Everyone who trains in karate must know the dojo kun. At the end of each training session—whether it be at the dojo, after class, or after a tournament, which I always call “special training”—the dojo kun is recited by the students as a reminder of why we train. The dojo kun states the basic philosophy of karate, according to its founder and my teacher, Master Gichin Funakoshi. Master Funakoshi believed that, for the true karate-ka, the dojo kun should not only be considered a set of rules of conduct in the dojo, but a guide to everyday life. Everything we learn in the dojo, we should apply to everyday life.
Hitotsu, Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto
(Seek perfection of character)
This is the ultimate goal of karate. The other four principles of the dojo kun, as well as the entire nijyu kun, all tell us what it means to seek perfection of character—how we can go about pursuing this highest objectives. But this is the most important thing. We seek perfection of character from the inside out. It is something we should do every moment of every day of our lives.
This means we should never stop learning. Karate training, like life itself, is an ongoing process of growth and personal education, a process that lasts for a lifetime. It is good to set goals, but as soon as we accomplish them, it is important to set our sights on the next goal, to improve. To seek perfection of character is to always seek to improve oneself, to always endeavor to learn and grow.
Hitotsu, Makoto no michi o mamoru koto
To be faithful means to be sincere in everything you do. Here we are talking about making a total effort, all the time, in whatever you do.
To be faithful of course means that you have to be true to other people, to your obligations—but it also means you have to be true to yourself. And to do so means you have to do your best in everything you do.
When you are faithful to yourself, others will have faith in you. This creates mutual trust between people. Being faithful to yourself is essential to realizing the first goal of being the best person you can be.
Hitotsu, Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto
Try hard at everything you do. No matter what you are doing, whether it’s training, working, having a relationship—give it one hundred percent. To do anything else is to cheat yourself and others. If you don’t endeavor to do your best, you are not being faithful to yourself and others, and you are not trying to seek perfection of character.
Hitotsu, Reigi o omonzuru koto
A true martial artist always shows respect to other people. And it is something you ought to feel in your heart. Showing respect is a sign of humility, and humility is necessary for an open mind, which it turn is necessary to learn, to grow. You can always learn something from every person you meet. Likewise, every person you encounter is a possible opponent of some kind, and that opponent can pose a threat to you, physical or otherwise. In either case, if you respect everyone, you will more clearly see things for what they are, and you will be able to get the most of every experience.
Hitotsu, Keki no yu o imashimuru koto
(Refrain from violent behavior)
This is a reminder to keep calm inside. Control yourself at all times, from within. Conflict within is a form of violence. It leads to violent actions, which is something you should try to avoid at all costs. A martial artist should always be in control, and that begins with an inner calmness, with peace of mind. If you are forced to defend yourself as a last resort, then it is all right to do so. But you will only be successful defending yourself when you maintain a calm, clear mind, in which case using karate technique to protect yourself will truly be your reaction of last resort.
Throughout his life Funakoshi, through his karate training, developed a philosophy he believed every Karateka (Karate student) should follow in order to develop one's character to it's fullest potential. This philosophy he molded into twenty precepts which every student should strive to follow. Through these rules one can see how dedicated Funakoshi was to the study of karate and his belief that one could obtain more than the skill of self-defense through hard, diligent training. Funakoshi believed that the philosophy of karate could be carried over into daily life where it was an essential element in developing one's character to it's fullest. This philosophy he transformed in the following rules;
1. Karate begins and ends with "rei" courtesy.
2. There does not exist an offensive attitude in karate.
3. Karate is an aid to justice.
4. Know yourself first, then you can know others.
5. Spiritual development is paramount; technical skills are merely a means to an end.
6. It is necessary to let kokoro (the mind) free.
7. Misfortune is a result of neglect. Karate training is not only in the dojo.
8. Karate is lifelong training.
9. Confront your problems with karate spirit.
10. Karate is like hot water. If you do not heat it constantly it grows tepid.
11. Do not think you have to win. Think you do not have to lose.
12. Mold yourself according to your opponent.
13. The secret in combat resides in directing it.
14. Think of your arms and legs as you would sharp swords.
15. When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. (It is your behavior which will invite or discourage trouble from them.)
16. Ready position for beginners and natural position for advanced students.
17. Strive for the perfect kata, real combat is something else.
18. Do not forget: a). strength and weakness of power,
b). slowness and speed of technique,
c). expansion and contraction of the body.
19. Be ready and Devise at all times.
20. Be constantly mindful, diligent, and resourceful, in your pursuit of the Way.