The meaning of Gichin Funakoshi‘s 15th precept of karate “think of hands and feet as swords” (一、人の手足を剣と思へ Hitotsu, hito no teashi o ken to omoe) is quite clear.

In a fight, when we face an opponent with a staff, knife, or sword, our instinct is to treat the situation with greater seriousness than when we face an weaponless opponent but we shouldn’t. The hands and feet of well-trained skilled fighters can be as lethal as a sword. And not only their hands and feet, their other body parts like the head, teeth, shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees can all become formidable weapons too.

Therefore, we should never underestimate our opponent nor let our guard down regardless of whether they possess weapons or not. Maintaining a high level of awareness or the zanshin state of mind at all time is critical in any physical confrontation. A fight isn’t over until we are completely certain that all threats have been neutralized. And even in that case, martial artists are advised against relaxing their vigilance because we never know when new dangers may emerge.

While this precept is commonly translated as “think of the opponent‘s hands and feet as swords’, Gichin Funakoshi’s Japanese version has a broader meaning: “think of hands and feet as swords”. Therefore, we should dedicate sufficient time to train our bodies and turn them into capable weapons to the extent that is appropriate in our individual circumstances.

Some martial artists do turn their hands and feet into dangerous weapons through many years of consistent daily training with traditional tools, for example, makiwara, chishi (stone weighted training tools), sashi (stone or concrete hand weights), nigiri game (gripping jars), sand or rice buckets, bamboo sticks, etc. Sanchin kata practice and other partnered body conditioning exercises can also build a stronger body that can withstand heavy hits.

However, this kind of tough training does have the potential to adversely impact our health. You probably have seen karate masters who struggle with health problems when they get a bit older due to over-training. No doubt, the human body has the potential to carry out extreme feats, however, it is not designed to endure hard training on a daily basis which will cause chronic stress and health complications. Therefore, we all have to make our own judgement and decision as to how far we want to go and to what extent we want to sacrifice our health for our love of martial arts.

You might like to read: “How Often Should You Train Karate to Progress Faster?

In summary, just as we would approach a sword-wielding adversary with care and respect due to the potential danger of their weapon, we should treat our opponent’s hands and feet and other body parts as if they were equally dangerous. This mindset encourages us to never underestimate our opponent’s capabilities and to train our bodies to be ready for challenges that may unexpectedly arise.

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


Gichin Funakoshi (1938) The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate