“Do not forget that karate-do begins and ends with rei” (一、空手道は礼に始まり礼に終る事を忘るな Hitotsu, karate-dō wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto o wasuruna) is the first precept of the 20 precepts that Gichin Funakoshi wrote to guide his students in the development of both spiritual and technical aspects of their karate.

This post explores its meanings and offers suggestions as to how you might apply it in your karate training and other aspects of your daily life.

Table of Contents

What does “rei” mean?

Rei (れい) is often translated into English as “bow” or “respect”. However, rei has a much broader meaning in Japanese than just “bow” or “respect”.

According to the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary, rei can have the following meanings:

  1. [礼儀] etiquette; decorum; propriety; politeness; courtesy; civility
  2. [おじぎ] a salutation; a salute; a bow; an obeisance
  3. [儀式] a ceremony; a rite
  4. [謝辞] thanks; gratitude; acknowledgment; appreciation.

So, rei means respect, gratitude, appreciation, politeness, courtesy, honors, and general good manners.

What does “karate-do begins and ends with rei” mean?

Although Gichin Funakoshi wrote the 20 precepts of karate, there is no record of him elaborating on the meanings of those precepts.

However, Genwa Nakasone, a karate and martial art author, had written commentaries on these precepts which were reportedly then read and approved by Gichin Funakoshi.

Below are the main points that Genwa Nakasone made of this first precept:

Rei encompasses both an attitude of respect for others and a sense of self-esteem. When those who honor themselves transfer that feeling of esteem – that is, respect – to others, their action is nothing less than an expression of rei

Combat methods that lack rei are not martial arts but merely contemptible violence.

It should also be noted that although a person’s deportment may be correct, without a sincere and reverent heart, they do not possess true rei. True rei is the outward expression of a respectful heart.

Genwa Nakasone

In simple terms, “karate-do begins and ends with rei” means one should behave like a respectful and well-educated person and, at the same time, have a humble, sincere, respectful and honorable heart throughout one’s karate journey.

A gentleman should be gentle and never be menacing; close, yet never forward; slay but never humiliate; no sign of indecency is found in his abode; his nourishment is never heavy; even a minor mistake is corrected but there is no accusation. Thus is his strength of will.

A gentleman must be broad-minded and strong willed. The responsibilities will be heavy, and the way is long. Make benevolence your lifelong duty.

Gichin Funakoshi

Practicing “rei” in your karate training

Karate is first and foremost an art of self-defense.

However, karate has a lot more to offer depending on whether you treat it as merely a self-defense art or a sport or turn it into a way of life.

If you choose the latter, which many karate masters like Gichin Funakoshi, Chojun Miyagi, Mas Oyama and Choki Motobu emphasize you should, respect is what you must learn and apply throughout your karate practice.

Below is my contemplation on what we can do to apply this precept in our karate and our daily life.

When we enter the dojo, we bow to show respect to our place of training.

At the opening ceremony, we bow to show respect to the masters who have dedicated their lives to the art of karate and the preservation and passing of their knowledge to future generations.

We treat our instructors with respect and show our appreciation for their time by bowing, listening respectfully, and trying our best in our training.

Even though we do have to pay for our training, if we don’t try our best, we are wasting their time. The majority of karate instructors become instructors because they love the art and are never in it for the money.

We show respect to our partners regardless of their age, experience, or rankings. Without them being there and risking injuries, we wouldn’t have anyone to train with and can’t learn as much as we possibly could.

We treat them with care and respect by being careful to not injure them in our drills but at the same time give them enough challenges and pressure so that they can progress.

We show respect to our fellow competitors at tournaments. Without them turning up, we wouldn’t be able to test our fighting skills or compare our kata performance with.

It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, our karate is not better because we win or lose in a tournament. What matters is whether we have done our best and what we have learned from the event.

We show respect even to those who try to harm us by only using forces when it is absolutely necessary. Life is the most precious treasure of all. Even when we are forced to fight, we only use appropriate forces to defend ourselves and avoid risking their lives if we can.

An ordinary man will draw his sword when ridiculed and will fight risking his life, but he may not be called a courageous man.

A truly great man is not disturbed even when suddenly confronted with an unexpected event or crisis, nor angered upon finding himself in situations not of his own making, and this is because he has a great heart and his aim is high.

Gichin Funakoshi

Practicing “rei” in your daily life

We apply this precept not only in our karate training but in all aspects of our daily life, this is the difference between practicing a martial art and being a martial artist.

We are conscious of the presence of other people around us and how our behavior might affect them.

We eliminate negative thoughts, stop being judgemental, and look for the positives in things and people around us.

Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following questions: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?

Marcus Aurelius

We rarely bow outside the dojo but we still can show our respect through our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

When we come home from our training, we show our appreciation to our partner, our children, and other people in our lives for taking care of everything while we are away training, attending seminars, or competing.

We treat people around us with respect including those who we don’t have much in common with. Life is hard, everyone is trying to make a living, to find some meaning out of their existence, or to make sense of what’s happening. We will brighten someone’s day up with our respectful manner.

We show our respect to the cleaner at the supermarket by leaving the table in the food court way we find it. Someone needs to do dirty jobs to keep places clean and we are thankful to them.

Long driving time is hazardous to one’s health and we say thanks to the bus drivers for doing their jobs and wish them a good day.

We give the busker on the street our spare changes and tell them we love their music.

We care for the elderly as much as we can, we ask for their advice, we call them, we spend time with them and we help make their remaining time on earth a happy, positive, and meaningful one.

We strive to treat everyone respectfully through the ups and downs and through the good times and bad times in our lives.

In short, we treat our fellow travelers the way we would like to be treated.

We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and a long these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.

Herman Melville

And we should treat ourselves with respect as well. Except for the narcissists, most of us tend to be overly critical and judgemental of ourselves and don’t give enough credit for our own achievements.

And if that is how we behave in and out of the dojo, we will earn other people’s respect in return.

We will cultivate within ourselves a more conscious presence, be more connected with ourselves and with the people and things around us, and are not just merely passing by.

We will live a meditated and fulfilling life instead of just rushing or sleepwalking through life.

And we will find inner peace and live the Bushido way with Bushido spirit and we can tell ourselves: we have tried our best in everything we do, if we get to live till old age, we will make our presence here count, if we happen to die tomorrow, we will have no regrets.

And that’s why by making rei the foundation of everything we do, we make karate a way of life rather than just a sport or an art of self-defense.

Precept 1: Do Not Forget that Karate-do Begins and Ends with Rei

Precept 2: There Is No First Strike in Karate

Precept 3: Karate Stands on the Side of Justice

Precept 4: First Know Yourself Then Know Others

Precept 5: Mentality Over Technique

Precept 6: The Mind Must Be Set Free

Precept 7: Calamity Springs from Carelessness

Precept 8: Karate Goes Beyond the Dojo

Precept 9: Karate Is a Lifelong Pursuit

Precept 10: Apply the Way of Karate to All Things, Therein Lies Its Beauty

Precept 11: Karate Is Like Boiling Water: Without Heat, It Returns to Its Tepid State

Precept 12: Do Not Think of Winning, Think, Rather, of Not Losing

Precept 13: Make Adjustments According to Your Opponent

Precept 14: The Outcome of a Battle Depends on How One Controls Truth and Fiction

Precept 15: Think of the Opponent’s Hands and Feet as Swords

Precept 16: When You Step Beyond Your Own Gate, You Face a Million Enemies

Precept 17: Kamae Is For Beginners; Later, One Stands In Shizentai

Precept 18 – Perform Kata Exactly; Actual Combat Is Another Matter

Precept 19: Do Not Forget the Employment or Withdrawal of Power, the Extension or Contraction of the Body, the Swift or Leisurely Application of Technique

Precept 20: Be Constantly Mindful, Diligent, and Resourceful in Your Pursuit of the Way

What Is the Philosophy of Karate?

The Intended Meaning of Karate Ni Sente Nashi

How to Do Seiza Properly in Karate?

Shotokan Karate’s Dojo Kun and Their Philosophical Meanings

Choki Motobu’s Wisdom in “My Art and Skill of Karate”


Gichin Funakoshi (1938). The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text

Karate as a political issue at the beginning of the Showa Period. Nakasone Genwa: historian, editor and ideologist

Kyokushin Karate Begins and Ends with Courtesy