Shotokan karate’s dojo kun was written by Master Gichin Funakoshi and have become the rules that karate students should try to live by in and out of the dojo. In this post, we will look at the deep meaning of these rules.
Shotokan karate’s Dojo Kun
Dojo means ‘the place of training’, kun means ‘rules’, so dojo kun means the rules one should follow at the training place.
Dojo kun is usually posted at the entrance to a dojo or at the front of the dojo (shomen).
Dojo kun is generally recited by everyone at the end of each training session in the seiza position. This process aims to remind students of the right attitude, frame of mind, and virtues to strive for both within the dojo, and outside.
Below is Shotokan karate’s dojo kun calligraphy by Master Masatoshi Nakayama.
There are several English translations of the dojo kun. Here is a longer version:
- Each person must strive for the completion and perfection of one’s character
- Each person must be faithful and protect the way of truth
- Each person must endeavor (fostering the spirit of effort)
- Each person must respect others and the rules of etiquette
- Each person must refrain from hot blooded behavior (guard against impetuous courage).
Below is a shorter version of the dojo kun which is often used in Western dojos for reciting purposes.
- Seek perfection of character
- Be faithful
- Respect others
- Refrain from violent behavior.
Let’s examine the meaning of the dojo kun below.
1. Seek perfection of character
The first rule is consistent with one of Master Gichin Funakoshi’s famous sayings: “the ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants“.
There is a reason why Gichin Funakoshi made this the first rule in the dojo kun. He wanted karate to be first and foremost about character building, learning techniques and the art of fighting and strengthening the body are all secondary goals.
So, how do you build character and make yourself a better person through karate training?
You will become more disciplined through making an effort to turn up at the dojo and train when it’s time to do so rather than coming up with excuses to not go when you don’t feel like it.
You will be a more courteous person by learning to show respect to your instructors for giving the time and effort to pass on the art to future generations. Most instructors do that for the love of karate, not for money.
You will be more polite, humble, and gracious through working with your training partners, showing them respect, helping them, and learning from them. Without your training partners, you wouldn’t be able to improve your art as well as you could have.
You will learn to live in the moment through your karate training. A good fighter needs to have a present state of mind, forget about the past, be free from all problems and worries, and focus on the fight at hand. If you are able to learn this important skill and apply it outside the dojo, you will be a healthier and happier person. You will be more grounded and more connected to your inner beings as well as the people around you.
You learn to solve problems through improving your techniques and fighting skills. If there is a particular technique or a kata you find challenging, break it down to the most elementary level and figure out where you go wrong or where you have difficulty with. If you consistently lose when sparring against a training partner, spend some time to analyze and find out your strengths and weaknesses and those of your opponent, and work out an appropriate strategy and improvise next time you fight with him or her. This is problem-solving.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Karate can make you a better person if you put in the effort to learn the art diligently.
2. Be faithful
Be faithful; be sincere; and protect the way of truth and integrity are some translations of the second rule.
While this rule probably has its origin in Japanese samurai tradition that one must remain absolutely loyal to the master and the dojo, it can have a broader meaning as well.
A karate student is expected to work hard to protect the way of truth and, in karate, it means the principles of seeking peace, defending justice with honor and integrity.
Endeavor; put the maximum effort into everything you do; and with great effort cultivate and maintain the mind, soul, heart, spirit, and your intention.
This is as important in karate as with anything else in life. If you choose to train in karate and make it part of your life, put your best effort in and see what karate has to offer. If you put in a half-hearted attempt, you won’t get the result you expect and might feel discouraged by it.
Endeavor to make your karate better at all times. Consistently turn up to train, listen, observe, practice, question, and analyze. After each training section, ask yourself, what new things you’ve learned today, what you should go home and practice. Constantly try to be better at what you do. Every time you practice a kata, focus on improving one tiny aspect of the kata so that you can tell yourself afterward that your kata is slightly better than it was before.
Endeavor to apply the principles that you learn in karate into all aspects of your life. Be respectful to people around you. Be honest with yourself and others. Live in the present. Seek the truth. Stand up and defend what you believe is right.
4. Respect others
Respect, courtesy, and manners are an important part of Japanese culture and karate.
You learn karate and learn to respect your instructors and fellow karatekas, respect the place of training, and respect the training equipment.
You do this through bowing, listening respectfully, helping each other, taking care of each other, and taking care of the place of training and the training equipment.
You also strive to make this respectful manner become part of you and behave accordingly outside the dojo.
As I’ve written in this post, you will meet people in life whom you don’t think should deserve your respect. However, in my view, a true martial artist will rise above pettiness and be able to show sympathy and respect to the people who are less fortunate than him or her and haven’t benefited from the upbringing and teaching that he or she had had.
5. Refrain from violent behavior
Many simple karate techniques can become deadly in the hands of an experienced martial artist and, with great power comes great responsibility, they must refrain from resorting to violent force to achieve their goals.
Mastering karate techniques is hard, but learning to control one’s emotions is even harder. Finding ways to victory is hard, but finding the most peaceful way to victory is so much harder.
While a karateka is expected to fight with everything they know for justice and defend what they believe is right, it is far different from showing off what they know and achieve what they want without regard for the welfare or the life of others.
One can win a fight using deadly techniques, but one can also win a fight by walking away from a fight with pride and integrity intact. Doing the latter requires one to control his or her emotions and a deep understanding of the way of peace of karate.
Dojo Kun in Japanese
Below are the five rules in Japanese text along with their phonetics for those who are interested.
一、人格 完成に 努める こと
Hitotsu, jnkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto
Hitotsu, makoto no michi o mamoru koto
Hitotsu, doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto
Hitotsu, reigi o omonzuru koto
Hitotsu, kekki no yuu o imashimuru koto
I hope you find this post useful. Please check out my library of other karate articles which is regularly updated.
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