“First know yourself, then know others” (一、先づ自己を知れ而して他を知れ Hitotsu, mazu jiko o shire, shikashite ta o shire) is the fourth of the twenty precepts that Gichin Funakoshi wrote to guide his students in the development of both spiritual and technical aspects of their karate.

Sun Tzu’s roots

Having studied Confucian Chinese classics, there is little doubt that Gichin Funakoshi had borrowed this precept from Sun Tzu’s famous line “Know yourself, know your enemy. A hundred battles, a hundred victories” in “The Art of War”.

Below is a more complete quote from “The Art of War”:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Sun Tzu in “The Art of War”

The meaning of this precept seems pretty obvious.

You need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and that of your enemy as well as his characteristics, motives, the preferred method of attack, and strategies.

It is only then you will be able to devise appropriate battle strategies and plans to neutralize his strengths, exploit his weaknesses and achieve a desirable outcome.

A desirable outcome could be a complete victory but could also mean forcing the enemy to abandon their plan to attack and hence protect your own force and resources.

Note that Sun Tzu said “you need not fear the result of a hundred battles“, not that one will be guaranteed victory in every battle if one knows the enemy and knows oneself.

While this precept is self-evident and can be applied not only in combat but also in business and personal life, how to actually carry that out is a difficult task.

Let’s explore this further below.

Knowing yourself

Knowing oneself is probably the hardest endeavor of all but it is the necessary first step to conquering oneself.

In combat, knowing yourself is limited to knowing a few things about your body and your technical abilities. To find these out, you can ask yourself a few questions like:

  • How tall are you and what is your build?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages associated with your physique?
  • What are your best techniques?
  • What are the techniques that you tend to use in a fight?
  • What are your most effective techniques?
  • What kind of speed can you produce?
  • How powerful are your techniques?
  • Do you usually get the distancing right during a fight?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Do you prefer to be on the offensive or defensive in a fight?
  • What kind of attacks are you most susceptible to?
  • How do you tend to react when you get hit in a fight?
  • Do you try to read the opponent and dictate the fight?
  • Do you have a game plan or do you just go with the flow?
  • What mood would you be in before, during, and after a fight?

Filming yourself fighting and watching it again later, taking notes after each fight, or asking your instructors or training partners for feedback can help too.

However, in the broader context, for example, determining the direction of your life, working out a relationship, or dealing with social and business contacts, knowing yourself requires a lot of digging and thinking deeply.

One way to really know yourself is to treat yourself as a complete stranger who you want to find out about through an interview. There would be millions of questions you want to ask that stranger in an interview.

Below are some example questions:

About you:

  1. Where were you born?
  2. How were you raised (by whom, what are their parenting styles, in what kind of environment?)
  3. How would you describe your childhood?
  4. Where did you go to school?
  5. Did you make friends easily? Did you have many friends?
  6. Did you like school at all?
  7. Did you suffer from bullying?
  8. Did you suffer from gender identity/sexual orientation issues?
  9. What was the most valuable thing that you learned from school? 
  10. What were your favorite subjects?
  11. What were your favorite sports?
  12. What were your special talents?
  13. What was your childhood dream? 
  14. What are your passions now?
  15. What are your strengths?
  16. What are your weaknesses?
  17. What gives you joy?
  18. What makes you sad or angry?
  19. Who have been your role models?
  20. How do you think other people perceive you?
  21. What are the milestones of your life up until now?
  22. What are your achievements?
  23. What have you done that makes you most proud?
  24. What do you wish you hadn’t done?
  25. What are your biggest regrets?
  26. What are you most grateful for?
  27. Have you set goals and plans for yourself in the past? If so, what were they and did you achieve them?
  28. What are your current goals?
  29. Has your life been following the direction that you want it to be or do you feel like you’ve just been drifting along?
  30. What are your values and principles?

About your job:

  1. What is your current job?
  2. What kind of work have you been doing all your life?
  3. Did you land your dream job the first time and have been there ever since or have you just been picking up whatever jobs you can find to make ends meet?
  4. Have you had any long-term plans or visions with regard to your career?
  5. Have you been actively implementing this plan?
  6. Are you on a career path that you want? Or have you just been drifting along?
  7. Are you happy with your current job?
  8. Do you think the job suits your personality and personal circumstances? Do you want to change?
  9. Are you ready for a change?
  10. Are you willing to put in the effort and investment to make the change happen?

About your finance:

  1. What is your current financial situation i.e. your net worth?
  2. What are your assets? Do you own your own home? Do you have insurance for your major assets?
  3. Do you have any investments and how well have they been performing?
  4. Do you have any savings?
  5. What is your super fund balance? 
  6. Do you have any debts?
  7. Do you have credit cards?
  8. Are you living comfortably with the current level of income or living paycheck to paycheck?
  9. Do you spend more than you earn or do you have some leftovers at the end of each month? And if you have, what do you do with it?
  10. Do you have an emergency fund to protect yourself (e.g. job losses, accidents, unexpected medical expenses, natural disaster)?
  11. Do you have income protection insurance?
  12. Do you budget?
  13. Do you have a financial advisor? 
  14. Do you have an accountant? 
  15. How do you keep records of your finance?
  16. Do you have a retirement plan?
  17. Do you have a will?
  18. Do you have a long-term financial goal and plan? If you do, how have you been doing? Does your plan need changes? Are you on the path to achieving your long-term goal?
  19. If you don’t have a financial plan, do you think you need one? 
  20. Do you review your financial situation? If you do, how often? 

About your health:

  1. What is the general status of your health at the moment? 
  2. Have you suffered from any chronic or long-term illnesses in your life? If so, what are they, and have you got them treated successfully, or are there any outstanding issues? 
  3. Have you been involved in an accident? If so, what impact does it have on your physical condition at the moment?
  4. Do you smoke?
  5. Do you drink?
  6. Do you have an alcohol problem?
  7. Do you take drugs?
  8. What kind of diet do you follow?
  9. Do you think it is a healthy diet?
  10. Do you exercise regularly?
  11. What is your current weight and BMI?
  12. Are you happy with the state of your health at the moment?

About your relationship and mental health:

  1. Who matters most to you right now?
  2. Who depends on you for support?
  3. Do you have a network of family and friends who you can rely on in times of need?
  4. What kind of environment do you live in? (e.g. quality of air, water, and level of noise) 
  5. How have you been feeling lately?
  6. Do you sleep well? Do you often sleep enough (from 7 to 9 hours a night)?
  7. Do you resort to food, alcohol, or drugs as a coping mechanism?
  8. Are you a victim of crime, domestic violence, or mishandling of the justice system?
  9. Have you ever tried or thought of self-harm?
  10. Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness like stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorder, paranoia, or post-traumatic stress disorder? If so, what have you done about it? Has it been largely resolved? If not yet, what impact does it have on other aspects of your life? How serious is the condition?
  11. Are you from a loving family and have been keeping close contact with them all your life, or do you hardly ever make any contact with your family members? 
  12. Do you have one or several best friends who you can call on when you need or do you mostly live alone and hardly have any contact with others? 
  13. How is your relationship with your colleagues?
  14. Do you talk to your neighbors? 
  15. Are you a part of a close-knit community? 
  16. Do you lend a hand in community events? 

About your legacy:

Think about what you have done so far in your life and the impact you have had on your family, relatives, and friends. Ask yourself questions like:

  1. Do you think you’ve made a positive difference to the people in your life?
  2. Do you feel like you have made a difference in the places you have worked for?
  3. Do you volunteer? 
  4. Do you make a positive contribution to your communities?
  5. What do you live for?
  6. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
  7. What do you want your family and friends to remember you for?
  8. Who do you think will miss you if you are gone tomorrow?
  9. Would you have made the world a better place with your presence?

If you have never done this exercise before, get a piece of paper and write down the answers to those questions and all other questions that you can think of.

This is a super fun exercise to do and you will get to know yourself a lot better. It may take you days to ponder, think deeply about those questions and write down the answers but, in my opinion, it will be totally worth it.

Many people go through life without really knowing who they are and this simple exercise can help separate you from the rest and set the foundation for visioning who you want to become, what you want to achieve in this one and only life you have, what kind of impact you want to make, and how you can truly live an authentic life.

I certainly have gone off on a tangent here but applying karate principles in your daily life is exactly how you make karate a way of life, not just an art of self-defense or a sport.

When Gichin Funakoshi wrote this fourth precept that “know yourself, then know others”, he sure knew how hard it is to know oneself and if you are able to accomplish that then knowing others become a lot easier.

The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself.


Knowing others

Knowing others means knowing your enemy or opponent that you are going to face, your business partner that you are negotiating a deal with, or your family members and friends in your personal relationships.

There is this simple rule that in order to really know others you need to put yourself in their situations, think like them, act like them, and figure out their goals, what motivates them, what their strategies would be like, and what resources they would rely on.

Ask questions like:

  1. How does the opponent behave in different situations that you’ve observed?
  2. What are their strengths?
  3. What are their weaknesses?
  4. What are their favorite tactics?
  5. What are their goals?
  6. What are their motivations?
  7. What sort of mentality does your opponent have?
  8. What is their pattern of attack?
  9. What is their timing like?
  10. What are their likely strategies?
  11. What would be their plans?
  12. What are the weaknesses in their strategies and plans that you can exploit?
  13. What are their resources?
  14. What would be their likely reaction against your action plan?
  15. What else have you learned from your observation of the opponent?

Knowing who you are and knowing your opponent may not guarantee you 100% victory but will help you achieve the best outcomes possible.

All Posts in the Series:

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

Other posts you might like to read:

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

What Is the Philosophy of Karate?

The Meaning Of “Osu” or “Oss” in Karate


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

Gichin Funakoshi – Wikipedia

How to Get to Know Yourself: A Guide to Self-Discovery

The Art of War