Thoughts on Yoshitaka There
is a certain romance about Master Funakoshi's third
son, Yoshitaka (or Giko). The stories of his training,
his early death, and the excellence of his technique
evident from old photographs, continue to exert
their fascination. He is a favorite subject of mine,
but trying to dig up details of his life is frustrating;
for a variety of historical reasons he remains a
neglected figure. The stories are that he began
karate training as a child. Obviously he must have
learned the art from his father, yet he somehow
developed his own instinctive way of performing
techniques; "dynamic" is the word that
springs to mind. Photographs of past karate experts
usually appear old fashioned, yet Yoshitaka's techniques
look surprisingly modern. The development of his
karate must have been given added impetus when his
father passed on the major part of his teaching
responsibilities in the 1930s.
I have previously written that it was Yoshitaka
Funakoshi who developed modern Shotokan but now
I don't think that is strictly correct. It is true,
for example, that his stances were much deeper than
his father's, but to judge from early photographs
there was a movement towards deeper stances a little
before Yoshitaka. And the theory of Yoshitaka as
the true originator of modern Shotokan does not
explain the postwar development of the style by
people such as Masatoshi Nakayama, Isao Obata, and
Hidetaka Nishiyama who had never studied with him.
Nevertheless, he was the most important figure in
the style's development in the prewar years. Gichin
Funakoshi's karate was the starting point but its
"Shotokan-ness" needed to be brought out
and strengthened. If we compare Yoshitaka's technique
with Gichin's, certain differences are immediately
apparent --Yoshitaka's stances were much deeper
and more rooted, and his whole body applied more
in defense than attack. He used kicks in a much
more vigorous way, and the delivery of attacks looks
All these elements are part of modern day Shotokan
but other parts of Yoshitaka's karate are no longer
practiced. For example his favorite stance of fudodachi
(unmoveable stance) and his 'Tenno-kata' are rarely
seen nowadays. Tenno-kata, Ji-no-kata, and Jin-no-kata,
representing Heaven (Ten), Earth (Ji) and Man (Jin).
I have never seen Ji-no-kata or Jin-no-kata and
am not sure whether the series was ever completed.
Shigeru Egami told Mitsusuke Harada that Yoshitaka
had also created a "Shoto" kata. Unfortunately
Egami did not learn this kata fully and it may now
Harada sensei related a story he had been told by
his seniors. Yoshitaka was sucked into an argument
with some judoka who were the worse for drink. They
set on him but their mode of attack--reaching for
a collar hold to apply their throwing technique--made
them open targets for Yoshitaka's powerful kicks
and punches. Within a short time he had knocked
the judoka down. This event gave him great confidence
in his technique. Yoshitaka taught at the Shotokan
dojo till 1944 or '45. By 1945 he was seriously
ill and much of the teaching at that time was carried
out by Genshin Hironishi. Occasionally, in the last
couple of years or so, Yoshitaka would recover and
take a class. During a class Yoshitaka would instruct
and supervise, not actually joining the training
very much. Sometimes, at the end of the session,
he would get a sempai (senior) up to spar. The sempai
would attack, with Yoshitaka defending and using
his open hands to cuff or push the opponent back.
I get the impression that he would "play"
with the attacker. Even so, some of these open hand
cuffs hurt and Shigeru Egami recalled his soreness
after these sessions. A few modern experts such
as Mitsuke Harada and Taiji Kase look back to Yoshitaka
as a great karate expert. However, although his
methods worked their way through Shotokan, he seems
to have had few real students. I asked Harada sensei
who could be considered students of Yoshitaka. He
thought there was Egami, Okuyuma, maybe Hironishi
in the war period and then he began to run out of
names. This is one reason why Yoshitaka has been
neglected in the study of karate history. How good
was he? This is something that cannot be answered,
not only for Yoshitaka but for all the old karate
Karate is not a competitive sport like boxing, where
we have fighters' full records, and, more often
than not, films of their best-known bouts. There
are no films of the old time karate experts, often
no photographs, and written material is usually
scanty or biased. For Yoshitaka we have the testimony
of a few of his followers (often at second hand),
and it is interesting, for example, to hear from
Mitsusuke Harada that in kumite, "No one could
block Yoshitaka's punch." As for the photographs,
they are always excellent: his form looks attractive
and strong and his stances as solid as a rock. There
is just one fly in the ointment, dating back to
a 1970s article by American writer Andy Adams on
Gichin Funakoshi. Adams spoke to several contemporaries
and students of Funakoshi, including Mas Oyama (the
world leader and founder of Kyokushin-kai Karate)
who trained at the Shotokan in the late 1930s. During
a general criticism of Funakoshi's karate, Oyama
said: "Yoshitaka took 10 of his best kumite
men to Osaka and fought with Goju men there. All
lost. Even Funakoshi's son was beaten in his match
with Chil Soo. Everybody saw all the great Funakoshi
men lose. . . After that Funakoshi's son became
a real karate fighter. Very strong. I like."
Several writers have latched on to these few sentences,
speculating that it was this event--supposing it
did happen the way Oyama described it--which precipitated
the development of Yoshitaka's "new" form
of karate. I am not sure about that at all, and
there may be a problem with dates. By his own account
Oyama began training at the Shotokan around 1938.
Yet photographs dated 1936 and 1937 showed that
Yoshitaka's technique was fully formed by that time.
The story also suggests that Goju karateka were
more advanced in jiyu-kumite, which contrasts with
something Mitsusuke Harada told me.
In his recollections of the kokan-geiko of the early
post-war years, Harada sensei said that initially
Goju-ryu students had difficulty with the Shotokan
karateka's longer attacks and greater familiarity
with jiyu-kumite. Of course, the story fascinated
me too and over the years I asked many karateka
if they knew of it. Some of these karateka were
fairly senior Shotokan people, but (with one exception)
no one could supply any information at all, and
I began to doubt whether the contest ever happened.
I suppose the Shotokan group might have tried to
sweep it under the carpet, but I never got the impression
that anyone was holding anything back.
The exception was Richard Kim, who replied to my
inquiry with the version of the story he had heard:
"Regarding your inquiry on Oyama's account
of a match between Funakoshi's son and the Goju
people. The story involves Nei-chu So, the highest
ranking Goju-kai sensei under Yamaguchi. There is
no verification of the story--it depends on whose
version you trust. "Nei-chu So in his match
with Giko Funakoshi grabbed Giko and threw him hard
against the wall. So, at that time, was one of the
most powerful men in Japan and used his physical
strength to win his matches. The Funakoshi people
claim it was against the rules and walked out."
I don't know if Oyama actually witnessed the contest
but his teacher in Goju-ryu was this very Nei-chu
So. There is a photo of So in the early editions
of Oyama's "What is Karate" and he does
look a muscular, powerful man, so the story is plausible.
The tale must have been circulating in the Goju
world, where it was heard by Oyama and Richard Kim.
I give it here for what it's worth. No doubt there
was a Shotokan version of events; if anyone has
heard it please write to me at this magazine.
War Years and Special Training Throughout the
1930s Japan was geared up as a wartime economy.
Manchuria was annexed in 1932, the war with China
began in 1936, and then in 1941 came Pearl Harbor
and the entry into "The Great Pacific War".
Many karateka were posted overseas, and the turnover
of young students was heavy. Funakoshi recalled:
"I would often hear a young man say, as he
knelt before me: "Sensei, I have been drafted
and I'm off to serve my country and my Emperor."
Every day I would hear my students report to me
in this fashion. They had been strenuously practicing
karate day after day in preparation for hand-to-hand
encounters with an unmet enemy, and they believed
they were ready. . . Of course, many students died
in battle, so many, alas, that I lost count of them.
I felt my heart would break as I received report
after report telling me of the deaths of so many
promising young men. Then I would stand alone in
the silent dojo and offer a prayer to the soul of
the deceased, recalling the days when he had practiced
his karate so diligently. I once asked Mitsusuke
Harada who had been the karate instructors at certain
university clubs during the war. He replied that
because of the constant coming and going to the
front it was impossible to say. How did karate change
during the war? Well, the art has little relevance
to modern warfare but it seems that the whole atmosphere
of the times led to greater seriousness in training.
Taiji Kase, who trained at the Shotokan in the last
year or so of the war, remembered that emphasis
was placed on strong basics and intense practice
of kumite (especially jiyu-ippon) with much physical
contact. Kase, a person not given to exaggeration,
described it as "very hard". Tatsuo Suzuki
told me that the well rounded pre-war training gave
way to practice on "fighting", and he
stressed "fighting" rather than sparring
(jiyu-kumlte). I had heard stories (without details)
of Yoshitaka Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami teaching
special troops during the war. I asked Harada sensei
about this and he told me what he had heard.
The institution concerned was the Nakano School,
a training school for military espionage analogous
to our MI5. Trainees were on a one year course covering
undercover work, guerrilla warfare and so on. Unarmed
combat was also included and the original teacher
for this was Morihei Uyeshiba (of Aikido). Uyeshiba
himself was good but when the students tried to
apply the techniques they couldn't make them work
under real conditions. In a way, Aikido had too
much "technique" for the limited one year
of training. The military leaders decided to look
at karate as an alternative, and they observed the
different styles, such as Goju, Wado, and Shotokan.
Goju-ryu, with its heavy stress on sanchin training,
did not seem to have the practical application necessary,
at least in its initial stages, and Wado-ryu technique
seemed too "light". However, the Shotokan
style as demonstrated by Yoshitaka looked impressive,
and he was asked to teach at the Nakano School.
Unfortunately, he was too ill and it was Shigeru
Egami who did the actual teaching. Egami concentrated
on two techniques: choku-zuki (straight punch) and
mae-geri (front kick), and when he began teaching
a class he would pick out participants and tell
them to attack him as hard as they could. In this
way he was able to prove the validity of his technique.
Injuries were frequent. Kicks were often delivered
to the shins - and this was while wearing boots.
After the war Harada sensei met someone who had
trained in these classes under Egami. He recalled
one time when he had hardly been able to walk for
a week because of such shin kicks. But injuries
were no excuse for missing training. If someone
was wearing bandages, they had to be removed. If
a bad injury occurred, then no doctors could be
called for during training. A hard rule, but no
doctors would be present on the battle front. All
in all, however, this "Nakano-ryu" was
successful in achieving its objectives. The military
was pleased with the results and Yoshitaka and Egami
gained prestige from it. Something similar was recounted
by Wado-ryu karateka Takatoshi Nishizono in a chapter
he contributed to the 1977 book "Karate-do".
(Sozo Co. Translation courtesy Ian McLaren and N.
Karasawa). Nishizono began karate training when
he entered Tokyo University in 1941. He became so
wrapped up in karate that in fact he neglected his
studies and his academic performance was poor. But
after graduation he managed to get a job with the
North China Transportation Company in Peking; a
boring, routine job as he recalled.
In early 1945 however, he was summoned by head office
and asked to take on a role as karate instructor
to a Special Army Squadron in Taigen. Nishizono
felt he was not really up to this but after he was
told it was his duty he agreed:
"When I arrived at the special squadron I was
introduced to the young Commanding Officer and the
other officers. I was made aware of the aim and
organization of the squadron but was ordered to
keep it secret for security reasons.
"Taigen was the HQ of the 1st Army Group, North
China, but our squadron consisted of only 250 volunteers,
all of whom had distinguished themselves in battle.
We usually wore normal military uniform with the
Cherry Blossom badge, but when we began operations
we changed into normal Chinese wear and we acted
like ninja, carrying no weapons. We were an intelligence
and guerrilla unit named "Sakura Squadron"
We trained in horse riding, martial arts disguise
technique and physical exercise. We never trained
with swords or guns; it was required that the Sakura
Squadron be able to defeat the opponent with bare
hands, and this was why karate was selected.
"I began instruction immediately, on the first
day. I was led to a building to be used as the dojo
and found the whole squadron lined up, all stripped
to the waist. They had superb physiques and sharp
eyes. The commanding officer gave a briefing which
included the words: "Our training must be real,
just like a battle! So it may be that some of you
will be killed!"
"That briefing was very effective in impressing
the soldiers. Even though they were brave men, some
said afterwards that it had made them feel uneasy.
"You cannot teach 200 men sufficient karate
to defeat an enemy in one month if you rely on the
normal methods of training. I made an instant decision
and, selecting two soldiers who looked strong, ordered
them to attack me using any technique they wished.
They had no experience of karate so I was able to
beat them easily; my kicking technique was enough.
But they were very brave and continued to attack.
But despite the briefing by the commanding officer
I did not have the heart to attack the kintekki
(testicles). I refrained from using that technique
and using only sokuto I knocked them to the floor.
After this the soldiers respected my ability and
it was much easier for me to teach them.
"My method of training was a simple one. For
punching (tsuki) I demanded that they strike to
the enemy's face, and for kicking, that they attack
the kintekki. For defense we used jodan-uke and
gedan-barai. I trained them every day repeating
these basic techniques many times. As training progressed
the soldiers' stances became stronger. Then we moved
on to hon-kumite--serious kumite.
"There was no stopping in our kumite and naturally
some arguments arose during this practice. Also,
as I could not easily oversee over 200 men I learned
that when I was near they would go full force, but
when my back was turned they took it easy. I knew
that they were tired after their battlefield experiences
and at first I pretended not to notice. However,
my task was to train them to combat readiness in
a month, so eventually I had to be hard with them.
If I found anyone being idle I pulled them out and
and fought them till they could no longer stand.
"They had all practiced judo, kendo and tsuken-jutsu
(bayonet fighting) and were able to pick up karate
technique quickly. After training we would take
a bath. Some of the soldiers had powerful physiques
and I was somewhat ashamed of my own small body.
"That month passed so quickly. All the soldiers
trained hard and performed well. On the final day
we said our farewells, the officers expressed their
gratitude to me, and we had a party. Then I left
Taigen and returned to Peking where life continued
in the same way as before.
"I never found out what happened to the Sakura
Squadron. I heard stories that they had been sent
south on a mission and that all had been killed.
The men who wore that Cherry Blossom badge were
all from Northern Japan; they were so naive and
kind. Now it all seems like a dream."
Post-War Years The Shotokan dojo was destroyed
in a bombing raid in the spring of 1945. When Japan
surrendered in August of that year Funakoshi left
for Oite in Kyushu where his wife was living. (She
had been evacuated there during the battle of Okinawa.)
Life was hard during those early post-war years
and Funakoshi sensei's involvement with karate ceased
for the time being. However, in 1947 his wife died
and he moved back to Tokyo. As his train stopped
at each station on the way there were former students
waiting to meet him and offer their condolences.
He was moved to tears. Many fine karate students
had been lost in the war, and such was the chaos
afterwards that for a couple of years Masatomo Takagi
(Secretary of the JKA) was not even aware of what
had become of Master Funakoshi. Eventually Takagi
discovered that he was still alive and recovering
from illness. It had been almost 19 years since
he had seen Funakoshi and when he introduced himself
the old master failed to recognize him.
"I once knew someone called Takagi, a long
time ago" he said. When Takagi exclaimed "It's
me, sensei!" Funakoshi took his hand in surprise.
It took a few years for the karate world to pick
itself up and by then its development was in the
hands of a younger generation. Gichin Funakoshi
was the rallying point for Shotokan karateka but
by this time he was over 80 years old and did not
take an active role. But he still retained his love
of the art and taught when he could. He taught on
a limited basis at Waseda, Keio, and maybe at times
at other universities. His class at Waseda was held
on a Saturday, but attendance was poor. Things had
moved on and few of the young trainees wanted to
learn from an eighty-year-old teacher who was interested
only in kata--especially when they wanted to practice
kumite. At one point Tsutomu Ohshima, the club captain,
had to tell trainees that, unless they attended
Funakoshi sensei's classes they would not be allowed
to take their gradings. So they turned up, albeit
grudgingly. All credit to Ohshima for taking this
action because those classes were the bright spot
in Master Funakoshi's week.
After the war many budoka saw their arts as fulfilling
a need in installing values in the Japanese people.
In 1954 a major demonstration of Budo took place
in Tokyo. It featured demonstrations by greats such
as Mifune (Judo), Nakayama (Kendo), and Gichin Funakoshi,
who was then 86 years old. His demonstration was
loudly applauded and when he was invited onto the
dais he received a standing ovation.
By the time Funakoshi died in 1957, things were
moving in the Japanese karate world. Immediately
after the war the Shotokan group was dispersed and
it was not till the late 1940s that the seniors
began to organize. Even then it was a faltering
start. In his interesting interview in this magazine
(F.A.I. No. 51) Hidetaka Nishiyama recalled that
many of the seniors had forgotten their kata and
often had to get together to pool their knowledge.
But, through the efforts of people such as Genshin
Hironishi the various Shotokan groups were brought
together and in 1949 or '50 the Japan Karate Association
As an aside, I don't know whether Hironishi was
actually involved with the JKA, but he did form
the Shotokai together with Shigeru Egami. (Hironishi
became President, with Egami taking sole responsibility
for the technical develop-ment.) Hironishi was one
of Funakoshi's favorite students, and he had taught
at the old Shotokan dojo in the later war years.
In the Sino-Japanese war which began in 1937 he
saw action on the Chinese front. He was officer
material but because of his socialist views had
to serve in the ranks. Nevertheless, through strength
of character he became a sergeant in the Army. When
he returned to Japan in 1943 he was asked to teach
at the Shotokan.
Anyway, in 1949 the JKA was formed. In this original
JKA Isao Obata was Chairman, Kichinosuke Saigo President,
Masatomo Takagi administrator, and Masatoshi Nakayama
chief instructor. Master Funakoshi had the figurehead
role of Honorary Chief Instructor. With so many
different groups involved friction was probably
inevitable. Each university group had its own slightly
different form of "Shotokan" and problems
could arise, for example, at gradings if seniors
from another university were on the panel. There
was an interesting article in the American magazine
"Black Belt" a few years ago ("A
New Day in Karate", Oct. 1965 issue) which
shed some light on the problems of the early JKA.
The article concentrated on the rivalry between
the various University Old Boy clubs and their different
approaches to karate. Many of the top positions
in the JKA were held by Takushoku university men
such as Nakayama, Takagi and Nishiyama. Unlike,
for example, Obata and Saigo, who were well off
and believed karate teaching should be on an amateur
(unpaid) basis, the Takushoku karateka were paid
a salary and had a more commercial approach.
Anyway, whatever the exact reasons, the Hosei and
Waseda groups left in the early 1950s, and in 1953
or '54 Obata and the Keio group left too. What remained
was still strong, however, and formed the basis
for what we now know as the JKA. In having a more
business-like approach the men involved in this
group--Masatoshi Nakayama, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teryuki
Okazaki, Kimio Ito--were more forward looking than
their contemporaries, and it is their system which
is now the major form of Shotokan. They set up a
training course for instructors in 1956, the first
three trainees being Kanazawa, Mikami and Takura.
Takura I know nothing about but Hirokazu Kanazawa
and Takayuki Mikami were regarded as outstanding
Between them they shared the first three of the
JKA's All Japan Championships. That first Championship,
won by Kanazawa, was held in 1957 and was, in its
way, epoch making. I'm not exactly sure if this
was the first karate tournament but it is usually
held to mark the beginning of modern sport karate.
In many cases this has become an end in itself but
the JKA has always been able to keep it in balance
with the other elements of kihon and kata to preserve
a well rounded karate.
The JKA is one of several Shotokan bodies, and we
could say that none of them practice karate in exactly
the way Funakoshi did, that is the way he demonstrated
in "Karate-do Kyohan's" first edition.
That is to be expected, of course; times have changed
and the art has moved on. But, for example, Masatoshi
Nakayama, the late J.K.A. chief instructor, was
a student of Funakoshi sensei from 1932 to 1937,
so his karate was obviously based on Funakoshi's
teaching. The changes we can see in the modern JKA
are natural developments which occurred with time
and the influx of a younger generation of instructors.
Even so, today's kata are more or less the same
as those shown in the second (1958) edition of "Kyohan".
By that time the Shotokan form was well established,
and all who practice that form today look back to
Gichin Funakoshi as their founding father.
Funakoshi's Precepts Gichin Funakoshi left us
twenty precepts. In doing this he was probably more
aware of the precedent of Ankoh Itosu (who in a
note set down his "10 teachings") and
of various kenjutsu masters who put down the principles
of their teaching in this fashion. Funakoshi's maxims
are very similar in tone to some of these kenjutsu
writings (Donn Draeger gives examples in his "Modern
BuJutsu and Budo", pages 103/4 and 109/10).
Some writers have tried to point out the spiritual
nature of Funakoshi's precepts, but I don't think
they are profound in that sense. Funakoshi did believe
in the "Do" of karate, but more in the
sense described by the Zen priest Takuan (1573-1646):
"The law of the Buddha well observed, is identical
with the law of mundane existenceÉ The Way
(Do) is practical only." "Master Funakoshi
wasn't one to give metaphysical explanations for
everything," recalled Tsutomu Ohshima. "He
was very practical and was influenced by the teachings
of Confucius who never talked about great mysteries
or spiritual issues. Funakoshi, like Confucius,
was more interested in the realistic world of people,
ideas and events." So the precepts cover not
only Funakoshi's wider view of karate--its underlying
social and moral basis--but also advise on technical
principles, on principles of self-defense, and on
how to integrate karate into daily life. Thus, they
are well rounded and complete--and moreover, they
give us an insight into Funakoshi sensei's philosophy