Funakoshi’s “Master Text”

Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text is exactly as the subtitle says—it’s the definitive writing of Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate-Do and so-called “father” of modern karate. This book provides history, philosophy, practical training advice, descriptions of basic stances and techniques, and thorough descriptions and illustrations of the 19 core Shotokan kata. Read on to learn more about this important book.

Gichin Funakoshi was a great master of Okinawan Karate and one of the primary individuals responsible for bringing karate out of secrecy and into the public eye. He was also a scholar who wanted to share his life’s passion with the world. Funakoshi wrote many books, and Karate-Do Khohan: The Master Text is considered one of the most comprehensive books on karate.

I began my martial arts journey in Shotokan Karate, and this was one of the first books on the topic I purchased. I’ve reviewed it many times over the years and each time I learn (or re-learn) something new. The book is a “must have” for Shotokan practitioners, and much of it benefits anyone interested in martial arts, regardless of the style or system they practice.

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The majority (174 of 256 pages, or 68%) of the book is dedicated to the 19 core Shotokan kata, and Master Funakoshi provides a thorough commentary on each.

Although the black-and-white pictures of each movement of the katas are high quality and easy to follow, Funakoshi also provides additional information. For example, he highlights the background and history of each kata (e.g., what Okinawan region and major style each are from), the “spirit” (fast and swift / strong and powerful) of each one, and the mental and physical aspects of kata training.

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The second-largest section (22 of 256 pages, or 9%) of the book is on kumite, or sparring. In this section, Funakoshi presents pre-arranged, step-sparring as a bridge to free sparring (and actual combat).

Ten No Kata Ura is presented first. This kumite drill builds on the individual Ten No Kata Omote (solo introductory sparring kata) – adding a partner component. In Ten No Kata Omote one learns, through solo practice, the defenses and counters required to participate with a partner via the Ten No Kata Ura kumite drill.

The kumite section also discusses sanbon (3-step) kumite, ippon (1-step) kumite, free-sparring with a focus on safety and maxims, throwing technique kata, and the iai (kneeling) defense against punches and grabs (front and back).

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In a few pages (8 of 256, or 3%) of the book, Master Funakoshi presents a simple illustration of 40 vital points on the human body, each of which is numbered and given an anatomical label/name. Unlike the Traditional Chinese Medicine naming of meridian acupuncture points, he uses simple labeling to order and denote the general body region and specific location of the 40 vital points.

Funakoshi provides a concise and clear explanation of what happens (i.e., loss of consciousness or death) when each vital point is struck, as
well as a physiological explanation for why the recipient loses consciousness or dies. Amazingly, he does this in no more than two sentences per vital point.


The purpose of this article is to provide you with a quickly digestible description of the main points of Funakoshi’s Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text.

While I’ve summarized my favorite sections of this book, Funakoshi provides detailed insights on a variety of other important topics including:

  • Discussions of fundamental elements of karate (stances, blocks, hand and foot techniques)
  • Instruction on how to engage in basic training
  • Considerations for applying karate to self-defense
  • Philosophical aspects (maxims) of Karate-Do for the practitioner
  • An appendix with illustrations and directions for building standing and hanging makiwara (striking posts).

It’s my sincere hope that this overview will motivate you to explore the Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text further! If so, get your copy here.

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