CHIEF INSTRUCTOR OF THE FUNAKOSHI SHOTOKAN KARATE ASSOCIATION
“Kanazawa, I want you to go to Hawaii”. ..“You’re the man for this job. I have full confidence that you will do well there. You’ll be departing in December.” These comments relay the conversation Hirokazaku Kanazawa had with Masatoshi Nakayama, where Kanazawa Sensei was told he would be heading to Hawaii to become the Chief Instructor.
This moment, relayed in Kanazawa Sensei’s autobiography “Karate – My Life”, signifies an important moment in the history of Shotokan Karate in Hawaii.
One of the early students present at the BOOM of Shotokan Karate in Hawaii was Kenneth Funakoshi. With such a surname , it seems only logical and natural that Kenneth would go on to become a devoted follower and promoter of Shotokan Karate.
Throughout the course of this two part interview, many topics are covered, from Funakoshi’s early training career with Kanazawa Sensei, Mori Sensei and Asai Sensei; sharing stories and information on the details from this important time in his life and training. He discusses his competitive career, and successes, moving on to talk about FSKA and its development, and sharing information on his technical understanding and insight. I thoroughly enjoyed conducting this interview and truly feel it shares some insightful responses, and gives an important insight into the life and history both of Kenneth Funakoshi and Hawaiian karate.
Sincere thanks to Sensei Funakoshi for allowing me to talk with him and put my questions to him. – S. Banfield
QUESTIONS BY THE SHOTOKAN WAY
(SB) In what year were you appointed Chief Instructor of Hawaii, and why do you think you were chosen for this role?
(KF) The agreement between the Board of Directors of KAH and the JKA was after the third resident sensei went back to Japan, a local student from Hawaii would be the next full time sensei. I was the highest ranking student and the former Kata and Kumite Champion, so I was appointed the next sensei for KAH in 1969.
(SB) And how did you set about developing karate within Hawaii?
(KF) When Asai Sensei left Hawaii, KAH had the Main Dojo and two branch dojos. The required rank for a branch instructor was sandan.
The KAH President, Harold Matsumoto had the foresight to expand karate classes to the elementary school level. He and I attended public parent-teacher meetings and he convinced the schools to rent the cafetoriums for karate training during the evenings. Within a short time, we had a dozen branch dojos taught by shodans and nidans with over 1,000 students.
I moved the Main Dojo to one of the busiest intersections in Honolulu where everyone could see the students training on the second floor. I took a big risk when I signed the lease for the new Main Dojo but the gamble paid off with the number of new students signing every month.
(SB) Can you please tell us about any training you experienced within Japan?
(KF) There must be respect for the senseis inside and also outside of the dojo. If you want to understand karate, then you must understand the Japanese culture. Respect, etiquette and courtesy is very important in the Japanese culture. I see this part of Karate-Do training lacking in other countries.
First, you must develop spirit like the Japanese. Gichin Funakoshi said, “Spirit first, technique second.” If your spirit is weak, your techniques will be weak.
Second, you must do repetition everyday in your training. This is the success in traditional karate techniques.
(SB) What prompted you to create the FSKA? Can you please tell us how that came about?
(KF) Some of my students opened dojos in California and Mexico so I moved to San Jose, California. I was invited to conduct seminars in Poland, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, etc on a yearly basis. I also travelled to India, Chile, Argentina, etc. We were outgrowing Hawaii. Some people didn’t know Hawaii was located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I was advised many times to change the name of our organization to accommodate a Worldwide Karate Organization. I named it Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association, in honour of my relative Gichin Funakoshi.
(SB) You are quoted as saying ‘You know your kata after you have done it one thousand times’. What is your view on the importance of kata?
(KF) When you first learn a kata, you must memorize the sequence from the beginning to the end. Then, you must think how you are going to do each movement correctly. Memorizing the kata is the easy part. Practicing and doing it correctly is the difficult part of ‘knowing the kata.’ If you have done a kata 1,000 times, you don’t have to think what and how to do the next movement. The sequence becomes part of your natural movements and you do the kata fluidly and relaxed.
(SB) What is your favourite kata and why?
(KF) When I was a brown belt, Jion was my favourite kata because it has a lot of kime movements. When I was competing as a black belt, Niju Shiho was my favourite kata. It was a short kata but beautiful to watch. When I became Chief Instructor of KAH, Unsu Kata was my favourite because I could do the jump at the end. I was only in my 30’s at that time. Now at my age, I prefer to do the simple katas like Hangetsu or Chinte, where there are no jumps. We used to laugh when the older senseis used to do these ‘old man katas,’ but I understand now how the body ages.
(SB) Can we now please ask about your surname? You of course share a surname with one of the world’s most famous Martial Artists. Can you please tell us about your lineage to Master Gichin Funakoshi?
(KF) When I was practicing Judo and Kempo, my parents used to tell me that we had a relative who was teaching a martial art in Okinawa. I didn’t know the relationship between Gichin Funakoshi, Shotokan and the Japan karate Association until after I joined the Karate Association of Hawaii.
During the 1960’s, my father used to travel every year to Okinawa because the Funakoshi family was trying to complete a genealogy book of the Funakoshi name. My father had to contribute information on the Funakoshi families living in Hawaii. All four of my grandparents came to Hawaii from Okinawa in the late 1800’s.
Fortunately, all the birth records in Okinawa were not destroyed during World War II. The Funakoshi lineage is now traced back over 450 years. Gichin Funakoshi is my fourth cousin. Gichin Funakoshi’s grandfather and my great, great grandfather was the same person. My father brought home a copy of the Funakoshi genealogy book from Okinawa and I have it in my possession today.
(SB) Do you feel it is important to honour the family connection with Master Funakoshi through your traditional training?
(KF) I didn’t mention Gichin Funakoshi to Kanazawa Sensei or Mori Sensei because I was not aware that he was such an important person in karate. One night while we were having dinner with Asai Sensei at my mother’s home, my mother mentioned to Asai Sensei that we have a relative in Okinawa that teaches karate and Asai Sensei asked “What is his name?” and my mother replied “Gichin Funakoshi”. Asai Sensei asked me why I did not tell him and I said I didn’t know he was the founder of the Japan Karate Association. I never purposely mention Gichin Funakoshi’s name but whenever I travel, the students at my affiliates and seminars always ask me about my relationship with Gichin Funakoshi. Some people think I am his grandson, so I have to get a paper or napkin and draw a genealogy chart to show that we are fourth cousins.
(SB) Can you please tell us about your sons, as they are very talented and play an important role within the FSKA, am I correct?
(KF) My two sons have turned out to be my two best competitors and instructors. I am very happy with their development in karate and life. I can understand how happy other parents feel when their sons and daughters follow in their footsteps. My sons have college degrees, but they prefer to teach karate. They also travel to teach seminars in other countries.
(SB) How have you approached teaching close family members, was it difficult juggling being a father and a teacher?
(KF) It wasn’t difficult teaching my two sons because they were part of the classes that I was teaching. Sometimes they would train under other instructors. They were treated just like any other student. They were not given any special treatment. That is the good thing about karate-do, everybody starts from the bottom as a white belt. It doesn’t matter if your father was the chief instructor or president of a large corporation. Sometimes my son would remark that the instructor made the class do too many push-up exercises. I told them not to complain, just do as he says. That is part of the training. Years later during an examination of x-rays at a doctor’s office, it showed that Kyle had a broken foot that had healed. He never complained to me that he had a broken foot. He just continued to train.
(SB) I have seen footage of your son Kyle, and he has a brilliant kicking ability. Is this natural talent, or has he had to develop them over time? If so, how did you go about developing them?
(KF) To develop good punching or kicking movements, you must have three ingredients. First, you must have a good sensei that can bring out your best techniques. Second, you must have natural talent. Third, you must want to train hard.
Kyle has been training over 31 years since he was five years old, so he has had a lot of time to develop his techniques. He had me as his sensei all of these years. He had his older brother, Kevin as his role-model to follow in karate. Kevin has been training and teaching for over 41 years. He was also Hawaiian and International Champion.
(SB) How do you approach teaching kumite, as I have heard you encourage a tough attitude?
(KF) I encourage a spirited attitude when fighting, not a tough attitude which is different. Gichin Funakoshi said in one of his 20 precepts, spirit first, technique second. He meant that without spirit, your technique would be weak. It is better to have strong spirit with no technique, than no spirit with good technique. If someone attacked you in a dark alley, it is your spirit that will save you not your techniques and trophies.
In tournament fighting, the most common element lacking is the lack of spirit. It is okay to lose in a match as long as you lost by attacking with spirit. It is a loss of face if you lost by running away. This is the Samurai Way.
You can be a humble person and still have fighting spirit when fighting. A tough attitude may have a macho and loud display.
(SB) What are the most important aspects of kumite to develop do you think?
(KF) I have always emphasized that spirit is the single most important element to develop in karate training. Spirit is needed to help you through difficult times in your life. It could be in times of illness, financial losses, personal problems, etc.
For kumite, the first most important element is distancing. Without the proper distance all the power and speed is useless to score. The second most important element is timing. When the distance is correct, then that is the time to execute a technique. The third most important element is speed and accuracy. Power will follow if you have speed and correct techniques.
(SB) You have already spoken about your Judo experiences and how they developed your sweeps. What do you think is the key to effective sweeping techniques?
(KF) Again distance, timing and speed are important for sweeping. When your opponent is waiting for you in a long front stance, that is the time to sweep his front foot. When he is moving backward, sweep both feet when they are close together.
Basically, there are two types of sweeps. The first would be to use the bottom of your feet when sweeping your opponent’s ankle. The second type is more of a power sweep when using your ankle like a low roundhouse kick without snapping back your kick. This power sweep is used against a heavy opponent. To prevent injury to yourself, remember to tighten the knee of the sweeping leg before making contact with your opponent’s ankle. Also, pivot your supporting foot to rotate your hips and to maximise your power and reach.
(SB) You have of course in the past released a set of kata DVDs. Why did you decide to do so?
(KF) In 1984, I travelled to Japan and was a guest of Asai for two weeks. We trained 6.30 every morning in his back yard. We trained again at the JKA Main Dojo at 1pm, reviewing the kata. Because JKA was worldwide, there was a problem of every instructor teaching their katas differently. Asai Sensei was the Chief Instructor of the Instructor’s Class, so his responsibility was to standardize all the kata. He said that it was not to change the kata but to go back to the basics. After I returned to Hawaii, I made a set of all the shotokan katas so I could standardize them for my students. Asai Sensei wanted to do the videos with me but we couldn’t make the arrangements when the video crew for Panther Productions came from California to Hawaii to do the taping. So, I used my students who were available at the time.
(SB) Within you demonstrate the kata’s bunkai. How important is application of the kata do you think?
(KF) Memorizing a kata is fine but knowing the bunkai gives you a better in-depth knowledge of what every movement is about. Every different style has a different interpretation of their bunkai. The main thing is to know there is something else to just doing the kata. The concentration is deeper when you understand the bunkai behind each kata movement.
When I first gave seminars in Europe 20 years ago, nobody practiced bunkai. Nobody recited the Dojo Kun. Nobody taught karate-do. They only practiced sport karate. Today bunkai is included in kata competition and many students and instructors are asking about the Dojo Kun and karate-do questions.
(SB) Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration and influence in karate?
(KF) My biggest inspiration and influence is my relative, Gichin Funakoshi because he was way ahead of his time with his philosophical sayings. He popularized the importance of the five principles of the Dojo Kun and his 20 Precepts.
The instructor that influenced me the most for techniques was Asai Sensei because of his knowledge of advanced movements and I was at the sandan level when I trained under him.
I was a colour belt to brown belt when I trained under Kanazawa Sensei, but I learned the importance of kime from him. I also learned the importance of basic training from Mori Sensei so I learned many different things from all three of my senseis. The common element from all three of them, was that they were all fine gentlemen.
(SB) What are your goals/ambitions for your organisation in the future?
(KF) I did not plan on expanding my organisation to be worldwide when I moved to San Jose, California. I just wanted to be around my West Coast and Mexico dojos so I could be more accessible for them. I started to get invitations from Poland and England. There were several hundred students at my seminars and they came from many different countries. I got invitations from Germany, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, India, Sri Lanka, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Nepal, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, Armenia, U.A.E. etc. I also got enquiries from Iran, Iraq and many others that I couldn’t travel to.
We began to organise regional and International tournaments. Several years ago, we started a World Tournament in Las Vegas five years in a row. Now, there are many affiliate dojos requesting to host an FSKA Tournament. We are receiving many applications to joining our organisation from independent organisations. There is a need to teach good karate techniques and karate-do with its philosophy. There is a need for a non-political organisation. That is the reason why my organisational structure is such that there is no one person who is in charge of a region or country. Every affiliate dojo reports directly to me. A shodan is treated with as much respect as a Shichidan. This has worked out to be a good system for me. Of course, it means more work for me, but everyone is happier to get away from politics and conflicting personalities. I will continue this system to ensure that everyone is happy and work as harmoniously as possible.
(SB) What is your stance on sport karate and the pursuit of Olympic recognition?
(KF) Sport karate is what made karate popular. Although Gichin Funakoshi was against tournaments, he agreed to allow the first JKA Championships in 1957 which Sensei Kanazawa won 1st place in kumite. Karate tournaments are one way of seeing how much development a person has accomplished in fighting techniques. However, tournament fighting, dojo fighting and street fighting are three different kinds of fighting with different kinds of rules. This is one of the reasons I think MMA is becoming popular.
The various karate organizations have been trying to get karate into the Olympics for a long time. I remember Nishiyama Sensei trying to get Shotokan as the style of karate into the Olympics 40 years ago. But the Olympic Committee required that an organisation must have different styles to be accepted in the Olympic Games. When you have different styles and personalities, there will be differences of ideals and goals. What are the rules going to be and who will be the officers of the various committees? The rules have been changed many times. Some of my affiliates from several countries are into the WKF tournaments because they want to represent their countries in the Olympic Games. It is okay with me because I understand their position.
I still continue to use the shobu-ippon rules since I stress the importance of the old traditional ways of fighting.
We must remember that Sport Karate and Karate-Do are two different types of training. Sport Karate may inflate one’s ego whilst Karate-Do deflates one’s ego.
(SB) Besides the physical aspects of karate training, in what way do you think karate can develop us into being better human beings?
(KF) To be a better human being, you must know and practice the Dojo Kun inside and outside the dojo. You must also follow the 20 Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi.
All of the Masters of Martial Arts in Japan, including Jigoro Kanno of Judo, Morihei Ueshiba of Aikido and many other masters all had their own Dojo Kun to become good examples of being better human beings.
(SB) What do you think Master Funakoshi’s 20 principles have to offer the Martial Artists on his/her journey?
(KF) There is a lot of wisdom and truth in Gichin Funakoshi’s 20 Precepts. It is the guidance that a student will need to follow in the right direction of Karate-Do. It has spiritual as well as advice for fighting situations. Study them well.
(SB) Do you have any points that you would like to discuss that I have neglected to ask you about?
(KF) My advice would be to stay out of the karate politics and find a good sensei to train the correct way.
(SB) Can we please say a big thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and may we wish you all the best for the future!
(KF) Thank you for allowing me to share some of my karate experience with your readers.