Gichin Funakoshi is known as the "Father of Modern Karate". He was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a young boy he was weak and in poor health. His parents arranged for him to learn karate, hoping it would help him to gain strength. Funakoshi trained with two great karate masters of that time, each who taught him a different style of Okinawan Martial Art. One of his teachers was Yasutsune Azato, who taught him Shuri-te. The other was Yasutsune Itosu, from whom he learned Naha-te. Components of these two styles were joined to become the style known as Shotokan.
Funakoshi introduced karate to Japan in 1917 when the Ministry of Education invited him to perform at a physical education exhibition. He was invited back and on his third visit in 1922, he performed for the emperor and the royal family. Shortly after, he accepted a job as a school teacher in Tokyo. Funakoshi began teaching karate to university students at night. When he had enough money, he opened his first school. He named it Shotokan, after the pen name he used when he wrote poetry. Because of the repetitious style of training and emphasis on kata that Funakoshi insisted upon, his students performed the most precise type of karate taught anywhere. By 1941, Funakoshi finally gained formal recognition of karate as one of Japan's martial arts.
After World War II, Americans who had been introduced to karate in Japan, wrote to Funakoshi requesting teachers. Funakoshi began sending some of his better students to America as instructors.
Funakoshi died in 1957 at the age of 89. Throughout his life he was a humble man who always tried to achieve the true spirit of karate. He emphasized individual self perfection and respect for others over competition and record breaking.
In addition to teaching, Funakoshi wrote three books on karate: Ryukyu Kempo: Karate-do, Karate-do Kyohan (the master text of Shotokan Karate) and his autobiography, Karate-do: My Way of Life.