Roots Of Shotokan:
Funakoshi's Original 15 Kata
Part 1- Classification & Knowledge
by Joe Swift
Editor's Note: The first
of this three part series that examines the roots
of Shotokan karate through Gichin Funakoshi's 15 original
kata. The first article discusses the controversy
over Funakoshi's classification of Shorin and Shorei
by body type, as well as his knowledge of kata. The
last two articles focus on in-depth discussions of
the meaning and origin of Funakoshi core kata.
Gichin Funakoshi is probably the best known karate
master of the early 20th century and is known by many
as the "Father Of Japanese Karate." It was
Funakoshi who was first selected to demonstrate his
Okinawan art on mainland Japan. In Japan Funakoshi
helped build the popularity of his fledgling art and
helped it gain acceptance by the all important Japanese
organization founded (and sanctioned by the government)
to preserve and promote the martial arts and ways
in Japan (the Dai Nippon Butokukai). An author of
several pioneering books on karate, he was the founder
Shotokan karate from which many other styles derived.
When Funakoshi arrived in Japan in 1922, he originally
taught a total of fifteen kata, although it has been
speculated that he probably knew many more. The purpose
of this article will be to introduce some of the theories
on the possible origins of these kata, provide some
historical testimony on them, and try and improve
the overall understanding of the roots of Shotokan.
Funakoshi's Kata Classification System
Funakoshi, following a traditional model of classifying
karate by divided it into two separate traditions,
Shorei and Shorin.
This classification derives from early karate masters
which were not associated with their own ryu or martial
traditions, but with the towns within which they lived
and practiced: Shuri, the capital and political center;
Naha, a nearby seaport and trade center, and Tomari
a smaller sea port. The early karate practiced in
Shuri and to a lesser extent Tomari combined to be
known as Shorin-ryu and is associated with the descendants
and/or styles of such karate luminaries as Soken Matsumura
(Shuri), Kosaku Matsumura (Tomari) and followed by
Anko Itosu and Chosin Chibana. The karate of Naha
became known as Shorei-ryu and is associated with
such karate styles of Goju-ryu and Uechi-Ryu.
It was the Shorei and Shorin classification of styles
(ryu) that Funakoshi followed. He characterized them
as follows. Funakoshi said that "Shorei-ryu is
suitable for people of large build, whereas Shorin-ryu
is suitable for those of smaller frames, less physically
powerful or thin, like a willow. For basic posture,
Shorei- ryu is good, but it lacks the speed necessary
for a real confrontation. Shorin-ryu is quick, but
if the practitioner is grabbed, they will be unable
to move. Therefore, for those who aspire to practice
karate, it is important to pick up the good points
of each." (Funakoshi 1922, pp. 5-6)
This specific classification, i.e. dividing Shorin-ryu
and Shorei-ryu by the body types of the practitioners,
can be traced as far back as 1914, when Funakoshi
penned an article on karate for the Ryukyu Shinpo
newspaper, based on the lectures of his main teacher
Anko Asato, and writing under his pen name Shoto.
While it is true that Funakoshi's other main teacher
Anko Itosu, had also stated that there were two "styles"
of karate, Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu, in his 1908
letter addressed to the Ministry of Education and
the Ministry of War, he never characterized them as
relating to body types. The famous Okinawan Bubishi
also mentions Shorinji-ryu and Shoreiji-ryu (see,
for example, Mabuni, 1934), but again, does not state
the differences between the two.
other prominent teachers of the day also took exception
to Funakoshi's classification. In 1930, Chojun Miyagi
was quoted as saying that the breakdown of Shorin-ryu
and Shorei-ryu into kata for differing body types,
as Funakoshi did, was unfounded (Miki, et al, 1930).
Miyagi also went on to say basically the same thing
in his 1934 essay Karatedo Gaisetsu (McCarthy, 1999).
At the 1936 "meeting of the masters," he
said that the only real difference between Shorin-ryu
and Shorei-ryu lay in their teaching methods (ibid.).
Mabuni Kenwa and his co-author Nakasone Genwa, in
their 1938 publication "Kobo Kenpo Karatedo Nyumon,"
also disagreed with Funakoshi's categorizations.
The main thrust of the Mabuni/Nakasone argument is
that if this is indeed a valid classification system,
then why did Funakoshi change the classifications
of certain kata, namely Wanshu (Shorei-ryu to Shorin-ryu),
Chinto (Shorei-ryu to Shorin-ryu) and Jitte (Shorei-ryu
to Shorin-ryu, than back to Shorei-ryu)?
They also argue that following Funakoshi's classification
method, Chojun Miyagi's (founder of Goju karate) brainchild
Tensho would clearly belong to the Shorei-ryu. However,
as Mabuni (founder of Shito-Ryu karate) and Nakasone
(a famous Tomari/Matsumura karate-ka) state, Tensho
was based on the chapter entitled Rokkishu (showing
six open hand positions with some description of their
application) in the Bubishi (a once secret text on
White Crane and Monk Fist kung fu hand copied and
passed among many early Oknawan karate masters), and
it is clearly stated within that Rokkishu belongs
to the Shorin(ji)ryu (Mabuni et al, 1938).
Funakoshi's Kata Knowledge
The fifteen kata in Funakoshi's syllabus included:
However, his early books indicate that he may have
had at least a passing familiarity with several others.
In his 1922 "Ryukyu Kenpo Karate," Funakoshi
also lists an additional 16 kata (Funakoshi, 1922)
including: an additional Passai kata (listing both
Dai & Sho) and Kushanku kata (listing both Dai
& Sho), Gojushiho, Chinte, Jiin, Wandau, Rohai,
Jumu, Wando, Sochin, Niseishi, Sanseiru, Suparinpei,
Wankan, Kokan, and Ushu.
It is also no less interesting that in his 1925 "Rentan
Goshin Karate Jutsu," he lists the same kata,
with the addition of Sanchin (Funakoshi, 1925).
So, we can see that Funakoshi had at least a passing
familiarity with many kata outside of his own curriculum
of fifteen. This is only natural as Funakoshi himself
tells us that he had received brief instruction from
many prominent masters of that era, including Sokon
"Bushi" Matsumura, Peichin Kiyuna, Seisho
Aragaki and Kanryo Higashionna (Funakoshi, 1956).
Some sources even point to the famous Taite (Kojo)
Kogusuku as being Funakoshi's first instructor (Fujiwara,
1990; Iwai, 2000).
Although he does not quote his source, noted Japanese
martial arts historian Ryozo Fujiwara states that
Funakoshi first learned Pechurin kata under Taite
Kogusuku, Kushanku under Anko Asato and Naifuanchi
under Anko Itosu (Fujiwara, 1990).
two articles in this series will discuss
each of these kata in depth, including discussion
or their possible origin and meaning.
About The Author:
Joe Swift, native of New York State (USA), has
lived in Japan since 1994. He works as a translator/interpreter,
and previously served as an assistant instructor
at the Mushinkan Okinawa Karate Kobudo Dojo in Kanazawa.
Swift now resides in Tokyo and will be opening a
a branch of the Mushinkan Dojo (Okinawa Shoreiryu)
in that city. A well know karate historian and researcher,
Swift has published articles in the Dragon Times
and other leading martial arts journals and on a
variety of martial arts sites around the world.
He is a Contributing Editor for FightingArts.com.
us | magazine