I’ve written many times on the importance of philosophy in karate-do. Without the inward pursuit of personal values and excellence, the martial art remains only a sport, fighting system, or fitness pursuit. But it is so much more…
However, with so many styles and approaches to karate, how does one start on this philosophical path? This question was beautifully answered for me on our last trip to Okinawa, during a training session with Tsugo Sakumoto Sensei, when he said, “Karate has one heart.” He explained that there are many Okinawan schools of karate but as long as there was a shared purpose, philosophy, and vision for a better world then we could all come together as one.
Sakumoto Sensei instructs Julia Hourahine and members of the Canadian contingent at the Budokan in Okinawa
The idea of individuals working on becoming mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger and then pooling that strength for a better community and world is a beautiful notion and a guiding vision for our club here in Cambridge. Every student’s efforts and achievements make the heart stronger.
So, in addition to regular practice of physical karate, students should engage in contemplation of martial arts meaning as well. A great place to start is with the 20 Precepts of Karate, a written legacy from Master Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan. The establishment of modern karate is largely attributed to Master Funaksohi and his precepts form the foundations of the martial art. They are important for all HMA students to learn and think about:
1. Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru koto wo wasuruna.
Karate begins and ends with courtesy.
2. Karate ni sente nashi.
There is no first attack in karate.
3. Karate wa gi no tasuke.
Karate is an assistance to justice.
4. Mazu jiko wo shire, shikoshite tao wo shire.
Know yourself first, before you know others.
5. Gijutsu yori shinjutsu.
Spirit before technique.
6. Kokoro wa hanatan koto wo yosu.
Be ready to free your mind.
7. Wazawai wa getai ni shozu.
Accidents come from laziness.
8. Dojo nomino karate to omou na.
Karate training goes beyond the dojo.
9. Karate no shugyo wa issho de aru.
You will never stop learning in karate.
10. Arai-yuru mono wo karate-ka seyo, soko ni myo-mi ari.
Apply karate to everything. Therein lies its beauty.
11. Karate wa yu no goto shi taezu natsudo wo ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru.
Karate is like boiling water. If not given heat, it will go cold.
12. Katsu kangae wa motsu na makenu kangae wa hitsuyo.
Do not think of winning. Instead, think that you must never lose.
13. Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo.
Make adjustments according to your opponent.
14. Tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari.
The outcome of a fight depends on how you handle weaknesses and strengths.
15. Hito no te ashi wo ken to omoe.
Think of hands and feet as swords.
16. Danshi mon wo izureba hyakuman no tekki ari.
When you step outside your own gate you face a million enemies.
17. Kamae wa shoshinsha ni ato wa shizentai.
Fixed positions are for beginners; later, one moves naturally.
18. Kata wa tadashiku jissen wa betsu mono.
Kata is practiced perfectly, the real fight is another thing.
19. Chikara no kyojaku, karada no shinshuku, waza no kankyu wo wasaruna.
Hard and soft, tension and relaxation, quick and slow, all connected in the technique.
20. Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo.
Think of ways to apply these precepts every day.
Read. Think. Learn. See you in the dojo!
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