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Sensei's Corner

December 2023

Funakoshi 20 Precepts: #1 空手は礼初まり礼に終わる事を忘れるな


Master Funakoshi wrote his 20 precepts to pass on to future generation of Karate enthusiasts. He starts with, “Karate wa rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru koto o wasureruna”, which translates to, “Karate starts with a bow and ends with a bow; don’t forget it”. Such simple translation does not convey the deeper meaning of this opening precept. 


First of all, you have to consider the usage of Japanese characters (kanji). One in particular is the word “rei” or “bow”. Of course the character can simply be understood as bowing but it can go further. The kanji itself reflects the notion of respect, etiquette, honesty and sincerity. To start and end a training session with the contemplation of respect denotes the fact that as a practitioner of this traditional art, you are expressing deep gratitude to the forefathers, the teachers, and your training partners. During class as well, each exercise whether it’s a solo or partnered starts and ends with a heartfelt bow. 


I am especially grateful that we have spent another year training together. I have seen great improvements in all our members and hope to have another wonderful year ahead. To end our year, I bow to you deeply with utmost sincerity and gratitude. Oss!



Karate students often ask about a reading list that would enhance their experience in traditional Karate. So this month, I made up a list, divided into three categories: Shotokan Karate, light reading, and heavy stuff. Of course there are many more books on the topic, but if you are new to Japanese martial arts, the list would get you started on the right track.

Shotokan Karate

   “Karate-Do My Way of Life” by Gichin Funakoshi: Beautifully written narrative of life, recollections and philosophies of the father of modern Karate. 

   “Moving Zen” by C W Nicol: A memoir of a foreigner who lived and trained Karate in Japan during early 1960’s. 

   “Karate The Art of Empty Hand Fighting” by Hidetaka Nishiyama and Richard C. Brown: A very comprehensive technical book of Shotokan Karate published in 1960, still valid today.


Light Reading

   “Musashi” by Eiji Yoshikawa: An exciting and highly entertaining novel of Japan’s most famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi.

   “Sunzi Speaks: The Art of War” by Tsai Chih Chung (translated by Brian Bruya): Sun Tzu’s famous Chinese military treatise from the 5th century BC is illustrated and explained through cartoon characters. 

   “Usagi Yojimbo” by Stan Sakai: Classical samurai tales wonderfully depicted in this cult classic manga series. 


Heavy Stuff

   “Zen in the Art of Archery” by Eugen Herrigel: A German philosopher who studied Japanese archery under a famous master,       recollects his experiences.

   “Zen and Japanese Culture” by Daisetz Suzuki: In-depth book outlining Zen and its influence on Japanese culture, including martial arts.

   “The Unfettered Mind” by Takuan Soho (translated by William Scott Wilson): This  treatise written by a Buddhist priest during the 17th century contains three essays that he wrote in response to inquiries from famous samurais.



For hardcore readers, the list below are some of other books I’ve enjoyed reading.

   “Shotokan Karate A Precise History” by Harry Cook

   “The Karate-ka” by Joel Reeves

   “There Are No Secrets” by Wolfe Lowenthal

   “The Sword Polisher’s Record The Way of Kung Fu” by Adam Hsu

   “Samurai Painters” by Stephen Addiss

   “Dynamic Karate” by Masatoshi Nakayama


I also enjoyed reading books by these authors: 

     Donn Draeger: his 3 volumes on Budo and Bujitsu are excellent.

     William Scott Wilson: his translations of samurai classics are superb.

     John Stevens: his works and translations of various Budo, Aikido and other related topics are great reads.

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November 2023

Influence and Impact of Master Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi is often credited with introducing Karate to mainland Japan from Okinawa in the 1920’s. He initially went there to give series of lectures and demonstrations but ended up spending the rest of his life in mainland Japan, teaching the art. The style associated with his Karate is known as Shotokan, which was named by his students, meaning “pine wave hall”. Shoto means “pine wave”, or the soothing sound of the pine trees as the wind moves through them. It was Funakoshi’s pen name he used to sign his calligraphy. He didn’t object to his dojo being called Shotokan, but he insisted the art should simply be called Karate-do, much in line with Judo and Kendo. But this was complicated by the fact that other teachers began naming their own styles, such as Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu, Goju-ryu and etc. To distinguish themselves from other styles, the name Shotokan-ryu, or “style of Shoto’s (Funakoshi) training hall” was used but over time it was shortened to Shotokan.

There are several factors that contributed to Funakoshi being considered the father of modern Karate. For starters, he befriended Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo and Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. These Budo masters believed that the ancient fighting techniques can be be practiced in modern day as a life-art that disciplines and trains both mind and body, and develops moral character. This they believed, would benefit and improve society as a whole. Thus, Budo shifted its emphasis from a combat system to a way of self-development.

Funakoshi also started Karate clubs in major universities in Japan. The benefit of this move was that Karate quickly spread to the upper echelon of Japanese society. Before long, this Okinawan fighting art took hold in mainland Japan alongside Judo, Kendo and Aikido. Additionally, during the post WWII era, many US soldiers who studied Karate while stationed in Japan help spread the art abroad to the international arena.

Funakoshi often lectured about the benefits of Karate training, which can be done anywhere without equipment, and practiced with or without partners. Karate emphasizes natural movements of the body, using the entire body to produce dynamic energy. It can be practiced by all ages, regardless of your gender, size or strength. Not only did he advocate Karate training, but most importantly, he practiced what he preached. His daily Karate practice was key to his robust health and long life. 

If this stirred your curiosity about the history of our Karate and the man himself, I highly recommend his autobiography, KARATE-DO: MY WAY OF LIFE. 

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