We learn that the burdens assigned to us whether as businessmen, warriors, friends, relatives, spouses, parents or children shift with the changing tide as accomplishments, successes and failures send us externally and internally in various and conflicting directions, tilting us to the front, back and from side to side requiring constant effort to re-center and re-balance. Kihon, kata and kumite provide training and method that allow us abilities to master forces of the universe and accept these ever shifting burdens. Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, changed the face of martial arts by transcending the limits of its aggressive nature and reshaping it into a practice that shifted the focus inward. Aggressive and dynamic, Master Funakoshi said that karate provides methods for all ages, young and old, to participate in a healthy activity that develops the mind and body. Karate-do, translated, means “way of the empty hand,” with the emphasis on “empty.” Funakoshi’s teaching though powerful and explosive, professed that strength, like a bamboo stalk, came not from without but from within. Profound thought: The “empty” that ordinarily isn’t given much thought by the uninitiated, carries with it the secrets of the galaxies and with the right combination of focus, these secrets are ours for the taking. Funakoshi was instrumental in helping to foster in the karate-ka the type of mindset to temper the spirit and behavior. His particular doctrine not only required the individual to learn every aspect of the technique but what was in the movements. It was then when he created a mantra for students to remember, powerful words that carry deep meaning and insight and that sets a tone of inward and outward strength.
Master Funakoshi believed that, for the true karate-ka, the dojo kun should not
only be considered a set of rules of conduct in the dojo, but a guide to
everyday life. Everything we learn in the dojo, we should apply to everyday
“Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto” Seek perfection of
This is the ultimate goal of karate. The other four
principles of the dojo kun, as well as the entire nijyu kun, all tell us what it
means to seek perfection of character—how we can go about pursuing this highest
objectives. But this is the most important thing. We seek perfection of
character from the inside out. It is something we should do every moment of
every day of our lives.
This means we should never stop learning. Karate
training, like life itself, is an ongoing process of growth and personal
education, a process that lasts for a lifetime. It is good to set goals, but
as soon as we accomplish them, it is important to set our sights on the next
goal, to improve. To seek perfection of character is to always seek to improve
oneself, to always endeavor to learn and grow.
“Makoto no michi o mamoru
koto” Be faithful
To be faithful means to be sincere in everything you
do. Here we are talking about making a total effort, all the time, in whatever
To be faithful of course means that you have to be true to other
people, to your obligations—but it also means you have to be true to yourself.
And to do so means you have to do your best in everything you do.
are faithful to yourself, others will have faith in you. This creates mutual
trust between people. Being faithful to yourself is essential to realizing the
first goal of being the best person you can be.
“Doryoku no seishin o
yashinau koto” Endeavor
Try hard at everything you do. No matter what
you are doing, whether it’s training, working, having a relationship—give it one
hundred percent. To do anything else is to cheat yourself and others. If you
don’t endeavor to do your best, you are not being faithful to yourself and
others, and you are not trying to seek perfection of character.
omonzuru koto” Respect others
A true martial artist always shows respect
to other people. And it is something you ought to feel in your heart. Showing
respect is a sign of humility, and humility is necessary for an open mind, which
it turn is necessary to learn, to grow. You can always learn something from
every person you meet. Likewise, every person you encounter is a possible
opponent of some kind, and that opponent can pose a threat to you, physical or
otherwise. In either case, if you respect everyone, you will more clearly see
things for what they are, and you will be able to get the most of every
“Keki no yu o imashimuru koto” Refrain from violent
This is a reminder to keep calm inside. Control yourself at
all times, from within. Conflict within is a form of violence. It leads to
violent actions, which is something you should try to avoid at all costs. A
martial artist should always be in control, and that begins with an inner
calmness, with peace of mind. If you are forced to defend yourself as a last
resort, then it is all right to do so. But you will only be successful
defending yourself when you maintain a calm, clear mind, in which case using
karate technique to protect yourself will truly be your reaction of last resort.
Different dojos developed similar principles unique to their philosophies and training. Though I’ve trained in karate for many years, I did not learn these principles until a Cal Poly alumni, Alan Kandel enlightened me in the dojo kun in one of his classes he taught in Fresno his shorter version being:
1. Seek perfection of character.
2. Be faithful and protect the way of truth.
3. Endeavour and put maximum effort in everything you do.
4. Respect others and the rules of etiquette.
5. Refrain from negative and violent behavior and develop self control.
When I first heard him recite them at the end of class, I was immediately impressed by the words, the meaning and how it not only applied within dojo walls but outside its door. I can break apart each kun separately and explain how it fit in, but I decided the best way to understand their meaning is to take the time and write the five principals down and keep them with me, reviewing them every once in a while and to read them aloud allowing the meanings to sink in. This, I did, years ago and the spirit of the words helped me.
It makes sense as the kun is a study in and of itself. This is why I’m asking you to take the time to write it down and keep it with you, read and reflect upon the words as what they are.
Personally the biggest challenge in life has nothing to do with the abilities to win or lose. Our surroundings and immediate environment take sides of hard and soft, yin and yang, good and evil. With the forces tilting the balance, the ability to center appears to be worth an effort, more effort than what some of us are willing to invest, but the rewards, benefits and values make it all worthwhile. Master Funakoshi said that by practicing the martial arts, the perfection of character he instructed through dojo kun will be yours, and with it the expertise. The philosophy or ideology that has been imparted via this book’s words, are forever and although they can never be taken from you, are however, meant to be shared. There’s a difference. To become as one with the martial arts warrior and artist, an artist and warrior melded into one, is to be indoctrinated into the brother or sisterhood, people-hood if you will, who uphold the virtues of and protect what we hold sacred and dear.