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The Dojo Kun
by Harry Cook
reprinted by kind permission of Fighting Arts International magazine.


One feature of training in a karate dojo in Japan which is not often met in the West is the practice of reciting the kun or code of ethics at the end of a training session. G. W. Nicol, in his book Moving Zen: Karate as a Way to Gentleness, refers to this practice and its place in Japanese karate-do:


    "The Oath was always chanted with strength, never mumbled in insincerity. Just as movements would become automatic and reflexes conditioned, the simple truths of the oath would also penetrate the mind of the participant."


The form of the dojo kun can vary from style to style or dojo to dojo, but in general the sentiments and basic ideas involved agree in most respects. My own experience centers on the kun used in Higaonna Sensei's Goju-ryu and Kanazawa Sensei's Shotokan dojos in Tokyo, where the five precepts were identical but not presented in the same order; this is also the dojo kun used by the Japan Karate Association.

In normal practice this would be chanted after a short period of meditation (Mokuso) at the end of a class. The usual procedure is for the senior student in the class to say one line which is them repeated by the whole class until the sequence is complete.

    DOJO KUN

    1. Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto.
    Work to perfect your character.

    2. Makoto no michi o mamoru koto.
    Have fidelity in seeking a true way.

    3. Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto.
    Cultivate a spirit of endeavor and perseverance.

    4. Reigi o omonjiru koto.
    Always act with good manners.

    5. Kekki no yu o imashimeru koto.
    Refrain from violent and uncontrolled behavior.
    In these five precepts, we have the essence of a teaching that enables karate to be seen as something more than simply a method of random mayhem or a modern competitive sport. This is the morality which is needed to balance the physical in training. It is the foundation of what in Buddhism is called "right action" (Samma-kammanta); ignoring the beliefs and ideas encapsulated in the dojo kun will in the long run have a negative effect both on the individual martial artist and on the evolution of karate as a whole.
    It is worthwhile looking at the precepts individually:

1.) Work to perfect your character.
It is instructive to note that this ideal is given priority-not strength, speed, technical skill or fighting ability, but perfection of the student's character. This is what Master Gichin Funakoshi continuously stresses in his writings; he recounts a story in which he acted as an arbitrator between two contending villages. By keeping his head and acting in a controlled and rational manner Funakoshi proposed a compromise acceptable to both sides and so violence was avoided. This he regarded as proof that karate training had improved his character and so enabled him to find a peaceful solution.

2.) Have fidelity in seeking a true way.
The stress here is that the "way" should be "true" i.e. should not be a method of self indulgence or weakness. There are many individuals teaching martial arts who claim high grades, skills etc. without any justification, for either commercial reasons or to boost their egos. Here in the Northeast of the country (England) we have a sixteen year old boy who claims a third dan in Shotokan karate and a world championship title.

When I spoke to this poor self-deluded child, it seemed obvious to me that he had almost started to believe his own lies; it was easier to create a fantasy than to train hard and one day actually realize his dreams if he had the skill and determination. This is not only a problem found in self-deluded teenagers; there are many individuals I know training in karate who are still very bitter about being involved with a self-graded master of Okinawan Karate/Zen monk who indulged his fantasies not so many years ago. This same individual now peddles his myths under the heading of Chinese Yoga; the real tragedy is that he had a high degree of natural talent that could have been developed honestly; he could have realized his dream. Ultimately, those who do not have fidelity in seeking a true way become the victims of their fantasies.

3.) Cultivate a spirit of endeavor and perseverance.
Traditionally a martial art or way was never taught or practiced simply as a form of amusement or as a diversion from the more serious aspects of life, and so patience was needed if the student was to eventually learn all the aspects of the art correctly. The seemingly endless repetition of basic techniques, is not a block to learning, as some modern thinkers seem to think, but it is also true that such training may not be too amusing. Lack of perseverance simply means that all progress will come to a dead stop. As the master swordsman Banzo told his student Yagyu Matajuro, "a man in such a hurry, as you are, to get results seldom learns quickly."

4.) Always act with good manners.
In a sense this repeats and stresses the first precept. By acting with good manners we will not inflame an already bad situation and may in fact avoid unnecessary violence. However, this must not be construed as weakness. Gichin Funakoshi refers to an incident in which he unintentionally kicked an escaped convict who then ended up in a community cesspool. Helping the local
police to arrest the man, he tells us,


    "I felt a deep sense of pity for him, until the officers told me he was an escaped convict with a long police record, and that he had been convicted of theft, robbery, and rape. Then my sense of pity vanished."


Obviously, acting with good manners should be a reciprocal process, and here we see the influence of the teachings of Confucious on the development of the martial arts who wrote:
"You repay an injury with directness, but you repay a good turn with a good turn."

5.) Refrain from violent and uncontrolled behavior.
This seems to be the ultimate paradox of karate, but here we have the essence of the morality of the martial arts. Force may be used if the end is morally correct-such as self-defense or protection of the innocent. In this way the actions of the Shaolin monks in developing fighting methods to protect their temple or struggle with bandits was a morally acceptable act. In the same light, protecting yourself against a thug who has initiated the violence is not a reprehensible act. Mas Oyama, the great master of Kyokushinkai Karate tells us of an incident in his life when he was forced to kill to protect himself:
"But one injury I inflicted almost caused me to give up karate forever. Once I was attacked by a knife-carrying gangster and struck him with a ryutoken (dragonhead fist) on the upper lip. He died, leaving behind a wife and child. I was guilty of nothing criminal since I had only defended myself, but I was deeply grieved that karate, which I had never wanted to use to anyone's harm, had led to death. I had nightmares of remorse over the fate of the dead man's family. Finally,
announcing that I was through with karate, I went to a farm in the Kanto District where I worked with five times the strength and
enthusiasm of an ordinary laborer to earn money to help the dead man's wife and child."

The dojo kun points the way to the ultimate aim of training, which is mastery of the self. Ultimately, technique as such is of no importance, as it is the individual's spirit which is being developed and disciplined. By seriously following the techniques inherent in these apparently simple precepts, the trainee can begin to make progress in the Way of the martial arts.

About the Author: Harry Cook is a martial arts instructor, historian and columnist. His work has appeared in Fighting Arts magazine, Shotokan Karate magazing, Traditional Martial Arts and more recently in Dragon Times. He is the author of the landmark book Shotokan Karate - A Precise History