A Short Story About
Part 1: Azato's School Days & Martial
By Gichen Funakoshi
Translated & Edited
Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy
Editor's Note: This article is the first of two
excerpts from a new book, "Karatedo Tanpenshu,"
a collection and new English translation of early
writings of Funakoshi, historical photos and other
materials compiled and translated by Patrick and Yuriko
McCarthy. The orignal Funakoshi articles were written
in 1934 for the Keio Gijuku Taiiku-kia Karate Bu Kaiho.
My teacher, Azato Ankoh, held an honorable rank not
unlike that of a lower Daimyo in Japanese society.
In spite of his first name being Ankoh, he use the
pen name "Rinkakusai" when signing the plethora
of literary compositions he authored. Since his youth
Azato has been referred to as the "child prodigy"
because he excelled in both the fighting traditions
and in literary studies. By the time that the Ryukyu
Kingdom was abolished, Azato had become a well-known
politician holding the post of Minister of State.
A contemporary of Itosu Ankoh, Azato was more than
just his esteemed colleague; they were also very close
friends. Responsible for spear-heading the movement,
which introduced the defensive tradition into the
public school system. Itosu had such an enormous impact
upon the growth and direction of karate that even
local children knew his reputation. In fact, both
Azato and Itosu were both regarded as brother Bushi
and respected as such.
Together, Azato and Itosu had diligently studied
the martial arts under the strict tutelage of Masumura
Soken. An advocate of the Chinese ways, instruction
under that taskmaster was always conducted early in
the morning before dawn until the sun came up, without
change or observation of holidays. During these times,
Azato Sensei was also studying at the National school
where he was peerless. Particularly, in the study
of the Chinese classics, Azato was an honor student
and received financial scholarship amounting to more
than his tuition.
Being very close to his first son, Sensei liked me
a lot and was, in many ways, like a second father.
Moreover, he was always very frank with me. I remember
once he told me how hard it was to teach his own son.
Citing a Confucian proverb, describing the difficulties
associated with a father training his own child, Sensei
maintained that teaching other children allowed for
more objectivity. "Now, I will teach you,"
he told me, "in the future, please impart such
learning to your friend, my son." I was honored,
and humbly complied.
The Martial Arts of Azato
During my teacher's youth, few martial arts enthusiasts
could ever afford the supplementary training equipment,
which is commonly associated with the practice these
days. However, Azato was an exception and it was because
he was from a family of wealth and position that could
afford such things. In fact, his home virtually looked
like one big training facility. Both standing and
hanging makiwara (impact training equipment) were
located in various rooms of the Azato residence, along
with other training equipment, which included wooden
cudgels (club) and swords of various configurations,
a wooden-man (a post with wooden arms and sometimes
legs often associated with Chinese Kung Fu), stone
weights, iron balls for grip-strength development,
shield and machete, flails (nunchaku), iron truncheons
(probably sais), and even a wooden horse for mounting
practice and archery spotting. Master Azato had created
a living environment where he could train at anytime
and anywhere he liked.
Excelling in various martial arts, Sensei was particularly
fond of horsemanship, which he studied under Megata
Sensei, the trainer who groomed the Meiji Emperor
himself. Sensei apparently decided to pursue Megata's
tutelage because his horsemanship was the trendy style
being introduced from the West, which really appealed
to a stalwart like Azato. Master Azato first observed
Megata giving a lesson to a few students on the grounds
next to the Hirakawa Emperor's gate. Mr. Megata could
tell that Sensei wanted to give the new saddle a try
but was too modest to ask, so the trainer asked him
instead. With some coaxing, Sensei finally accepted
and was applauded by Megata for his brilliant performance
and command over the reins. I think that Azato was
a perfect example of the expression, "A person
who excels in one thing can excel at everything."
Sensei also loved archery and diligently studied
under Master Sekiguchi, and like his teacher (Matsumura
Sokon) before him, so did Azato study Jigenryu swordsmanship
directly under the noted Japanese instructor Ishuin
Yashichiro. However, among all the combative disciplines,
it was the swordsmanship of Jigenryu that Sensei most
favored. I remember that whenever Senseii got excited
he used to say to me, "I'm ready to compete anytime
if the opponent is serious." In my opinion, Sensei
was peerless in karate but judging by his preoccupation
with Jigenryu, swordsmanship was his real passion.
At the risk of seeming presumptuous, I would, nevertheless,
like to introduce a couple of anecdotes about Master
Azato's karate which I am personally familiar with.
One night a burglar broke into Sensei's residence,
apparently not being aware of whose house it was.
Had the burglar known that it was the home of Azato
he would have never entered. Being awoken by noises
in the house, Sensei knew that someone had broken
into the house and jumped out of bed in an effort
to apprehend the intruder. Coming face-to-face with
the perpetrator in the living room it only took a
moment to recognize that, in spite of dwarfing the
man in size, Sensei was unable to capture the man.
Moving with the agility of a gymnast, the man virtually
bounced off the furniture, out the window, onto the
wall surrounding the house and onto the roof of the
house next door. Sensei gave chase but to no avail,
as the man escaped without a trace. Later Sensei came
to learn that a man well known for testing the skills
of those considered masterful staged the incident.
Such things often happened during Okinawa's old Ryukyu
One day Sensei and his good friend, Itosu Ankoh,
were confronted by a small throng of 20 or 30 young
men. Seriously mismatched, and in a less than accommodating
location, the two decided to bolt taking refuge in
a nearby house. At least there they could wait until
the throng decided to disperse and leave, or fight
them on more equal terms. Wound up an set upon fighting,
the young men swarmed over the house like bees to
a hive. During their assault on the house Azato leaped
out from the window and surprised the hoodlums when
he began to dispatch them. Engaging the gang on the
other side of the house, Master Itosu was able to
quickly discourage anyone else from continuing to
In spite of using only a single blow to dispatch
each of the hoodlums that he confronted, Azato's defense
was brutally effective, leaving some of the young
offenders seriously injured. In contrast to Azato's
confrontation, Itosu left more victims lying around
the back of the house, but seriously injured no one.
Judging by this anecdote one might be able to better
understand the varying ways in which two experts might
handle the same dangerous situation.
Mister Azato was well known for his incredible strength.
When he was just 17 years old he walked to his home
from Kyozuka, a distance of 4 km, carrying two large
stones weighing more than 30 kg each on his shoulders.
Such tests of strength often took place on the moonlit
footpaths of old Okinawa when young men sought to
establish reputations for themselves performing various
feats of strength and bravery. Sensei was one such
man and his awesome reputation for strength and technique
earned him so much respect that he was referred to
as Bushi Azato.
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