Zen Martial Arts Center

Sacramento Martial Arts and Karate

Impressions of "Karate-Do My Way of Life" by Gichin Funakoshi

            “Karate-Do My Way of Life” by Gichin Funakoshi presents many informative and thought provoking anecdotes from Master Funakoshi’s life as representations of the true meaning of Karate-Do. This, in essence, is the central theme of the book – the true meaning and application of Karate-Do – beyond its physical manifestations and underlying theory, towards the training of the mind, heart, and character of the individual karateka.

           While I was aware, in abstraction, of the philosophical and behavioral aspects of Karate-Do outside the dojo (such as courtesy and humility), I had not anticipated how deeply these aspects ran within the art. In several portions of the text, Master Funakoshi admires different individuals who understand the concepts of courtesy, respect, and honor – such as the student offering his mat to Funakoshi, while he himself sits on the floor; and the American soldier who took Funakoshi to a statue of a Japanese airman, and saluted as Funakoshi bowed – each showing courtesy and respect in their own fashion. These actions represent a foundation of Karate, as in any given situation in the outside world, one’s will, patience, and humility will be tested by those who fail to embrace these concepts, and in some cases, cause physical harm. Master Funakoshi related a story to this point - of being accosted in post-war Japan and using a tight grip on the man’s genitals to get him to stop his attempted robbery. Funakoshi, even in relating this story, expresses regret and shame in his actions, which he considered “offensive” (non-defensive) and unwarranted, despite the man’s attempt to rob him. To me, this shows how deeply his respect for life and courtesy to other individuals runs, even those who attempt to cause him harm or force themselves upon him in such an unwelcome manner.

                I was pleased to be able to relate to this concept, even abstractly, as my family raised me with strong values of courtesy, respect, and manners, which I uphold to the best of my ability to this day. Indeed, the simple value of using politeness wherever possible has been noted to me by my employers and even strangers on the street, which gives me great, but not vain, pleasure. I would practice humility as well by noting that I am not certain I could feel the same shame as Master Funakoshi for using Karate to stop a robbery – though on reflection I can understand why someone who places such a strong value on courtesy could see it in his way. This story also stirred the thought in me that perhaps the greatest karateka is one who never has to use his skills in real combat.

                Another interesting anecdote involved Master Matsumura and an engraver agreeing to a Karate match after the Master’s dismissal from training the head of the clan.  When the match commenced at dawn, Matsumura was able to defeat the engraver without even taking a proper Karate stance – simply by using his eyes, and later, a strong kiai, which devastated the engraver, purely by the spirit and intensity of his presence, causing the engraver to concede defeat, and learn a powerful lesson as related by the Master:

“Matter is void. All is vanity. We are like blades of grass or trees of the forest, creations of the universe, of the spirit of the universe, and the spirit of the universe has neither life nor death. Vanity is the only obstacle to life.”

                I thought deeply about the possible interpretations of this lesson, and to me, it is a reflection on the intangible aspects of life, and by extension, Karate-Do. I was also reminded of the spiritual teachings of Eckhart Tolle, as many of these involve shedding the ego and experiencing ‘pure being’ without using analytical thought. Similarly, removing the ego (vanity) and concentrating focus on one’s spirit, in life as well as in the practice of Karate, yields its own rewards. Beyond matter and physical form, beyond kata and technique, beyond the conscious mind and the noise of our thoughts, there is an ineffable universe to which we are inextricably bound, and our spirit in the practice of Karate represents this ineffable energy in a physical form, without concerning itself with specific technique and application, but in the attitude, behavior, and lifestyle of the karateka. In short, I believe this quotation describes the value of humility, connection with our inner nature, and the casting off of vanity, superficiality, and ego within the karateka and the techniques he employs in application. In essence, I gathered that the practice of Karate is the tool by which we strengthen and enlighten ourselves, mentally and physically, and enrich our communities by living an honorable lifestyle through Karate-Do.

 Thank you for reading my impressions of “Karate-Do My Way of Life” by Gichin Funakoshi.

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Comment by Delores M. Snellings on February 28, 2014 at 12:34pm

Well said.

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