A major figure in the development of Shotokan Karate, Yoshitaka Funakoshi has arguably had the biggest influence on the Shotokan Karate practised today. Some have described him as one of the greatest Shotokan masters. However, he is only mentioned in passing.
Gigo Funakoshi (Yoshitaka is the Japanese translation of his name) was born in 1906 in Shuri, Okinawa. He was the third son of Gichin and Gozei Funakoshi and the youngest of five children.
In 1913, at the age of 7, Yoshitaka Funakoshi was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis. He and his family were told he would not live beyond the age of 20.
Funakoshi began learning Karate in 1918, aged 12. Like his father before him, he trained under Anko Azato and Anko Itosu. Knowing that his life would be cut short he dedicated himself to hard training.
Gichin Funakoshi left Okinawa for mainland Japan in 1922. He aimed to spread Karate. He stayed at the Meisei-Juku, which was a dormitory for Okinawans.
Aged 17, Yoshitaka Funakoshi arrived in Tokyo, Japan, to assist his father. Karate was becoming very popular in Japan, and his father received many requests to demonstrate the new martial art nationwide. The younger Funakoshi taught at the Meiji-Juku dojo while his father travelled around the country, demonstrating and teaching Karate.
On 1 September 1923, the Great Kanto earthquake hit the Japanese island of Honshu. It was one of the most destructive ever recorded and resulted in a tsunami. The cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, and the prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka were devastated. There were widespread fires that caused considerable property damage and the death of many. The death toll was an estimated 140,000 people.
Within a year of the earthquake, Gichin Funakoshi’s students rebuilt the dojo. On 15 October 1924, he resumed teaching Karate at Keio University.
In 1930 Yoshitaka Funakoshi and his father moved out of the Meiji-Juku and into a house in Koshikawa, Tokyo.
The Waseda University Karate Club was established in 1931. Motonobu Hironishi and Shigeru Egami began training with Yoshitaka Funakoshi the following year.
In 1934 (although some sources state 1932) Takeshi Shimoda died from either tuberculosis or pneumonia. He was Gichin Funakoshi’s assistant and was considered one of his most talented students.
Known as Waka Sensei (young teacher) to differentiate him from his father, O Sensei (old teacher), Yoshitaka Funakoshi took over the duties of Shimoda.
Gichin Funakoshi was now in his 70s and stepped back from much of his previous teaching duties. Yoshitaka Funakoshi assumed many of the teacher duties and became the Chief Instructor of the Shoto group. Apart from teaching at the Hombu, he also taught at various university clubs, assisted by Shigeru Egami and Motonobu Hironishi. He did all this while also working full-time as a radiology technician at the Department of Education.
As Chief Instructor, Yoshitaka Funakoshi began to introduce new techniques and more vigorous training methods. This led to mounting friction with Hironori Ohtsuka, a longtime student of his father’s.
Ohtsuka had been training with Gichin Funakoshi since 1922 and had been one of his assistants. He felt the new changes being introduced by the younger Funakoshi were not his liking. Yoshitaka Funakoshi had developed a more dynamic and athletic style that was intended for more youthful, stronger practitioners. Ohtsuka left the Shotokan group in 1934.
Many of the changes instituted by Yoshitaka Funakoshi were met with his father’s approval. However, unlike his father, who believed that Karate should mainly be taught through kata, he believed in more kumite practice. He wanted to stress test his Karate. This did lead to some heated conversations between father and son.
Some of the changes introduced by Yoshitaka Funakoshi can be seen in the Shotokan Karate practised today. This includes longer and deeper stances. Also, he introduced side kicks into the Shotokan syllabus.
In 1935 the Shotokai what established. It brought together all of Gichin Funakoshi’s students from the various training groups that had been established.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi travelled to Seoul, Korea, in 1937, to give a Karate demonstration. That same year, Japan declared war on China. This was the beginning of the decline in the number of pre-war students who were training. Many of the young men were conscripted into the Japanese Imperial Army.
In 1938 the construction of the Shoto Kan. It had been the longtime dream of Gichin Funakoshi to have a purpose-built dojo.
In 1938, the Screening Committee of the Dai Nippon Butokukai, under the Chairmanship of Yasuhiro Konishi, awarded the title of Renshi to Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Manuni, Hironori Ohtsuka, Yoshitaka Funakoshi, and several other Karate masters.
On 29 January 1939, the Shoto Kan was officially opened. It became the Hombu of the Shoto training group. Both Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi lived on the top floor of the new building and taught classes in the downstairs dojo.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi began teaching at the Chuo University Karate Club in 1940.
Funakoshi pushed forward with the changes to the Shotokan Karate syllabus. In 1940 he introduced the basic Taikyoku Kata into the training syllabus. The following year he finished creating the stick kata, Matsukae No Kon.
In 1941 Funakoshi’s pamphlet, “Ten, no Kata”, was published.
On 7 December 1941, Japan declared war on the United States, by bombing the naval base at Pearl Harbor, located in Honolulu, Japan.
With Japan, on a war footing, training at the Shoto Kan became more militaristic. Funakoshi, Shigeru Egami, and Tadao Okuyama taught Karate at the Nakano School, which was an institute for elite forces personnel.
By 1943, the likes of Shigeru Egami, Taiji Kase, and Mitsusuke Harada were training at the Shoto Kan. In separate recollections, they remembered this as being a great time for Shotokan practice, led by the dynamic Yoshitaka Funakoshi. He, Motonobu Hironishi, Wado Uemura, and Yoshiaki Hayashi, were the most senior grades teaching at the Hombu dojo. They were all ranked 4th Dan.
In 1944 Funakoshi’s health had begun to deteriorate. This was mainly due to the difficult living conditions resulting from the war. Although he would teach and supervise the classes, whenever he could, Hironishi began taking over much of the training.
On 29 April 1945, the Shoto Kan was destroyed during a bombing raid on Tokyo by American B-29 bombers, during World War II.
Even though the Shoto Kan was destroyed, Funakoshi still taught private classes. Mitsusuke Harada was one of the students who trained with them.
On 24 November 1945, Yoshitaka Funakoshi died from tuberculosis. He was only 39 years old and was survived, by his wife Fujiko, and his son Yukio.
It is thought that the drug streptomycin could have cured Funakoshi. However, it was not available in wartime Japan.
It could be argued that while Gichin Funakoshi was the spiritual founder of Shotokan Karate, it was Yoshitaka Funakoshi who was the architect of the style. If he had lived longer, there is no telling where he would have taken Shotokan Karate. Unfortunately, most of his influence on modern Shotokan has been lost. Some of the katas he created are now lost history.
However, some of the changes, Yoshitaka Funakoshi introduced into the Shotokan syllabus include:
- Gohon Kumite
- Kihon Ippon Kumite
- Jiyu Ippon Kumite
- Ten No Kata Omote
- Ten No Kata Ura
- Chi No Kata
- Taikyou Kata