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Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint – Book Review

The picture shows the Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint.

Karate-Do Kyohan is one of the foundational works about Shotokan Karate Do by Gichin Funakoshi. Last year, Laurent Poliquin published a new facsimile reprint. Gichin Funakoshi expert Henning Wittwer reviewed the book for us.

Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint

Some time ago I was asked by The Dojo to review a “new” book by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957). I thought my task would be to check the Japanese to English translation and share my opinion on that matter, since I wrote earlier about some translation problems in Funakoshi’s biography. However, when I received the book, I was baffled. While the cover is in English, the content turned out to be Japanese. I found that strange. Would it not be more logical to publish a Japanese work with a Japanese title?

The cover proclaims that the book is a “facsimile reprint of the original 1935 edition” of Funakoshi’s 1935 Karate-dō Kyōhan. I made out an English “foreword” by Laurent Poliquin, who identifies as “senpai” and a member of a karate organisation, which turned out to be one of the many derivatives of JKA. The reason he wrote the forward is unclear to me. Is he the person responsible for the facsimile reprint copy? The copyright of the book refers not to him but a company in Canada.

Gichin Funakoshi

Objections to the Forward

In the “foreword” Poliquin tries to connect the facsimile reprint copy with the previously published English edition by Ōshima Tsutomu, and a translation done by Harumi Suzuki-Johnston in 2005. Poliquin is quick in pointing out that the two English versions did not have the benefit of a “revision by the author.” He wrongly claims that some of the content of Ōshima’s English edition has been altered. While this seems to be true when we compare it with the early editions of Funakoshi’s Kyōhan one has to understand that Ōshima translated a 1958 version of Funakoshi’s work that was finished during the lifetime of the author. Ōshima decided to include some parts of the 1935 edition to enhance the content.

Another uninformed claim by Poliquin is that the Suzuki-Johnston edition is a close reproduction of the 1935 version of Kyōhan. While this is what the advertisement states, in truth it is based on a Japanese reprint from 1985, not identical to the first edition as it claims.

The Page Order of Karate-Do Kyohan

First, the pages were “adapted” so that one can turn over the leaves in the “western” way, which means one reads the left page first and continues with its facing right page next. This works in theory only in this case, since the Japanese version is an old-style book intended to be read from the right to the left page. This reversed order of the original Japanese pages results in creating an awkward reading experience. To give an easy to understand example I simply refer to the photos for the kata Heian Shodan, which are presented side by side in the order of the kata. In the Japanese original the order of the photos is:

4 – 3 – 2 – 1 ←

This makes perfect sense if one reads it as intended from right to left, which everyone able to read Japanese would do. However, in the facsimile reprint copy the order of the photos from left to right is:

→ 2 – 1 – 4 – 3

So even if one is able to recognize the Japanese numbers for the sequence of the photos, one has to concentrate in order to understand the intended flow of the illustrations, which is mixed up now. In fact, already looking for the original page numbers turns out to be difficult since they are in the middle of the fold, just one example of how the printing quality of the facsimile reprint reminds me of cheap photocopies.

The Digital Version of the Karate-Do Kyohan

Since I was asked to review this book, I have to emphasize one important point. Years ago, a digital version of Funakoshi’s Kyōhan appeared online, which is what the publisher of this facsimile reprint copy appears to have copied, although the publisher does not mention this.

For example, Ogasawara Naganari (1867–1958) presented Funakoshi with a beautiful calligraphy. A photo of it appears in Funakoshi’s Kyōhan. In the digital version two little paper marks can be seen in the upper part of this picture. Naturally these paper marks are absent in other exemplars of the Kyōhan. Yet, one can see them in facsimile reprint.

Similarly, the photo illustrating the hand weapon “ipponnukite” in the digital version shows a scratch on the back of the hand as well as a white circle bottom corner. The same signs appear in the facsimile reprint.

Finally, notice to the seals at the imprint of the book. If one compares the position of the seals in the digital version with the facsimile reprint copy one notes that they are identical.

This means that the editor of facsimile reprint copy simply makes profit out of an initiative to advance academic research in karate. The result of such behaviour is that other researchers or institutions will be more hesitant to share the fruits of their labor in the future.

About the Author

Henning Wittwer took up his karate practice in 1992. From the beginning he followed the Shotokan current, initially in the more sport and tournament orientated organizations. Since 2005 he published his translations of old Japanese sources and his research regarding karate in German as well as in English journals and magazines. Wittwer is the author of many books. For his English books please see Amazon.

The picture shows Henning Wittwer´s book about Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Henning is also our reviewer of the Karate-Do Kyohan.