Book Review by Peter Leitch
Title:KARATE DO My Way of Life
Author: Gichin Funakoshi
Published: Kodansha Int'l 1975
This book, Master Funakoshi's life story, is as much a book about Karate as it is anautobiography. Not too surprising, since Master Funakoshi is credited as being the founder ofmodern Karate.
The book begins with some background history to give the reader a feel for the circumstancessurrounding the early days of Karate. Master Funakoshi was born in the first year of the Meijirestoration, and during the years that followed, there were sweeping reforms to Japan's laws andcustoms. At the time and for many years later, Karate was very much an unknown martial art.In fact it was officially illegal to teach this mysterious form of "Chinese boxing" until 1921. Atthis point, Master Funakoshi was about 53 years old and had been studying Karate since he wasin primary school!
Master Funakoshi uses the many fascinating anecdotes of his life to illustrate his vision of Karate.Indeed it is the theme "Karate is a Way of Life" that weaves its way through each of his stories.Simply told and with utmost humility, these stories are poignant, humorous and timeless. Fromthe short tale of kicking a fleeing fugitive down a hill into a cess pit, to recounting his return toTokyo after the death of his wife, Master Funakoshi demonstrates his skills as a poet.
It is hard to imagine that a man nearly 90 years old could be as openİminded and forwardthinking as Master Funakoshi. In his book, he speaks of the relative unimportance of formaluniforms and dojos, saying that any place can be a dojo. Master Funakoshi simplified andrenamed the katas he was taught by his teachers, Masters Itosu and Azato, so that they could belearned and appreciated by a much wider population. He understood and accepted that kataswould change in their interpretation from instructor to instructor, and that this change was ahealthy thing for Karate. However, he scorned divergent schools of Karate, and even dislikedhaving the Karate taught at his dojo described as being the "Shotokan" style.
In fact the word Shotokan was derived from a pen name Master Funakoshi used when he signedpoetry! Its literal translation is "pine waves", and it was chosen as the name for Japan's firstKarate dojo in honour of Master Funakoshi.
Master Funakoshi pioneered the kyu and ryu belt grading system and even lead the way to a newinterpretation of the meaning of the word Karate. The Japanese characters for "Chinese hand" andfor "empty hand" were pronounced in the same way. Master Funakoshi suggested that they bewritten to mean "empty hand". He felt that it more accurately represented the essence ofKarate.
In several places throughout the book, Master Funakoshi makes a point of re-stating directly whatKarate truly means. He seems particularly keen to contrast his views with some of the morecommon misconceptions of Karate. The statement "only a true weakling is capable of true courage" is bewildering to most (including your narrator!). But it is with apparent contradictionssuch as this that Master Funakoshi is able to get us to think just that little bit more.
Towards the end of the book, Master Funakoshi gives us "six" (actually five!) rules essential toanyone wishing to study Karate. He cautions that to fail to be deadly serious in your pursuit tolearn Karate means that for you, Karate will not be very different from dancing.
Master Funakoshi finishes his book by expressing great excitement and enthusiasm at theprospect of popularizing Karate in other countries around the world.
This book is truly a must for anyone even remotely interested in Karate. It sells for about $5.00per copy and can commonly be found in many local book stores.
Back for More Great Reading