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Marc's picture
Funakoshi's grading requirements

Hi everybody,

Gichin Funakoshi in "Karate-Do - My Way of Life" writes in chapter "Shoto-kan" (page 84 in my book):

One of my first tasks, with the completion of the new dojo, was to make up a set of rules to be followed as well as a teaching schedule. I also formalized the requirements for the grades and classes (dan and kyu).

I would like to know what requirements for the grades and classes Funakoshi came up with.

There's a lot of knowledgeable and well-read people on this forum, so I thought maybe one of you might have any information on this or can point me to a resource that might help me further investigate this question.

Thank you, take care


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

That's a very intresting question! I'm afraid I have nothing, but I hope others can shed some light on this.

All the best,


Marc's picture

OK, so I found some information on grading in the historical Shotokan-Dojo. It's not much, but it's a start. This is from two great books on the history of Shotokan by Henning Wittwer.

  • Wittwer, Henning, "Shotokan - überlieferte Texte - historische Untersuchungen, Band I"
  • Wittwer, Henning, "Shotokan - überlieferte Texte - historische Untersuchungen, Band II"

More information on Henning Wittwer and his books at www.gibukai.de

The books are written in German, so the following snippets are my translations, which I shortened/rephrased a bit here and there for ease of reading.

The development of Gohon-Gumite and Sanbon-Gumite originally took place in the Karate clubs at the universities, where each club even devised their own type of this form of exercise. Appearently, Funakoshi was so taken with this creation that not only did he apply it to his Kumite forms but he expressively included Sanbon-Gumite as an examination subject (Shiken-Kamoku) for examinations up to third Dan at his Shotokan Dojo. Alongside this, Ippon-Gumite was a required examination subject at the Shotokan. (vol. II, p. 223)

It would be a big mistake to equate the common types of Jiyu-Gumite of today with the manner and method of free Kumite practised by Yoshitaka [Gichin Funakoshi's son]. A contemporary witness suggests that Yoshitakas free Kumite was a continuation of Gohon-Gumite, which simply means that supposedly roles of attacking partner and countering partner were adhered to. Another contemporary witness remembers an examination in 1943, during which two candidates from different university clubs performed something which he labeled Jiyu-Ippon-Gumite. His description could as well let the reader believe that was free Kumite. In short, the boundaries between Jiyu-Gumite and Jiyu-Ippon-Gumite at that time were rather blurred. (vol. II, p. 227)

At the Shotokan-Dojo Funakoshi was able to implement his own ideas for grading requirements, independently of influences from the groups at the universities. He devised a system which in principle allowed students gradings up to fifth Dan as the top level. (vol. I, p. 162)

Leaders of local branches of the Shotokan could give exams up to the Dan level they held themselves. (vol. II, p. 260)

The above are just some rather clear examples of what was required of Shotokan grading candidates.

The university clubs went to define their own grading guidelines. This is an extract from the Keio-University Karate club guidelines from 1934:

"Article 55: In this club each rank corresponds to certain Kata as follows:

  • No rank and 7th Kyu : Pinan 1 / Pinan 2
  • 6th Kyu : Pinan 3 / Pinan 5
  • 5th Kyu : Pinan 4 / Jitte
  • 4th Kyu : Passai Dai / Kiba-Dachi 1 [=Tekki 1]
  • 3th Kyu : Kushanku Dai / Kiba-Dachi 3 [=Tekki 3]
  • 2nd Kyu : Wanshu [=Enpi] / Kiba-Dachi 2 [=Tekki 2]
  • 1st Kyu : Chinto [=Gankaku] / Jion / Seishan [=Hangetsu]"

(vol. I, S. 154)

I suppose it is fair to assume that gradings at the Shotokan-Dojo also included Kata performances, since Funakoshi expressed that Kata training clearly was most important.

Wittwer gives a list of Katas that were practised by various groups at the time of the historical Shotokan (vol. I, p. 130):

  • Taikyoko, Heian, Tekki, Bassai, Kanku,
  • Hangetsu, Jitte, Enpi, Gangkaku, Jion,
  • Sochin, Meikyo, Chintei, J'in,
  • Gojushiho, Nijushiho, Wankan,
  • Suparinpei,
  • Shuji no Kon, Sakugawa no Kon, Shirotaru no Kon, Matsukaze no Kon


Most of these are expected. However, Suparinpei isn't practised in most Shotokan style dojos today. And most noticeable, I think, is the presence of stick-fighting Kata ("... no Kon"), which used to be a more or less integrated part of Karate like forever and only from the second half of the 20th century on became almost extinct.

If you are interested in the history of Karate, and Shotokan in particular, I strongly recommend these books. Henning Wittwer also has book out in English, titled "Scouting Out The Historical Course Of Karate: Collected Essays". I have not read it yet, but it seems to present at least some of the information from the two above mentioned books.

All the best Marc