In 1922 Gichin Funakoshi, aged 53, travelled from his home in Okinawa to the Japanese mainland to give a demonstration of the little known art of karate.
A school teacher by profession, Funakoshi Sensei was the favourite student of Anko Azato and also studied under Anko Itosu and to a lesser extent their teacher Sokon Matsumura.
While Yasutsune Itosu is the most famous of Matsumura’s students, Itosu was actually more of a Tomari stylist. Matsumura’s style was more closely represented by his student Yasutsune Azato, whose senior student was Funakoshi.
Funakoshi stated: “Azato followed Matsumura and Itosu followed Gusukuma.”
He reiterated: Masters Azato and Itosu were students of Matsumura and Gusukuma respectively. Masters Azato and Itosu were the teachers who instructed this writer and to whom the writer is greatly indebted.”
Funakoshi Sensei lived in a small room in the Meisojuku, a boarding home for Okinawan students, and to make ends meet he had to take odd jobs around the hostel as a caretaker.
Funakoshi sensei had actually made an earlier visit to Japan, giving a demonstration of the art in Kyoto in 1917 but it was not Crown Prince Hirohito visited Okinawa in 1921, and a karate demonstration was given in his presence, that Funakoshi was “noticed”.
The Okinawan captain of the prince’s ship suggested to Funakoshi that Karate should be introduced to the Japanese mainland.
Funakoshi was also asked to give a demonstration at the Kodokan Judo hall, in front of Judo founder Jigoro Kano himself and his senior instructors. To assist him, he took along Shinken Gima, a twenty-five year old Okinawan living in Tokyo, who had studied karate Kentsu Yabu and Anko Itosu.
Funakoshi demonstrated Kushanku (now called Kanku Dai in Shotokan) and Gima demonstrated Naihanchi (also called Tekki Shodan) and the two demonstrated Bunkai.
“When I arrived at the Kodokan with Funakoshi sensei not only were the seniors there to greet us but the Director, Jigoro Kano himself. More than 80 members of the Tomishinsoku Kodokan branch were there too, so there were over 200 people assembled for the demonstration. We were both overawed. It was natural we should feel nervous because the Kodokan was considered to be the mecca of Japanese budo.”
“Kano sensei was eager to learn about karate and he asked such detailed questions that Funakoshi sensei sometimes had difficulty in answering them. I believe that because we demonstrated at the Kodokan, karate was more easily introduced into mainland Japan. In other words, the fact that Kano sensei recognized karate meant that in turn karate was recognized by the Japanese budo world.”
In July 1922, Funakoshi began teaching his karate to a small group of students who had heard about him by word of mouth. For a dojo he was allowed to use the lecture hall of 20 tatami (mats) in the Meisojuku.
Shinken Gima was one of those early Meisojuku karateka .There were no karate uniforms and student would simply take off their coats and jackets to train. Another early student was the Shindo Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu instructor Hironori Ohtsuka.
Funakoshi Sensei demonstrating basic atemi:
Later Gima would go on to head the original Karate branch known as Shoto Ryu and Ohtsuka founded Wado Ryu. This was before the advebt of Shotokan and Shotokai.
Funakoshi taught classes of around 8 students and taught mostly kata. By the 1930s, his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) assumed most of the teaching responsibilities.
These are the roots of the original Shoto Ryu Karate Jutsu before students like Nakayama and Egami conquered the world with the Shotokan movement.