Founder of Shotokan Karate, considered the father of modern Karate.
Shotokan is the most widespread style of Karate, a fighting style originating from Ryuku islands (whose main island is Okinawa), characterized by its striking techniques.
Born in Shuri, Okinawa, at the same year of the Meiji Revolution, Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) began studying at age 11 the Naha-Te and Shuri-Te styles. The teaching was done in secret inside the instructor´s houses because Okinawa martial arts were then forbidden by Japanese authorities.
Working as an elementary school teacher, he managed in 1902 to get an authorization from Ministry of Education to teach Karate in Okinawan schools. In 1921, he made the first public demonstration of Okinawa-Te (as it was known in Japan) in Tokyo during a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Japanese government.
Until then, Okinawa-Te was based only on katas. Around 1934-1935, Funakoshi developed techniques for doubles (Gohon Kumite, Kumite Ippon), semi-free sparring (Ju Ippon Kumite), free sparring (Ju Kumite) and removed the most dangerous Kata techniques.
Under the influence of Japanese nationalism, he renamed the katas with Japanese names and changed the Kanji characters of the word "Karate" (without changing its pronunciation). Kara, meaning "China", was renamed as "empty". Kara Te (empty hands) came to represent the fighting spirit, a mind free from desires and earthly vanities.
In 1936, the first official Karate Dojo was founded. It was called Shoto Kan (Shoto School) in his honor because Shoto was Funakoshi´s nickname he used to sign his calligraphies. Sho means "pine tree" and To "waves", signifying the sound made by the wind blowing through the pine needles.
Following the chaos of World War II, the Japanese Karate Association was founded in 1949 with Funakoshi as chief instructor.
Funakoshi died on April 26, 1957. In his grave, is one of his instructions: Karate Ni felt Nashi ("In Karate, there is no offensive attitude").