Title: Karate-Do - My Way of Life
Publisher's site: Kodansha International
Amazon link: Karate Do - My Way of Life
Price £5.49
ISBN #: 0 87011 463 8
Date: 1975
Author/s Gichin Funakoshi


Karate-Do - My Way of Life

Gichin Funakoshi developed the style of karate that (against his wishes) became known as Shotokan, and he is the man credited with being the founder of modern karate. He certainly was one of the people who formularised and structured it as it is now, and he is also the man who brought karate from behind its veil of secrecy into the public arena. Many myths exist about Gichin Funakoshi’s life, and it’s easy to form an opinion without ever really knowing anything true about the man. I felt that I owed it to myself to hear about his life in his own words, which of course, is not to say that it’s any truer than the stories put about his contemporaries!

This book has a number of things going for it – first, it’s really short. At just 127 pages, it’s not a great effort to get through, so you get an essential flavour of Funakoshi’s life and times without having to dedicate your life to the endeavour, so you instructors who like to add authentic tales of the old days to your lessons can quickly top up lots of great material! It’s also written in an extremely lucid manner, and well translated, making it a very easy-going and pleasant read.

My way of life is full of stories that chart how Funakoshi went from being a sickly only child not expected to live long, to become perhaps the most influential and revered man in karate’s history. These are interspersed with personal philosophical musings, and random anecdotes about other martial artists, that help to place Funakoshi’s life into context.

One thing that comes over loud and clear is Funakoshi’s peculiarly oriental way of looking at things, which on the one hand talks about honour, respect,  and a desire to be peaceful above all else, yet on the other hand, at times dismisses other styles and people with a casual arrogance that is hard not to question. The Japanese sense of honour is at its most inscrutable when Funakoshi recounts times when he defended himself against muggers using absolute minimal force, yet still feels lifelong shame for having used his karate in this way. If not to be used in such a life-and-death situation, then when is karate to be used?

One of the great things about this autobiography, is the way that it fills your mind with images of Okinawa and Japan in a bygone era. In one sense, the Okinawa of 1900 had more in common with the days of the Samurai hundreds of years earlier, but then there are many references that make you think that although the culture was different, the issues and things that mattered were hardly any different from today.

Some people will consider it sacrilegious of me to say this, but I was particularly taken by the similarity between Funakoshi, Bruce Lee and Kancho’s martial stories. I’m making no comparisons between them in terms of ability, but each was responsible for developing and popularising their styles and philosophies in places where martial arts was not well known. Each was an innovator and pioneer, and each was criticised heavily for the way they chose to do things. Bruce Lee and Funakoshi became revered in the latter parts of their lives, as their way of operating become accepted and appreciated. The interesting thing was Funakoshi didn’t believe that he had to be a pauper to teach karate. He charged for his services from the off, but he was unable, for the majority of his life, to earn enough to lift him from abject poverty. When people moan about GKR’s commercial structure, they fail to realise that charging (either in money or services) has always been the nature of karate tuition. In fact, it’s clear that right from the very start, inter-style and personality politics has been a disappointing part of karate.

Anyway, in conclusion, Karate-Do My way of Life is a thoroughly engrossing read. The chapters are short enough to read in the loo. For anyone who takes their karate seriously and is interested in the history of our art, this book is an absolute must read.

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