Book Report: Karate-dō Nyūmon by Gichin Funakoshi (1943, 1994)

Book coverThe 2024 Winter Reading Challenge has a category “Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own” because of course it does. To a librarian, the common library user around these parts only read Karen Kingsbury, James Patterson, and other white authors (probably Assemblies of God church members at that), so compelling patrons to read something else will elevate those patrons to the level of identity box-checking librarians everywhere.

I started out looking from something of a different religion. I wanted to avoid having to read a fat tome by Mencius or Confucius or Aristotle or Plato. I pulled The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam in the Classics Club edition, figuring the fellow was probably Muslim, but I discovered that the book was translated and “refined” by an Englishman probably so much that it was not “by” Omar Khayyam much at all. Then I uncovered The Broken Spear, the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico, but it, too, was so clearly that would fall under the rubric of a different religion, but it, too was compiled by a Mexican historian in the 20th century, so I could not be sure.

Ah, the heck with it, I would go with race then. In lieu of looking at the authors’ pictures on the dust jackets (where available), I figured I would just grab one of the martial arts books I have that are written by someone from Japan. And here we are.

I bought this book last year 2022 (although I write 2024 on my checks, I am still thinking of 2022 as “last year”) at ABC Books and note that I read another of the six books I bought that day, A Beginner’s Guide to Glass Engraving, as part of the Winter Reading Challenge last year (in which “last year” is actually 2023, but not by much). So if I keep up this pace, I will have read all six books I bought that day by 2028. A daunting deadline to be sure.

At any rate, this is the translation of a 1943 work by Karate master Funakoshi who learned the art form back when it was still a hidden practice on Okinawa and then demonstrated it and opened a school in Tokyo. If you’re doing the math correctly, you will notice that this book first appeared in Japan during the war, which made me feel a little like a traitor in reading it. This book appeared not long after the Durants’ Our Oriental Heritage, for crying out loud, although this translation/edition came out in 1994. Past the 1980s martial arts cultural explosion, but there’s continued to be a market for them as the Martial Arts section at ABC Books and its barrenness continues to attest.

So this book is part history of Karate (and Okinawa and the southern part of Japan by extension), autobiography, and the description of a particular kata that the author’s school emphasizes (and briefly compares it and the other kata it uses to other schools and the evolution of kata). It has a number of static images from the kata, including the steps that feature a partner, but it’s hard to get the flow from a kata from text description and pictures. Heck, in my experience, it’s hard to get the flow of a kata from repeated demonstrations and practices (and, apparently, it’s hard to teach them as well, which is probably why my school moved away from them when it tried to introduce them 6 or so years ago).

At any rate, a quick read, more informative on the history of Karate than anything else. And an entry for the Author of Different Race/Religion Than Your Own which could almost be part of the Published Before You Were Born category, as it appeared in Japanese presumably before my parents were born (and before the author’s countrymen shot my grandfather on the author’s home island of Okinawa) but this particular edition is from 1994, so as a pedant, I can’t use it in that category. Besides, I’ve already started a different book for that category (thankfully, not a volume of The Story Of Civilization–I am not that optimistic, and I still have to finish The Greek Life).

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

1 thought on “Book Report: Karate-dō Nyūmon by Gichin Funakoshi (1943, 1994)

Comments are closed.