MASTERS OF SHOTOKAN KARATE
Master Gichin Funakoshi
( 1868-1957 )
Master Gichin Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a boy, he was trained by two famous masters of that time. Each trained him in a different Okinawan martial art. From master Yasutsune Azato he learned Shuri-te. From master Yasutsune Itosu, he learned Naha-te. It would be the melding of these two styles that would one day become Shotokan karate.
Funakoshi Sensei is the man who introduced karate to Japan. In 1917 he was asked to perform his martial art at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. He was asked back again in 1922 for another exhibition. He was asked back a third time, but this was a special performance. He demonstrated his art for the emperor and the royal family!
After this, Funakoshi Sensei decided to remain in Japan and teach and promote his art.
Master Funakoshi passed away in 1957 at the age of 88. Aside from creating Shotokan karate and introducing it to Japan and the world, he also wrote the very first book on the subject of karate, "Ryukyu Kempo: Karate-do". He also wrote "Karate-Do Kyohan" - The Master Text, the "handbook" of Shotokan and he wrote his autobiography, "Karate-Do: My Way of Life". These books and his art are a fitting legacy for this unassuming and gentle man.
Master Hidetaka Nishiyama
( 1928-2008 )
Master Nishiyama was considered to be one of the great masters and pioneers of Japanese Traditional Karate. He began his study in 1943 at the age of fifteen, with master Gichin Funakoshi, the man who introduced Okinawan karate to Japan. At that time, karate was not yet popular. Other martial arts, such as judo and kendo were taught as compulsory classes in Japanese middle schools, similar to American phys-ed classes. After a difficult search he found master Funakoshi and his karate dojo in Tokyo. He continued his study from Funakoshi after he went to college.
In the late 40's the American Strategic Air Command (SAC) Special Forces began combat training in judo, aikido and karate. In a recent interview, master Nishiyama related some of the events of that time period.
"We were invited to the American bases to instruct... I was the youngest. Every time we went to the bases we were expected to give demonstrations. These were very tough; I had to break many boards so pretty soon my hands and forearms were in a bad state. This happened 3 or 4 times a day. Eventually I couldn't move my arms."
According to a student of master Nishiyama, "...many times the American instructors would present Mr. Nishiyama with very thick boards that had been soaked in water. Mr. Nishiyama never failed to break these boards and never once asked his seniors to break them for him." Although this was a difficult time for Master Nishiyama and his fellow karate enthusiasts, it helped him realize that karate could be spread internationally. They were subsequently invited to the United States in 1953 to tour every SAC base in the U.S. and Cuba.
Master Nishiyama later became one of the original founders of the Japan Karate Association, home of the famous JKA Instructors School which has produced some of the most famous karate masters in the world: Kanazawa, Enoeda, Shirai and Mikami. In 1960 he published "Karate: The Art of Empty Hand Fighting". It is still considered the definitive text on the subject and the best selling karate book in history. In 1961 he moved to the United States and founded the All American Karate Federation (AAKF). In 1978, the AAKF completely restructured its organization and changed the name to the American Amateur Karate Federation. The AAKF is a public benefit, non-profit corporation and is the sole Traditional Amateur Karate governing body in the U.S. It is also a member of the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF), the worldwide governing body of Traditional Karate.