Spotlight: Kenneth Funakoshi – The legacy of a name

Politics is the worst thing that can happen to Karate at the upper level. The students don’t care about what’s happening in the political way. They just like to train hard and compete, but because the ‘higher ups’ have their political views or differences they tend to put a lot of restrictions on what the students of the of the lower rank can do, which I think is bad for Karate.

Kenneth Funakoshi

The name Funakoshi is synonymous with Shotokan Karate. Kenneth Funakoshi is the fourth cousin of the legendary Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate. A master technician, he is one of the most respected Karate masters in the world.

Kenneth Yoshinobu Funakoshi was born on 4 September 1938 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the oldest of two sons born to Yoshio Funakoshi. As a teenager, Yoshio Funakoshi had trained with Gichin Funakoshi, in Okinawa between 1915–1925. His father had moved to Hawaii in the early 1900s to work in the sugarcane fields.

1948 Kenneth Funakoshi began learning Judo from a highly-respected instructor called Arazaki. His lessons were at the Fort Gakuen Japanese Language School.

Between 1953 to 1956 Funakoshi attended Farrington High School in Honolulu. An athletic young man, he played American Football. An excellent swimmer he was a member of the school’s championship team that represented the Territory of Hawaii.

From 1956 to 1959 Funakoshi attended the University of Hawaii on a swimming scholarship, to study Accounting. He had turned down scholarships to the universities of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, as he wanted to be closer to home.

While at university Funakoshi continued his Judo practise and was eventually promoted to 1st Dan. During this time he started learning Kenpo aged 17.

Funakoshi trained at the Palama Settlement dojo under Sonny Emperado, the founder of Kajukenbo. Kenpo had been introduced to Hawaii in 1946 by James Mitose, a Japanese American. The style attracted a lot of street fighters. There was a minimum age of 18 years to start training.

Initially, Funakoshi continued practising Judo as he was learning Kenpo. However, he eventually gave it up. His dedication to Kenpo paid off. He was eventually promoted to 1st Dan, becoming the youngest person to achieve the rank at the time.

In 1959 Funakoshi joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, in Clovis, New Mexico, and later at Hikam Air Force Base in Hawaii. He was approached by an education officer to teach Kenpo on the base. He also taught Kenpo classes in Clovis to civilian and non-civilian students.

Recognised as a top martial artist, Funakoshi was approached by the Chito-Ryu organisation in Hawaii to join them. Even though he was told he could retain his black belt status, he declined the offer. It was around this time that he started training in Karate under Hirokazu Kanazawa.

Kanazawa was the first JKA Grand Champion. He had been sent by the JKA to introduce Shotokan Karate into Hawaii. Funakoshi was very impressed by how humble Kanazawa was. He was also impressed by his calm teaching style. He started training as a white belt.

As Chief Instructor, Kanazawa taught in Hawaii for three years. His focus was to teach strong Karate basics to his students.

In 1961 Funakoshi’s eldest son, Kevin was born.

Between 1963 to 1964 Funakoshi moved to Los Angeles for around nine months, to train with Hidetaka Nishiyama. He trained with the likes of James Yabe, Frank Smith, James Fields, and Ray Dalke at Nishiyama’s LA dojo.

In 1963 Masataki Mori replaced Kanazawa as the Chief Instructor in Hawaii. Known as “Hawkeyes” because of his intense stare, his teaching style was very different from that of Kanazawa. He was much stricter and operated the dojo much more like a Japanese dojo. His aim was to consolidate the Karate basics taught by Kanazawa. Funakoshi developed a good relationship with Mori, even teaching him English.

Funakoshi started competing around 1963. Representing Hawaii, he took part in the 6th JKA All Karate Championships held in Kyushu, Japan.

The 1st All Hawaii Karate Championships took place in 1964. Funakoshi won both the kata and kumite events, becoming Grand Champion. He was Grand Champion from 1964 to 1968. He was kata champion 5-times in a row. He won the kumite title 3-times and was second twice. During this period his main opponents were George Sasano and Eugene Watanabe.

In 1965 the JKA embarked on a World Tour to introduce their version of Shotokan Karate to the wider world. The touring party consisted of Taiji Kase, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, and Hiroshi Shirai. They were hosted by Masataka Mori. There were a number of demonstrations and courses that were well attended. The visit culminated with an exhibition match between Hawaii in Japan. By this time Funakoshi had been promoted to 1st Dan. The bout between him and Shirai, a former JKA Champion, was fought to a draw.

1965 also saw the All Japan Collegiate Team visit Hawaii. The team had previously defeated Hidetaka Nishiyama’s US team in the Goodwill Games. They faced a Hawaiian team captained by Funakoshi and including George Sasano and Eugene Watanabe. Funakoshi faced the Japanese captain, Ozawa, in the deciding bout of the match. His victory gave Hawaii a 3-2 win over Japan.

In 1966 Tetsuhiko Asai replaced Mori as Chief Instructor in Hawaii. He would spend the next three years in Hawaii. One of the JKA’s most technical instructors, he built on the work begun by Kanazawa and Mori. He focused on more advanced Shotokan techniques. It was around this time that Kenneth Funakoshi found out from Asai just how important his distant relation, Gichin Funakoshi was to the world of Karate. Also around this time, Kevin Funakoshi started Karate training, aged 5 years.

1967 saw Kenneth Funakoshi captain a Hawaiian team at the 10th JKA All Karate Championships. Funakoshi advanced to the final day of competition in the kumite event. Hideo Ochi won the event, retaining his Grand Champion title.

1967 also saw Funakoshi compete in Nishiyama’s All American Karate Federation Championships. He placed second in both the kata and kumite events.

Funakoshi competed at the 11th JKA All Japan Karate Championships in 1968. In the two-day event, 1000 black belts competed. On day one of the championships, Funakoshi won all his matches. On the second day, he won his first match but lost to Norihiko Iida in his second match.

The following year Funakoshi captained Hawaii to a 4-3 loss in a Goodwill match against Japan. As coach and captain, he led Hawaii to a 5-1 win over a strong All Japan Collegiate Team. The Japanese team included Yoshiharu Osaka and Koji Wada.

In 1969 Tetsuhiko Asai left Hawaii. Funakoshi, as the highest-ranking practitioner in Hawaii, was appointed Chief Instructor of the JKA-Hawaii.

On 21 April 1973 Funakoshi’s second son Kyle Yoshinobu Funakoshi was born.

Funakoshi and the JKA-Hawaii had wanted to form direct links with the JKA in Japan since 1969. He did not like having to go through Nishiyama and his AAKF association for every little decision. He also had issues with the way Nishiyama ran some of his tournaments. Funakoshi felt that there was an emphasis on Nishiyama’s students winning.

In 1975 Funakoshi resigned from the AAKF. Unfortunately, this meant resigning from the JKA. He opened a number of schools in the United States and Mexico. This included schools in Seattle, Washington, San Jose, California, Los Angeles, Ensenada, and Cabo San Lucas.

Black Belt Magazine named Funakoshi “Instructor of the Year” in 1978, inducting him to their Hall of Fame. That same year his son, Kyle, began Karate training.

In 1984 Masatomi Takagi, the JKA Technical Secretary, met with Funakoshi in Hawaii to discuss re-affiliation with his association to the JKA. Also present at the meeting were Masaaki Ueki, Masahiko Tanaka, Tetsuhiko Asai, Takenori Imura, and Akihito Isaka.

With re-affiliation to the JKA, Funakoshi was named Director of the JKA Pacific region by Masatoshi Nakayama. He reported directly to Asai.

However, with Funakoshi’s appointment, politics began to rear its head. He had a number of clubs in the United States affiliated to him. He received a call from Teruyuki Okazaki stating that these clubs did not fall under his new Pacific Region jurisdiction. Okazaki said these clubs should come under his jurisdiction or that of Nishiyama.

In 1984 Funakoshi’s son, Kevin placed first at Osamu Ozawa’s Las Vegas tournament.

1985 saw Funakoshi awarded his 7th Dan by the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai, a multi-style Karate association of senior Hawaiian instructors.

Funakoshi produced a 10-piece video set entitled “Three K’s of Shotokan”. Later, in December of that year, he relocated to San Jose, California to teach Karate. He wanted to become more accessible to his affiliate clubs in the United States and Mexico.

On 15 April 1987, JKA Chief Instructor, Masatoshi Nakayama died. Following the political infighting within the JKA, Funakoshi resigned from the JKA. He founded the Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association (FSKA).

The FSKA is a non-political association named in honour of Gichin Funakoshi. The Association followed his 20 Guiding Principles. Headquartered in Milpitas, California, the FSKA has affiliates in several countries around the world.

In 1994 Funakoshi was awarded his 8th Dan by the Hawaii Karate Kodanshakai. In 2001 they awarded him his 9th Dan.

In 2003 the 1st FSKA World Championships were held in Las Vegas.

Having the legacy of such a famous surname, Kenneth Funakoshi has lived up to it. One of the worlds top Shotokan masters, he has travelled the world giving seminars, conducting gradings, and officiating at tournaments. A technically gifted martial artist, he has passed his love for Karate to his sons Kevin and Kyle. His sons have become successful martial artists in their own right.

In recent years Kenneth Funakoshi has taken a step back, with son Kyle now handling the day-to-day activities of the FSKA.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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