Master Funakoshi was born on November 10, 1868, in Yamakawa, Shuri, Okinawa prefecture. Descended from a samurai family, he was nevertheless born into a modest family. He began studying karate at the age of 11 with the son of master Azato Ankoh (himself a pupil of master Matsumora Sokon), who was also his schoolmaster, with whom he learned Shuri-te, later to be taught by Azato himself. He also learned from Itosu Yasutsune, one of Okinawa's most renowned experts. He also studied, albeit to a lesser extent, with Kiyuma Peichin. Training at the time was traditional and physical, often taking place at night, and karate was learned step by step (one kata every three years). Funakoshi's sense of pedagogy and martial skill made him a leading expert in To-Te (Chinese hand). As a teacher on Okinawa, he developed and passed on his art. He was the best man to establish his karate outside Okinawa.
With the help of Judo’s creator, Jigoro Kano, Master Funakoshi was the first to give an official presentation of Karate in Tokyo, on Japan's main island, in May 1922 (note that around 1916, Dr. Chitose, creator of Chîtô-Ryû, gave a less publicized demonstration of the Okinawan martial art). From then on, he was criticized by many Okinawan masters for having passed on the "secret art” and was omitted from many genealogies. He moved to Japan's main island to teach. Karate was no longer an Okinawan martial art; it became Japanese and would spread throughout the world. Although criticized, the move proved inevitable. In November 1922, Me Funakoshi published a book entitled "Ryû Kyû Kenpô Karate", which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1923, but he went on to publish another: "Rentan Goshin Karate Jitsu". It wasn't until 1935 that Ô senseï published a reference work: "Karate Dô Kyohan". In Japan, Master Funakoshi changed the Okinawan names of the katas he taught into "more Japanese" names for better understanding and distribution.
Master Funakoshi began teaching at Japanese universities and working as a dormitory warden. The master's karate began to develop, and several university "clubs" were created, where the master would teach (modern karate was born it was no longer the student who came to see the sensei, but the sensei who travelled to instruct large numbers of students). Unfortunately, teaching young people in the traditional way (kata and bunkai only) was to backfire on Master Funakoshi, as all his "students" naturally wanted to go further and practice kumite, which Master Funakoshi refused to do, and he subsequently stopped teaching in many university dôjô. It wasn't until 1936 that, with the support of his students, he built his own school in Japan, the Shôtôkan (academy (kan) of Shoto: "waving pines in the wind"). This dôjô gave its name to the karate style. This Shôtôkan included 15 fundamental kata and several of his own creations: Ten-no-kata and the three Taikyoku (shodan, nidan and sandan) that he had designed with the help of his son Yoshitaka (Gigo). This style is mainly based on Itosu sensei's teachings, while the karate learned from Azato will only be taught to his son Yoshitaka. Shôtôkan was destroyed during the Second World War, and many of its early students and senior members were killed. Shôtôkan was rebuilt in identical fashion at the end of the war.
After the war, things accelerated, but Master Funakoshi stayed out of the dôjô and let things evolve. He died in 1957, leaving behind a Shôtôkan in the throes of change. His ashes were scattered in Okinawa, where he began his career as a karateka.