In addition to being a karate master, Funakoshi was an avid poet and philosopher who would reportedly go for long walks in the forest where he would meditate and write his poetry. Continuing his effort to garner widespread interest in Okinawan karate, Funakoshi ventured to mainland Japan in , and again in Karate had borrowed many aspects from Chinese boxing. Funakoshi also argued in his autobiography that a philosophical evaluation of the use of "empty" seemed to fit as it implied a way which was not tethered to any other physical object.
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Herein lies the essence of karate-do, as it cannot be realized with protective equipment or through competitive matches. Under my father [Kenwa Mabuni] such a thing was strictly forbidden. The is true for Mater Funakoshi as well, who followed his Okinawan teachers in this regard.
Symptomatic of this is an incident at Tokyo University in the late s. Master Funakoshi objected to this and prompted the person responsible to resign. He saw kumite as supplementary to kata training. The traditional Shotokan training method of kumite is a form of partner work to learn methods of self-defence based on karate katas.
This very much resembles the concept of kata oyo bunkai kumite as presented earlier. Moreover, in his works, Funakoshi repeatedly emphasises the importance of gentle social behaviour to avoid conflict. He also told his students repeatedly that it is best to walk away from a fight.
Therefore I suppose that he would probably also endorse some sort of self-defence scenario training , because it teaches you to perceive and asses situations of possible conflict as well as to use your verbal and physical skills when appropriate. Since Funakoshi explicitly disapproved of any competition format of karate, the widely popular competition kumite and kata competition bunkai kumite are obviously not the traditional Shotokan way. Funakoshi appearently was so taken with this creation that he did not only apply them to his kumite forms but he explicitly introduced Three [techniques] Kumite Sanbon-Gumite as an examination subject Shikon-Kamoku for examinations up to third level Sandan in his Shotokan-Dojo.
In the edition of Karate-Do Kyohan then we actually find several forms of kihon kumite, namely Ten no Kata Ura, sanbon kumite, ippon kumite, kicking matches, free sparring, iai and throwing techniques.
Note that Funakoshi does not present them as progressive levels of kumite. Instead he explains each one with a different training goal. For example Ten no Kata Ura is mainly about seriousness and distance, while sanbon kumite is about intention and alertness, and ippon kumite is about intuitive action and counter-action. He highlights the similarity of karate free sparring with the sparring matches of other martial arts.
On the matter of Shotokan kyohan kumite I think Gichin Funakoshi should have the last word: Karate, to the very end, should be practiced with kata as the principal method and sparring as a supporting method.
Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text