master or his Shogun (Lord). This was passed down to the martial artist.”

In Japan, the demise of the Samurai did not mean that these values were lost, they were merely transferred to the army. Loyalty to Japan and the Emperor was the number one priority. This again was passed down to the martial artist.

In order to spread a message, a belief, you need to have people who understand the message and who are able to pass it on in such a way that others are able to grasp the concept and the message. Kenneth Funakoshi believes that there should be more emphasis on the Doju Kun. Specifically; “Seek Perfection of Character and Be Faithful. Not enough time is spent on explaining what these actually mean.”

In order to pass on his knowledge and beliefs, Kenneth runs weekly philosophy lectures that are based on the dojo kun. “Gichin Funakoshi stressed philosophy and the dojo kun more than technique itself. Everybody can learn the physical level but the spiritual level is very difficult.”

With society going the way it appears to be, more and more people are bemoaning the lack of respect, politeness and ‘common decency’. More and more they are looking for people to instil these values into their children rather than doing it themselves (for whatever reason) and this is something that obviously affects Kenneth Funakoshi. Kenneth believes that Karate can be used to fill this void because; “Spirituality is not being taught at home where it’s supposed to be taught; even courtesy and respect. Etiquette should be taught at home, but parents I feel are not spending the time.”

The result of this is that Kenneth Funakoshi is finding that a lot of his students who are unable to train in the advanced class on the night he holds his philosophy class are making a point of still coming to the class. He does not know of any other dojos that give philosophy classes and has found that these classes are answering a lot of questions that his students have about Karate training. As he himself puts it, “the physical part of Karate training will last you only a few years compared to the spiritual side that will last you a lifetime.”

It is all very well holding such classes but unless your students are truly benefitting from the lessons and lectures there is very little point in holding them. Fortunately Kenneth Funakoshi is finding that parents of his child students are seeing changes in their children both at home and at school. Considering that children are most likely the future of the martial arts, these changes are invaluable if Kenneth Funakoshi wants to see the spiritual message contained within Karate spread to a wider audience and achieve the goal of creating better people and hopefully a better society.

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. Matthew was Features Editor, Technical Consultant and regular columnist for magazines such as ‘Fighters’, ‘Combat’, ‘TKD & Korean Martial Arts’ and ‘Traditional Karate’. These are the four leading martial arts magazines in the United Kingdom. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed 'Practical Taekwondo: Back to the Roots', which has been sold around the world. With regard to his martial arts background he has been studying martial arts since 1991. In 1995 he hosted Professor Rick Clark of the ADK and since then has been studying pressure points and their uses in the martial arts and on the street (initially as a Special Constable and as a Door Supervisor). All of this practical hands-on experience means that he is uniquely placed to write fight scenes that are not only plausible but some of which are based on personal or anecdotal experience. Matthew has had a number of short stories published by Fringe Works, KnightWatch Press, Anderfam Press and Emby Press.

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