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Dojo Kun

posted Dec 21, 2013, 11:30 AM by Joanne Johnson   [ updated Jun 24, 2014, 9:21 AM ]
On the wall of virtually all karate dojos in Japan hangs a set of precepts known as the Dojo Kun, said to have originated with an Okinawan Karate Master known as Tode Sakugawa (1733-1815). 

They state the following Maxims:
1. Seek perfection of character,
2. Be faithful,
3. Endeavor,
4. Respect others, and
5. Refrain from violent behavior.

According to karate tradition these are the rules by which a karate-ka is to live.  

Seek Perfection of Character, indicates that the art is more than just physical. Through  rigorous training, the spirit to fight, overcome and succeed in spite of difficulty develops. Along with this fierce spirit should come the realization that one’s skills are increasing, and to employ karate against others dishonors yourself and the Art. The practitioner should seek to subdue his mind as well as conquer the intricacies of body movement. Forging the spirit in the face of adversity will provide lifetime benefits. Even in old age when the body is no longer able to perform as well, the spirit can continue to grow.

Be Faithful, evidences a strong Samurai tradition of feudal loyalty in the martial arts. In this sense, the faith to be shown is true allegiance to one’s instructors and the Art. In return it is the instructors’ responsibility to be loyal and faithful to their students and always teach with the goal of furthering their development. While such strong sentiments seem unusual in the present day, it is unreasonable to expect one’s instructors to extend themselves to teach all they know to one whose dedication to them is fickle or transient. The faith extended to the senseis will be reciprocated in that a greater degree of understanding will be transmitted to the student. This bond between sensei and student is extremely valuable to both and forms the basis of the learning relationship.

Endeavor, refers to the absolute dedicated effort necessary to achieve mastery of the martial art. Although some people, through obvious athletic talent, will appear highly proficient in the Art, in no way is true mastery possible without strenuous, consistent effort. Such efforts must be of a sincere nature and not merely superficial. Serious endeavor on the part of the student will be recognized by the instructor, who will in turn be honored and motivated in his or her own role.

Respect for Others is a common theme in the Japanese martial arts in particular. It is often quoted that “Karate begins and ends with courtesy.” As an outgrowth of the formalized polite etiquette in Japan, dojo rituals are well-defined. It requires that all who enter the dojo pause and bow in memory of past and present Masters of the Art. Before training, members line up clear their minds and with a short meditation and bow from seiza to indicate respect for the instruction to follow as well as the efforts of all members of the dojo. Similarly when engaging in practice with a partner, it always begins and ends with a bow. It should go without saying that any and all bows, once performed, state clearly one’s sincere display of respect for the partner, club, and organization.

Refrain from Violent Behavior remains the responsibility of all competent practitioners as a trained fighter might easily inflict serious injury upon others particularly if angered. The constant and ultimate goal of karate training is self-mastery, including mastery of one's behavior. In extreme situations where it is necessary to defend oneself or other victims, no non-violent alternative may be available. However, the tradition handed down by great teachers indicates that after a life of training, they felt that they had failed if forced to resort to violent action against their fellow man. Today, refraining from violence is hard to explain to Westerners. Some people do take up karate with the ulterior motive of hurting or gaining power over others and wish to learn the necessary skills as quickly as possible. Thankfully, most persons of this disposition fail to go far in karate because they are unable or unwilling to commit the effort necessary or to face truly humble peers who can defeat them in any way without malice.

Adapted from Karate Training: The Samurai Legacy and Modem Practice by R. L Reilly (Charles E. Tuttle Co.)