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Dojo: 3 Definitions of the most Favorite Place of Karateka

The picture shows a Japanese house which could be a dojo.

Dojo (道場) literally means: the place (jo 場, Japanese reading: ba) of the way (道 do, Japanese reading: michi), the place where the “way” (e.g. a martial art) is practiced. A correct transliteration of the term dojo must include two circumflexes: Dōjō. They indicate that the below must be pronounced in a long way. For better recognition, following we leave the circumflexes out.

By Prof. Dr. Wolf Herbert

Three definitions of Dojo

Dojo has three distinct, but inter-related meanings:

1. Originally it was the translation of the Sanskrit term bodhimanda. This indicates the spot under the tree, where the historical Buddha Shakyamuni experienced his awakening (bodhi). The manda (= dojo) is therefore the place, where the “essence” of enlightenment is present.

2. In Zen-temples it denotes the hall or room, where sitting meditation (zazen) is practiced. In a broader sense it signifies every site, where one follows the “way of the Buddha” (butsudô 仏道), e. g. temples or assembly rooms for buddhist practices.

3. For the Karateka the dojo is the place, where he hones his skills in his martial art (budô 武道). In this sense it became widely used only since the end of the 19th century. It actually is the abbreviation of budojo 武道場, which was besides keikoba 稽古場 (training place) the common denomination until then.

Do as a “way” of cultural practices

A dojo can be a separate building or a temporary space used for engaging in some martial art. The “do” (道dao in Chinese) in “dojo” has an extensive philosophical meaning in Daoism as the ultimate essence or natural order of the universe. In Japan it also denotes a “way of life” in the sense of being dedicated to an art, craft or study.

Since the Edo-period (1603-1868) it was used to denote traditional “ways” like chado/sado 茶道 (tea ceremony), shodo 書道 (calligraphy) kado 華道 (flower arrainging), kyudo 弓道 (archery), judo 柔道 (the “gentle way” of grappling and throwing), kendo 剣道 (swordsmanship) etc. In the latter cases it replaced “jutsu” 術 (“technical skill, method”) as in jujutsu 柔術 or kenjutsu 剣術. The implication was that these martial arts where meant not only for refining physical or technical skills, but also for mental and spiritual training and development. A clear distinction has been drawn between bujutsu 武術 (classical martial arts of self-protection) and budô 武道 (classical martial ways of self-perfection).  

From Karate-jutsu to Karate-Do

Funakoshi Gichin still used the term Karate-jutsu in the title of his second book published in 1925. Karate-jutsu was then streamlined along the concept of “do” and appropriated by the Japanese on the main island as a form of “budo”, thus renamed “Karate-Do”. Hence the place, where Karate is exercised also became the dojo. In the Japanese understanding a dojo is not just a sports facility, but a space where body, mind and spirit are trained in unison. It is a place to strive for self-perfection. Therefore when entering and leaving a dojo, one should make a bow as a sign of respect.

(Zen-)Buddhist meaning of Dojo

The Mahâyâna-buddhist scripture titled Vimalakîrti-sûtra (Jap. 維摩経 Yuimakyo) is highly appreciated and widely read in Zen-circles. Its protagonist Vimalakîrti is a lay practioner and householder, who teaches the doctrines of nothingness and non-duality and silence as an adequate expression thereof. He serves as an example for someone, who attained the highest buddhist wisdom whilst leading an “ordinary” life.

One line out of the Vimalakîrti sûtra is often quoted by martial artists, and it recurs to meaning 1 of dojo: Jikishin kore dojo 直心是道場. Verbally this means: “Where the mind is straight, there is the dojo.” Thurman translates it as: “The seat of enlightenment is the seat of positive thought because it is without artificiality.” (Thurman 1976:36). The “seat of enlightenment” is translated into Japanese as “dojo”. In a broader meaning it can be interpreted as: the dojo is everywhere, where an activity is pursued with total dedication and mindfulness.

The Zen monk Genyu Sokyu states: “In the end everything in Zen is about everyday life.” (Genyu 2003:153) He illustrates this with some famous Zen-sayings. The most salient among them might be: “Meditation in the midst of activity is infinitely superior to meditiation in stillness.” 動中の工夫、静中に勝ること百千億倍 Dochu no kufu, jochu ni masaru koto hyakusenokubai. (Genyû 2003:153) This was actually a bold calligraphy brushed by the eminent Zen-monk Hakuin (1686-1768) three days before his passing. The chu (“midst”, Japanese reading: naka 中) is emphasized by thick strokes and by prolongation of the line in the middle of the character (Stevens 1999:100).

All life is a Dojo

Every Japanese “do” is inspired by Zen and infused with Zen-idea(l)s, exactly because according to these every activity can be transformed into a meditative act or spiritual exercise. In this spirit the 8th principle in the Shotokan niju-kun, The 20 Guiding Principles of Shotokan, by Funakoshi Gichin can be understood: 道場のみの空手と思うな. Dojo nomi no Karate to omou na! Do not think that Karate training is only in the dojo. The acute mind nurtured in the dojo should be shown in everyday life. Good practice in the dojo will have good effects in our daily life and undertakings other than Karate. Many a Karateka will attest to the fact, that Karate-training had/has positive consequences for their lives. The whole life can be a dojo!

References

Genyû Sôkyû: Zenteki seikatsu. [Life in Zen-style] Tokyo: Chikuma shobô 2003.

Stevens, John: Zen Masters. A Maverick, a Master of Masters, and a Wandering Poet. Ikkyû, Hakuin, Ryôkan. Tokyo, New York, London: Kodansha Intl. 1999.

Thurman, Robert A. E.: The Holy Teaching of Vimalakîrti. A Mahâyâna Scripture. Translated by Robert A. E. Thurman. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State UP 1976.

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To Keiko Gi or Not to Keiko Gi?

The picture shows Karateka in Keiko Gi.

A Keiko Gi is “a symbol of your preparation for life” writes our columnist TD McKinnon in his latest article for Karate Essences. Like many traditional elements the Keiko Gi has also become challenged in recent years. However, there are many good reason why we should stick to the classic plain white Karate Gi for training.

The Origin of the Keiko Gi in Judo

Keiko Gi (稽古着) is the Japanese name for the karate training uniform. The origin of the uniform or training kimono starts over 100 years ago in Japan.  Its introduction as a martial arts uniform is generally attributed to Kano Jigoro, who developed judo from jujitsu, in the early years of the 20th century.  Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, decided that he needed to create a uniform for his students.  He wanted something that would show uniformity; also something able to take a beating from the constant throwing, pinning and choking techniques of the art.

The story goes that Kano based his uniform on ancient jujitsu training attire, which was made of unbleached linen and cotton, a kind of coffee colour fabric.  Apparently, due to the effect of sweating, intense rubbing of the training practices, plus repetitive washing, they would eventually turn white.  So Kano decided to start with a bleached white Gi; and, using a thick, reinforced weave – a style of weaving that was mainly used for farmers’ or firefighters’ garments – and  the modern long-sleeved Judo Gi was born in 1906.  

The Introduction of the Keiko Gi to Karate

Kano Jigoro and Funakoshi Gichin were good friends.  In 1922 Kano invited Funakoshi to mainland Japan, from Okinawa, to demonstrate Karate to some assembled dignitaries at Kano’s Honbu dojo.  Funakoshi was persuaded to wear a Judo Gi, to present a more professional demonstration.  Thereafter, Funakoshi adopted the Judo Gi as training apparel. Generically known as a Keiko Gi, it was soon universally adopted as the official training uniform of most Japanese martial arts.

Sharing a common origin, the Karate Gi is somewhat similar to a Judo Gi; however, the material and cut of the uniform is much lighter, with a looser fit.  The heaviest Karate Gi being 16 ounces compared to the 35 ounce Judo Gi. Because of the nature of Karate training compared to Judo, emphasising striking and kicking over throws and grappling, the Karate Gi has evolved in a different direction.

Is the Traditional Karate Keiko Gi Still an Essential Item?

Since its early inception, the Karate Gi has morphed many times in cut and style as well as in weight and functionality.  Now, in certain sporting organisations, there is a Gi for Kumite and a different Gi for Kata.

Kata Gi

The competition Kata Gi is more like the old style, traditional heavyweight Gi; made from a heavy cotton, light canvas style cloth. The main reason for this, it appears, is to utilise the swishing and snapping sounds (for effect) during the stylised, competition kata performance.

Kumite Gi

The competition Kumite Gi is very different: made from an acrylic fabric, it is a super lightweight Gi, and with (because of the manmade fibre) lots of venting devises. The reason for this design is aimed at less resistance and more ease of movement, supposedly endorsing more speed for competing.  Personally, I think this style of Kumite Gi makes a mockery of the traditional Gi; however this adaptation is not surprising.  Training for competition Kumite has taken some seriously different directions too.

Keiko Gi or Tracksuits?

I am cognisant that, over time, scientific study is bound to change the preparation, apparel and equipment of any given ‘sport’. This merely outlines a point that I constantly make: the sport and the Budo are two entirely different animals.  Some forms of sport Karate, the World Karate Federation (WKF) for instance, are certainly developing a very different system of Karate, where in fact the sport is the entirety of the art. Their training is not the conventional, traditional Karate training of technique and form, and is largely done in tracksuits, T-shirts and shorts.  The Karate Gi is an absentee:

The Importance of Your Keiko Gi

There are various Dojos, some styles of karate, and some organisations that do not lend themselves exclusively to the traditional white Gi.  The International Sport Karate Association, for instance, do not insist on the use of the traditional white Keiko Gi. There are many debates fuelling arguments for and against the traditional white Gi.  

During my own martial odyssey, following whichever martial system I was studying: for instance, I have worn the black cotton Keiko Gi and Hakama of Iaido, and the hand wraps and loose satin shorts of Muay Thai. However, for me, when practicing traditional Karate, nothing is more appropriate than the white Keiko Gi.  Washed and ironed, fresh and clean, it mirrors the fresh and unencumbered frame of mind (Shoshin) that assists the Karateka to derive the optimum from their Karate-Do.

Keiko Gi: A Symbol of Your Preparation for Life

Any competing event, or indeed any training or learning event begins with the mental and spiritual preparation. Part of that mental and spiritual process is preparing the attire that will be worn for that event. This concept is not exclusive to karate or even the martial arts in general; it applies to life.

Prepare your own Keiko Gi

When I began the traditional Karate chapter of my martial odyssey I intuitively understood this concept.  As a member of my high school gymnastic team, as a boxer, and as a British Parachute Regiment soldier it had already become an intrinsic part of me. Most people can relate to the kind of mental preparation that the physical preparation prompts.

Every Karateka should, themselves, prepare their Karate Gi. Even the very young Karateka should be shown how, with the view to eventually conducting their own preparations. It helps to cultivate humility as a human being, while developing pride in the art; encouraging a healthy, lifelong habit. For instance, by the time my sons were 7-8 years of age they were ironing their own Keiko Gi in preparation for training, competition and grading. I believe that preparation discipline was part of what later assisted their achievements of becoming World Champions in their chosen combat sport of Muay Thai Kickboxing.

Keiko Gi Preperation as an Exercis in Mindfulness

For more than fifty years now I have prepared my Gi: for training, for competing, for receiving instruction and knowledge from those more knowledgeable than myself, and for teaching others.  At the start of any Karate event, my Gi is spotlessly clean, scrupulously ironed and prepared for the event, even as my mind, body and spirit is prepared.  Preparing the Gi is a symbolic representation of the ongoing process of mindfulness: a constant preparation for life.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

One can never be complacent about preparation. Complacency, in life, can mean the difference between smooth success and painful failure.

You can get away with being unprepared for a time; here, I am referring to being generally unprepared for life. I could cite many instances, especially from the early part of my life, as an example of unpreparedness…  However, preparation is an ongoing thing, like readying your Keiko Gi for each occasion.

So, I will cite an event that took place at a time I should have known better; a time I should have been entirely prepared:

I had been working as a bouncer for years; and this was just another night at work.

Earlier in the evening there had been an altercation: a powerfully built, six feet plus guy in his twenties, after yelling at and hitting his girlfriend, had knocked out a security operative who tried to restrain him. I put a sleeper hold on him, and evicted him.

Later that evening, while I was controlling the front door, ‘girlfriend-hitter’ tried to enter the premises again and I stopped him.

“I’ve already been in…” he said, irately, “My girlfriend is in there!”

“Yes, I know,” I said, “I evicted you for hitting her and assaulting one of the security personnel.”

He immediately attacked with a head-butt, but I tucked my chin and he broke his nose on the top of my head instead.  He was tenacious, and obviously had some boxing training. As he took an involuntary step back he threw a fairly useful right cross… but, simultaneously, slipping inside his punch, I dropped him with mae-empi (Sen no sen). 

“Come on, young fella, I think it’s time you went home before you get yourself really hurt…” and I reached down to help him up…  That’s when he grabbed my privates in a vicious, steely grip.

During my time as a working bouncer, most of the time I had worn a groin guard, but there was the odd occasion that I forgot to wear the said piece of personal protection equipment (PPE). On those occasions I had assured myself that it was fine because I’d never had an occasion to be thankful I’d worn it; wearing it was just a precaution… tonight I had forgotten to wear it.

A gedan barai broke his grip and then I broke his jaw, but I was in severe pain.  I spent the night in a hospital bed, sedated on pethidine, with an ice pack between my legs, feeling very sorry for myself.

It all Begins with your Keiko Gi

I never forgot to wear that particular protection device, or any other PPE, again. More importantly, I was never again negligent with any preparations. Over the following years, my obsession with preparation saved me from injury many times. In fact I have no doubt that it saved my life. It all begins with the mindfulness of preparing your Keiko Gi.  

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What Makes a Genuine Budoka?

The picture shows a Kendoka, who are perceived as the highest form of Budoka.

In this month’s ‘Karate Essence’ column, as I answer the question, ‘what makes a Budōka?’ I will be revisiting some of the philosophical Budo themes I have previously examined in depth. While I allude, briefly, to an aspect of a Budōka I will reference a previous article or column for those readers not fully conversant with that characteristic. By TD McKinnon

Budōka: The Etymology of the Word

Budo (武道), of course, is a Japanese term; literally translated, it means the ‘Martial Way’, and may even be thought of as the ‘Way of War’. Budo is a compound of the root Bu (武:ぶ ), meaning War or Martial; and (道:どう) meaning, the way or the path. However, in this modern era, it has become a reference, describing the spiritual foundation of most Japanese martial arts. In that perspective Budo becomes an idea. Modern Budō needs no external enemy. The enemy is within; it is the ego that must be defeated.

The suffix, ka (家), with its kanji character meaning ‘family, house, home’, is recognised in Budōka (as in Karateka) as meaning ‘student’ or, perhaps more accurately, a devotee of the aforementioned, Budo. The Budoka follows a path of self-improvement, formulating propositions and subjecting them to philosophical critique.

What is a Budoka?

According to the hypothesis that Budo is the spiritual foundation of Japanese Martial arts, and that Ka is a student or devotee of said spiritual foundation, then a Budoka is, quite literally, one who studies or practices the art of war. In other words, it could be said that it is a warrior.

For the Budoka, it is not about winning or losing a competition, as in Sport Karate for instance. I am not saying that the Budoka cannot also be a sportsman, just that the Karate sportsman is not necessarily a Budoka.

Originally, for the Budoka, the idea was to safely learn techniques that would lead to victory on the battlefield, or in any hostile encounter. The trophy on offer, of course, was surviving; as opposed to being killed or maimed by an adversary.

In everyday living in today’s environment, the practical importance of technique has become less vital for actual physical survival. However – while other aspects, including spiritual, aesthetic or competitive may come to the fore – it is still essential to the Budoka that there remains a realistic practicality to their training and teaching.

Being one!

So far, I have talked about Budoka as an exclusively Japanese concept. I would like to add here that, the more I have learned about the meaning of the term, the more I realise that I have been a Budoka for most of my life. You do not have to be a Karateka, as such, to be a Budoka. I have already stated that not all those who practice Karate (Karateka) are Budoka; being a one involves a certain spiritual element, which not all Karateka embody.

In my humble opinion, those who merely go through the physical motions (as an exercise or for sport) may be Karateka but they are not Budoka. Those Karateka who embrace Karate-Do (the way/path) as a way of life, to be better each day (holistically) than they were the day before, are Budoka.

I have trained in the art of war (of fighting in all of its aspects) since my earliest memories. My rational was not to be able to hurt and dominate others; my goal has always been to defeat the fear, in me, of being hurt and dominated.

Fearlessness

The true Budoka does not strive to be undefeatable but to be fearless. True fearlessness is a spiritual quality that the one acquires, eventually, through the acquisition of Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, Fudoshin and Senshin.

1. Zanshin (残心):the lingering mind’ is aware of everything, without distractions.

2. Mushin (無心):the uncluttered mind’, without judgement and emotion, deals with situations from the moment point.

3. Shoshin (初心):the open, eager mind’, with its lack of bias, sees all options.

4. Fudoshin (不動心):the peaceful, determined and courageous mind’ provides the confidence to endure, no matter the odds.

5. Senshin (洗心): the enlightened mind’, striving to protect and be in harmony with all life, completes the five spirits of Budo.

Embracing the five spirits of Budo – the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior – endows the advanced Budoka with fearlessness; thus rendering that him, virtually, undefeatable.

Long before I had heard of the philosophical terms, of Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, Fudoshin and Senshin, I was on the path. And, while walking the long and winding road of the spiritual warrior, I have had the great honour and pleasure of the company of others; some were Karateka and some were not. In fact many of them, and at one time that would have included myself, had never even heard the term. Let alone the above Japanese terms for the five spirits of Budo.

So, what does make a Budōka?

I do believe that a thorough understanding of the five spirits of Budo can help the devotee on his path to enlightenment. However, I personally, firmly believe that an innate knowing and empathetic appreciation of the philosophies behind the labels is much more important than an intellectual verbatim of the philosophical labels themselves.

I will finish with a quote from lifelong martial artist and prolific writer, 88 year old, Bujinkan Soke Masaaki Hatsumi: “There are three kinds of Budoka: ones that try to look strong, ones that try to perfect there technique and ones that try to gain a good heart.” For me, being a Budoka, is about what is in the heart.

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Souji: Why you should clean your Dojo regularly!

The picture shows students at the Kansai Seido Karate school at Souji practice, that means: cleaning the floor.

Cleaning: A Japanese Habit and Ritual

Souji (掃除, also Soji, Sōji) literally means “cleaning”. Everybody, who dives a little bit into the Japanese culture, realizes that cleaning, cleanness, and tidiness are of utmost importance. This also applies to Karate and Budo. Cleaning shall teach virtues like respect, humbleness, mindfulness, diligence, and a sense to be part of a collective. In addition, the practice of cleaning shall also lead to spiritual purity and enlightenment. How this works and why you should clean your Dojo regulary explains Dr. Christian Tribowski.

Souji, cleaning, is serious business in Japan. For instance, Japanese families organize a O-souji (大掃除), a big cleaning before the end of the year in order to welcome the New Year God, Toshigami-sama, in a nice and tidy house.

No wonder that the global queen of cleaning is from Japan. Marie Kondo aka KonMari is a 35 year old organizing consultant from Tokyo who has turned tidying into a million dollar business. According to Celebrity Net Worth her TV shows and books about how to get rid of clutter and how to make your apartment tidy and keep it this way have gained her $8 million so far.

But even at most unexpected places the Japanese show an incredible desire and urge to clean. For instance, after sports events. While this has long been reported to be the case in Japanese baseball stadiums, where fans and even the teams go through the rows and clean behind them after the game. Japanese football fans have brought this habit to a global stage. They also cleaned up their block in the stadium at the last world championships in Russia in 2018. Footage of cleaning Japanese fans first appeared on social media after the game against Colombia and the world was weirded out.

But the biggest surprise happened when the Japanese lost 3-2 against Belgium and had to leave the tournament. Right after the game and before they left the stadium, the Japanese national football team cleaned their locker room. According to The Independent, it was spotless and contained a thank you note.

Souji in the Dojo

The Dojo is also a place of constant Souji in Japan. After or before the training, students come together and clean the floor and also other parts of the Dojo. The traditional approach of Souji works the following way:

  • Little children, adults, and elderly all do the cleaning together.
  • The students line up with dry mops in their hands and go on the floor.
  • Then, they push the mop firmly with their hands on the ground and shove it through the Dojo.
  • Once they have reached the opposite side of the Dojo, they turn around and shove it again to the other side.
  • The floor has, thus, been mopped two times.

Modern Souji can also be done with a mop on a stick and in fun ways. While the most cultures perceive cleaning as cumbersome, Japanese Dojos show us how entertaining it can be. In the video below the Dojo turns Souji into a small competition.

Shinto and Zen: The Roots of Souji

But what are the roots of Souji? One hypothesis says: The school system in Japan teaches students right from the start of their education to take care of their classrooms and the school in general. Every student must take part in collective cleaning sessions. Therefore, cleaning is taught in schools as a important virtue.

While this hypothesis is not wrong empirically, it is only a sufficient explanation. Because cleaning has been of paramount importance for the Japanese for several hundred years and even before the school system was established. For instance, when the first European Jesuit missionaries came to Japan in the 16th century they were not used to bath regularly. The Japanese, on the other hand, washed themselves everyday. Thus, a much deep and older factor must lead to the Japanese desire and urge for Souji.

Shinto and Purification

One answer can be found in the ritual practices of the Shinto religion in Japan. Shinto is a natural and animistic religion where the practitioners believe in so called Kami. These are gods and spirits that inhabit all material things. Shinto is unique to Japan and understands human beings as pure and clean.

However, through wrong behavior, the violation of rules and taboos, amoral natural forces, contact with death or childbirth as well as diseases, humans could become polluted, impure, and guilty. These process are called Tsumi (罪, “transgression, offense, vice, crime, “sin”, penalty, guilt) and Kegare (汚れ, “uncleanness”).

To become pure again the worshiper must go trough so called Harai (祓い): rituals of purification. Most of these rituals involve symbolic washing of the hands and mouth (Temizu, 手水). Some also require the Shinto practitioner to take a bath in a in a stream, a river, a lake or the ocean in a purification ceremony (禊 Misogi).

Shinto put, therefore, a tremendous weight on cleanness and purity. It also associates uncleanness and impurity with guilt, sin etc. That is why Japanese tend to avoid unclean situations where ever possible. As a consequence the Shinto and its notion of purity have a strong influence on Souji.

Zen and Cultivation

Another source responsible for the Japanese urge for cleaning lies in Zen Buddhism. Originally from China Zen flourished in Japan and has been one of the central cultural paradigms of the country. Especially the arts, craftsmanship, and the aesthetic of Japan have been shaped by Zen. But also Budo was highly influenced by the religion.

For instance, Yagyu Munenori (柳生 宗矩, 1571 – 1646), one of the formative figures of Kenjutsu (swordsmanship), stood in a close correspondence with Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭, 1573 – 1645) a central figure of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and advisor to the Shogun. The most prominent result of the intellectual exchange between the swordsman and the monk has been the book The Unfettered Mind (不動智神妙録, fudōchi shinmyōroku) written by Takuan for Yagyu Munenori. In his book he applies Zen concepts and terminology to analyse Budo. Since then, a close relationship between the religion and the fighting arts has grown closer and closer.

But what does Zen teach about Souji? One of the most practical and contemporary accounts of this relation is the small book A Monk´s Guide to a Clean House and Mind by Shoukai Matsumoto first published in 2011. In his book he gives a very concise explanation about the relationship of Zen and Souji.

Cleaning isn´t considered burdensome, or something you don´t really want to do and wish to get over with as soon as possible. They say that one of Buddha´s disciples achieved enlightenment doing nothing but sweeping while chanting, “Clean of dust. Remove grime.” Cleaning is carried out not because there is dirt, but because it´s an ascetic practice to cultivate the mind.”

Shoukai Matsumoto, A Monk´s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, 2018, p. 3

Shoukai Matsumoto shows: cleaning is a sacred act of self-cultivation in Zen. This becomes clear when he writes: “The people and things in your life are what makes you who you are … People who don´t respect objects don´t respect people.” (p. 4) The treatment of the outer world, therefore, directly influences yourself and your soul. To clean your surroundings means to clean your inner self and to cultivate yourself.

Shinto and Zen

If both approaches of Souji – Shinto and Zen – become combined they offer a plausible explanation why Japanese take cleaning so seriously. Because the practice of cleaning means, on the one hand, to get rid of trouble and bad karma (Tsumi and Kegare) through purifcation. On the other hand, it also promises self-cultivation and enlightenment. That means that everybody who cleans avoids bad and receives good within the same action at the same time – a strong tandem. The Zen notion of the interconnection between the world of the objects and the world of the subjects (spirits) links this approach to tangible places like shrines, temples, a house, a company, and also Dojos.

Why is Souji good for your Dojo and your Karate?

The Dojo is the place for the practice of the Do, the Karate way. Cleaning in the ritual Shinto and Zen sense comprises features that foster the ethical and spiritual development of Karatekas. Because rituals create and change perception, when they are constantly practiced. So, what can Souji teach us?

  1. Respect: To clean something, like Shoukai Matsumoto writes, means to learn to respect it. When you regularly clean the Dojo it will change its meaning to you. You start to take care of it. It turns from an anonymous and functional place like a public gym into a place you connect with. Your perception of its change and condition becomes sharper. And you learn to not take it for granted. From here Karatekas can develop a sense of respect for others. Because the cleanness of a Dojo depends on everybody. Only when you work as a team the Dojo stays clean. So, when everybody must clean on a regular basis a sense of respect for the efforts of others emerges.
  2. Purification: We are the world we live in. Therefore, we are also the Karateka of the Dojo we train in. A purified Dojo lays the foundation to become a purified Karateka. Dirt, shabby walls, filthy locker rooms etc. reflect on the soul. They increase the chance that somebody lets himself go mentally and spiritually. Thus, an unclean Dojo undermines its actual purpose: to serve as the place for the practice of Do.
  3. Humility: To understand the efforts of others like cleaning also means to understand how dependent we all are. Joint cleaning turns peasants and lords into equals. We cannot live without others and nobody is an island. Therefore, we have to be humble and take a step back from our claims and our sense of entitlement. Instead, we should just clean the floor.
  4. Evanescence: To clean means to connect and to deal with the evanescence of the world. After a hard Keiko, the floor is dirty. It is the natural process of deterioration and pollution. Souji requires to acknowledge this evanescence and to work against it. Instead of giving up against an unbeatable enemy, the evanescence, the cleaner chooses life and resistance in order to recreate the former pure status.
  5. Joint experience: Like in every joint ritual the aspect of a collective experience is important. To Souji together means to bond, to share, and to show solidarity. A Dojo is a place of people. While everybody must go the Karate Do by himself, we all need fellows, who accompany us, help us, criticize us, pick us up when we are down, on who we can rely on, who push us, give us feedback, and have a drink together with us every now and then. Celebrating together creates a strong foundation for a group. But to get on the knees together to take care of the Dojo and working for its purification is practiced Karate Do in a collective action. That will lead to a real bond and a Karate family within a Dojo.

Do you regularly clean your Dojo? If not, the Souji Do might we worth trying.

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Karate Do: The Path to oneself?!

The picture shows a practitioner of Karate Do at the beach during sunset.

“Karate Do is a path to oneself” argues TD McKinnon in his latest column Shotokan Essence. However, most of the people who start this path do not seek to arrive at themselves. Other motives are more relevant for them. That is explains a high number of dropouts. The ones who stay on the path are the ones who are encouraged to follow the Dojo Kun. Thus, karateka should focus on developing and cultivating the Dojo Kun.

Karate Do is a way of training, thinking, conducting oneself; a way of believing in oneself, for life. In other words, Karate Do is a life-long journey of self. The motivating factors for beginning this journey can be many and varied: self-defence, fitness, confidence building, and sporting competition, to name but a few. However, goals change. Your martial path, should you chose to take it, will have many twists and turns along the way, some of them 180°.

One person in 10,000 

After a lifetime of teaching, I do know that if you were to ask every wide-eyed beginner on their first day of training, “Why are you beginning karate training?” their motivations would be many and varied.

However, of 10,000 beginner only 50 percent will still train after the first six months. After one year, only 1,000 will be left. Maybe 100 will reach the third year. Maybe less that than 0.1 percent will earn their shodan. But an even smaller amount will go on to receive their Nidan.

What are the Reasons for the high number of Dropouts?

From all those individuals who begin training, there are those who will find out quickly that it is not what they imagined, and not for them. Some won’t make it past the second week. 

Some will learn a few techniques, maybe even take a couple of gradings, and then life will get in the way. And they will drift away. They may even promise themselves that they will be back. Very few return. 

There will be the achievers: those who will persevere until they achieve that coveted black belt, before moving on to their next achievement. 

There will be the sports people, who excel in the sporting arena. They may even have a relatively long career in sport karate. After their own competition days have run the course they might continue as judges, referees and sporting competition coaches. They are the perpetual sports people. To them, the sport is Karate. 

Then there are the shining few, who may indeed pass through some or all of the aforementioned phases, but who will then don the mantle and tread the cloistered path of Karate Do

How Long does the Path of Karate Do take? 

  • If you are seeking only physical benefits the chances are that, after your physical body peaks, you will lose interest. 
  • If it is a status symbol, the time it takes to get to black belt will probably be your maximum. 
  • If it is about self-defence or confidence building and it doesn’t go beyond that, it may be a short term or a long term thing, depending on your situation and life style choices. But eventually it will wane. 
  • If it is mainly the sport aspect that attracts and holds you, then after peaking in the sport, it will fare much the same as any sport. The young will enjoy the competition, and as they mature they may continue in an official role: sporting coach/referee/judge et cetera. However, not unlike any sporting involvement, it diminishes and eventually disappears. 
  • If you find Karate Do to have an honorable code of ethics, worth aspiring to, and Karate Do weaves itself into your very fabric, you may find that Karate-Do is your path, for life. 

Karate Do Encourages an Ancient Instinct: Honour

Honour, as a noun, meaning respectability and virtue, or a code of conduct valuing those concepts, is an ancient human instinct. Karate Do seeks to encourage and develop that instinct. The Dojo Kun, a set of philosophical rules for the smooth running and necessary control of the dojo environment, is a guiding light to illuminate the way. 

Remember, whatever their underlying motives: this is a group of people who are there to learn how to inflict physical violence on an adversary. When you think about it, that environment could run quite quickly out of control: becoming unruly, aggressive, and possibly quite violent. In my time I have actually witnessed fight training centers, a karate dojo or two, even one Shotokan dojo, where, to one degree or another, this was in evidence. 

The Dojo Kun: Its Origins and Implications 

The Dojo Kun is set in place to modify behavior, both inside and outside of the Dojo. Most traditional Dojos recite a Dojo Kun, or a modified version of that Kun, at least once every training session. Stating the moral code of the Kun before beginning a class can be said to ready the mind and spirit for learning and practicing implied violence, non-violently. Whereas reciting the Kun on completion of one’s training is like the final, centering thought as you finish a meditation. Resetting the mind before re-joining ‘normal’ society. Some Dojos, emphasizing and promoting humility, recite the Kun at both the beginning and the end of a class. 

Funakoshi Gichin Sensei, 1868-1957, the founder of Shotokan, is generally credited with creating of the Dojo Kun. According to Funakoshi Sensei, The Dojo Kun contains the general, guiding principles of Karate. Funakoshi Sensei also set out the Niju Kun: twenty specific and subordinate principles of Karate, encompassing morality, technique, and proper mindset. 

Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do. He coined the Shotokan Karate Philosophy in a pacifistic way.
Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do. He coined the Shotokan Karate Philosophy in a pacifistic way.

Others credit Sakukawa Kanga Sensei, 1733-1815, with creating the Dojo Kun. I would venture that Sakukawa did instigate a Dojo Kun. That being said, however, I would also suggest that wherever the martial arts have been studied, seriously, a Kun (a set of philosophical guidelines) is likely to have been set in place. 

The Dojo Kun varies throughout the martial arts fraternities to suit cultural and philosophical differences. Even within Shotokan, now seeded throughout the world, the Dojo Kun has morphed. There remains however a similar, underlining message of humility and respect. 

Karate Do and the Meaning of the Dojo Kun

JKA Dojo Kun

The following is the JKA Shotokan Dojo Kun

  • 一、人格 完成に 努める こと hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto
  • 一、誠の道を守ること hitotsu, makoto no michi wo mamoru koto
  • 一、努力の精神を養うこと hitotsu, doryoku no seishin wo yashinau koto
  • 一、礼儀を重んずること hitotsu, reigi wo omonzuru koto
  • 一、血気の勇を戒むること hitotsu, kekki no yū wo imashimuru koto 

In the West, particularly the UK, the following is a widely accepted translation of the essence of that Kun: 

  • 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) 

Concise Dojo Kun

When I began my Shotokan journey in Scotland in the early 1970s, I recited a more simplified version: 

  • Seek Perfection of Character 
  • Be Sincere 
  • Put maximum effort into everything you do 
  • Respect Others 
  • Develop Self Control 

Since those early days I have heard several terser versions; the following is just one of them: 

  • Character 
  • Sincerity 
  • Effort 
  • Etiquette 
  • Self-Control 

Karate Do, Dojo Kun and the Path to one Self

The Dojo Kun appears in many styles and arts, varying according to the general precepts of the style. A book could be written on a veritable proliferation of Dojo Kun

Like the many paths ascending the mountain, striving to reach the summit; so too does any true study and practice of the martial disciplines strive to achieve enlightenment. Hence, practicing Karate Do and following the Dojo Kun means to be on a life long path to oneself.

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Senshin: The Fifth Element of the Karate Spirit

The picture shows the Fuji Yama, which stands for enlightement and wisdom. Therefore, the mountain manifests senshin like Shotokan karate und Budo do.

Senshin (洗心) means the purified spirit and enlightened mind. It is the fifth element of the karate and budo spirit every karateka should cultivate and strive for. In his monthly column Shotokan Essence Thomas D. McKinnon examines how Senshin is related to the other four budo spirit and how one can achieve it.

During the last several months, we have explored a number of concepts. Four of which are elements of the full Mantle. Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, and Fudoshin make up four fifths of the seamless, shining armor of the advanced karateka or budoka. 

Zanshin raises your total awareness, enabling you to see everything, not missing anything. Mushin releases you from anxiety. Acting and reacting without emotion allows your training, skills and abilities to function at maximum proficiency. Shoshin frees you from the frustrations that often accompany learning, giving you the sight to see what you may have missed. Fudoshin provides the confidence to stand your ground in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Senshin to Complete the Mantle 

The fifth element, Senshin, has no exact, literal translation. However, in line with the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of the Japanese art of Aikidô, Senshin takes on the Budo meaning of the ‘enlightened’ or ‘purified’ mind/heart or spirit. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the location of the mind, which is probably why the most common translation for Shin is mind or heart. So, concerning the Karateka/Budoka, Senshin might be said to be
‘the state of the enlightened mind’. Senshin completes the five spirits of Budo, or the full Mantle, of the advanced Karateka/Budoka: the Spiritual Warrior.

Senshin transcends and harmonizes the first four elements in a spirit of compassion to reconcile discord and hold all life sacred. Fully embracing Senshin is to become enlightened. 

You can learn as many physical arts as you want, and I’ve studied a few. But unless you take on the full Mantle you will only skate across the surface. The physicality of the arts will only be a sequence of moves. Consequently, in combat, whomsoever is most inspired on the day will be the victor. 

This Mantle I speak of doesn’t just find you when you train, study and learn the physicality of your art. You must actively seek it out. Prior to beginning my traditional Shotokan training, I had been a British Parachute Regiment soldier and so, quite naturally, Zanshin was the first constituent of the Mantle that I cognitively understood. 

KARATE & BUDO NEWSLETTER

Zanshin (残心): Lingering Mind 

‘Zanshin: being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings and totally prepared, for anything. Zanshin is a state of totally calm alertness; a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness before, during and after combat.’ 

Intellectually, I understood, quite early in my Karate-do, four of the five elements of the Mantle. However, my cognitive knowing of Mushin, Shoshin and Fudoshin took a little longer to realize. Following a particularly adverse situation, avoiding a potential disaster, I would suddenly realize that I had done so by exhibiting one of the Mantle’s features. 

For instance: while employed in high risk security, it was my habit to size up a situation and plan several, rational, contingencies so that I might not be taken by surprise in an unfolding situation. I was in actual fact limiting my options by overthinking the situation. A completely unexpected situation arose one day, which I came through smoothly, reacting in the most appropriate manner at several twists and turns. I then understood, cognitively, the concept of Mushin: trust and live in the moment. 

Mushin (無心): No Mind 

‘Mushin: not over-thinking things, being open and ready to receive whatever might come. Without the clouds of judgement, driven by emotion, the uncluttered mind deals with life from the moment point.’ 

The element that makes most sense, and is so obvious, took me the longest time to cognitively realize was Shoshin. Again, I tended to overthink and complicate things. All I really needed to do was clear away preconceptions: simplify. 

Shoshin (初心): Beginners’ Mind 

‘Shoshin: beginner’s mind is the quintessential mindset for learning. In the beginner’s mind there is openness, eagerness, a lack of preconceptions. With Shoshin there are many possibilities no matter the level of study.’ 

The fourth element to click into place, for me, was Fudoshin. Your skill levels need to be fairly advanced but, more importantly, your belief in yourself needs to be flawless. It is important to hone your skills to the point where ‘you believe’ they will emerge when and where you need them. You must erase any doubts. 

Fudoshin (不動心): Immovable Mind 

‘Fudoshin: a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It is the state of a spirit that is determined to win. Filled with courage, endurance and self-confidence through self-knowledge, Fudoshin provides you with the resolve to surmount any obstacle.’ 

Finally ‘the enlightened mind’. What does that even mean? I never tried to intellectualize Senshin. ‘The enlightened mind’ sounded a little too airy-fairy. However, once Fudoshin slipped into place, Senshin, the final element, settled upon me like a Mantle. Henceforth, I knew the comforting surety of the full Mantle

Senshin (先心): Purified spirit and Enlightened Attitude 

‘Senshin: the enlightened mind of the advanced karateka/budoka. Holding all life sacred, you strive to protect and be in harmony with all life.’ Seeing the best in humanity, you endeavor to foster compassion even for those who would do you harm. With Senshin, recognizing the universal connectedness of life, you understand how one simple act affects every aspect of life. You see the dilemma and the worth of life with your heart, mind and soul.’ 

Senshin is achievable. However, not only must the mind be enlightened but the spirit must be cleansed too. Only the advanced karateka/budoka – with the enlightened attitude and purified intention – will achieve ‘the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior.’ 

Senshin: Enveloped in the Mantle

The high-pitched screech of brakes echoes through the chilly winter’s night. Piling out of two cars, they come in an angry rush. 

Spaced a couple of meters apart, one hand out, palm facing them, one hand on a holstered Glock 19 pistol-grip, we stand our ground. Two against many, but they stop. 

‘Hands off the guns!’ yells one, nervously. Hands under coats, their weapons are hidden but evident. Undisciplined, noisy, cursing and issuing threats, they mill together like fish in a barrel. They are gangsters, bullies… 

We are professionals, and they know it. I pitch my voice to be heard over the din… ‘Get back in your vehicles and drive away!’ I don’t threaten, but the warning is implicit. 

They hesitate… and one of them says, “What! Are you nuts! We outnumber you better than four to one… Do you think you’re invincible or something?!” When my response is a small, enigmatic smile his expression is priceless. But then, still verbally abusing us, they back off. Continuing to yell abuse from the cars, they speed off, as a police siren pierces the night air 

Our clients are safe… for tonight anyway. 

I have no doubt that – recognizing we were highly trained professionals unaffected by bullying and bluster – they knew that, had they pushed the envelope, some of them would have died. We were not invincible; simply, uncluttered by emotion (Mushin). Calm, alert, aware (Zanshin). Focused completely, confidently, in the moment (Fudoshin). No… not invincible, but securely enveloped in the Mantle.

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What can Karate teach us? By Shinji Akita

What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta

What can Karate teach us? Follow me on my quest through Japan to answer this question. By Shinji Akita

The Shotokan Times asked me this interesting question a few month ago. I wanted to pursue it further during my recent trip to Japan. When I addressed different Karate Sensei, they all gave me a very similar answer. They all indicated how much the values we learn in the Dojo also characterize Japanese society. In Japanese language we have a term for these values. They are called: Reigi.

The Foundation: Reigi

The term has a major significance in the various Japanese arts, at school, work, within the family, in public etc. Reigi means etiquette and courtesy and should be reflected in one´s behavior and actions. It is not only the respect towards others but also towards the Dojo, the environment and nature.

Reigi also characterizes the relationship between Senpai and Kohai – senior, older graduate and junior, less experienced. This concept exists in the Dojo as well as in school or between colleagues.

What can Karate teach us? Watch Akita Sensei on his incredible journey through Japan.

Shin-Gi-Tai: The “Mind of a Beginner”

Matsuda Hisashi Shihan, under which I started practicing Shotokan in my hometown Gifu, also mentioned the term Shin-Gi-Tai. The term describes the connection between mind and heart on the hand, and technique and body on the other hand. It is not easy to translate “Shin” with one word as it has a deep meaning for Japanese people. The mind or heart (“Shin”/“Kokoro”) amongst others stands for the attitude of a person. According to Matsuda Shihan, students must wish to learn something and get better. This “mind of a beginner” is the precondition for “Gi” (technique) and “Tai” (body). Good techniques and the benefits for the body will come naturally based on that kind of attitude.

Greetings, responses, and lining up quickly, for instance, reflect shin. These things appear simple. However, they are not that easy and need to be taught properly.

  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Karate: A Path to Self-discovery

I had the chance to interview Richard Heselton Sensei during the Summer Gasshuku of the Takudai Karate Club this year. I also asked him about what karate can teach us. He said that “Karate is a path of self-discovery, teaching us many different things.” This could also be modesty and acceptance, making one´s expectations and physical abilities match.

After all, nobody is perfect. There is always something we can learn and improve. This is what makes Karate so interesting. It is something one can do for life.

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What is Fudoshin? And How to Achieve It?

Fudoshin (不動心) means indomitable, incorruptible. It is the achievement of a clear and determined mind, and having a centred spirit. Fudoshin translates as ‘immovable mind’ or ‘unshakable heart’. By Thomas D. McKinnon

The True Meaning of Fudoshin

It is composure under pressure. It refers to a state of having an unwavering will. A spirit, undeterred by obstacles in the chosen path. It calls for a state of commitment coupled with fearless determination. With Fudoshin, one can maintain a state of mind unmoved by distractions. A state of internal tranquillity in the midst of external conflict, if you will. Fudoshin is the manifestation of fortitude, and has its origins in the guardian deity, Fudo Myōō.

Fudo Myōō

Fudo Myōō is a guardian deity in Shingon (True Word) Buddhism (真言宗, Shingon-shū). Shingon Buddhism constitutes one of the major schools of Buddhism in Japan and one of the few surviving Vajrayana lineages in East Asia. It originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vadjrabohi and Amoghavajra. Fudo Myōō, a patron of martial arts, carries a sword in his right hand (symbolically, to cut through delusions and ignorance) and a rope in his left hand (again symbolically, to bind evil forces and violent or uncontrolled passions and or emotions).

Fudoshin serves as a shield of the heart. In Japan, there is a concept of Shikai: the four sicknesses of the mind that a budoka has to avoid at all costs:

  1. Kyo: surprise
  2. Ku: fear
  3. Gi: doubt
  4. Waku: confusion

Kyo

If you are surprised, time stops for you. You may actually stop moving, hold your breath even, while your mind catches-up with what happens around you. With Kyo, one’s concentration breaks. In that split-second of broken concentration, defeat can be upon you.

Ku

With fear comes a distorted sense of reality. The attacker may seem bigger, stronger and more fearsome than he really is. Hence, fear may have one mentally defeated before the conflict begins. There is no chance of victory when one’s mind is already defeated.

Gi

Doubting your expertise leads to fatal consequences in a martial situation. The way to safeguard against doubt goes through incessant training. As a result, doubt is the back-stabber of belief. One cannot respond to an assault properly with a lack of conviction stemming from a mind that doubts. Above all, indecision will cause your defeat.

Waku

Mental confusion stems from a lack of focus. The mind wonders and tries to consider too many things. Movements become unrefined, timing suffers, and reactions stifle. A lack of focus makes you surprised. Surprise may cause fear, and fear sows the seeds of doubt. As a consequence, confusion follows soon. And to be confused is to be overwhelmed.

The Necessity of Fudoshin

Fudoshin is the ‘immovable mind’. The mind that has met all challenges of life, and has attained a state of complete composure and fearlessness. This state of equanimity is essential to the Budoka or accomplished karateka.

That is to say, fudoshin represents a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It consist of a state of a spirit filled with courage and endurance. It means: The determination to win. Fudoshin relates to the feeling of invincibility, of a mind that cannot be disturbed by surprise, fear, doubt or confusion.

Samurai and Fudoshin

In Feudal Japan, fudoshin was manifest in the Samurai: in his unquestionable courage and determination, without fear in the face of danger, pain and even death. As the great Japanese swordsman, Tsukahara Bokuden said: “Mental calmness, not skill, is the sign of a mature samurai.”

From a Western point of view, the idea of violence coupled with a peaceful and calm mind poses a difficulty to comprehend. The concept of a Warrior (Samurai, Bushi) without anger or rage, a peaceful warrior, would seem to be an oxymoron. However, fudoshin constituted the state of mind essential to the Samurai. It is an imperturbable state of equanimity, and an essential philosophical dimension to most martial arts, but especially Shotokan Karate-Do.

Fudoshin: The Unshakeable Heart

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) wrote: “Mankind is divided into three classes: those who move, those who are movable, and those who are immovable.”

On a personal level, if I set my mind on something, I do not allow anything to shake my belief in myself and my ability to reach the goal I have set. ‘Nothing will stand in my way.’ This unshakable resolve is Fudoshin.

Depending on the Budoka or karateka’s end-game (what they hope to achieve, their goals, their purpose in life et cetera): of all the esoteric terms adopted by the martial arts fraternity, the acquisition of Fudoshin is probably the most difficult, and perhaps the most important concept to master. Therefore, it features definitely the most pivotal philosophical or mental dimension, at least to the Japanese martial arts. Hence, it contributes, immeasurably, to the effectiveness of the advanced practitioner.

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Shotokan Karate as Royal Education

Royal Education has ancient origins. However, it has modern applications; it can generate exceptional leaders. Shotokan karate can be a royal education. We describe in this article how to turn one’s Shotokan practice into a royal education and what benefits it will generate. By Nicholas

What is Royal Education?

Prior to the spread of public education in the 19th century, only the leadership class received education. This type of education focused on much more than academics. Sports, arts, and culture – what we would call “extracurricular” – belonged to the core curriculum of the education of leaders. For instance, Japanese samurai indulged in arts, literature, culture, and sciences. They followed the way of the sword but also cherished intellect.

Sports teaches courage. The arts teach creativity, taste and passion. Culture, on the other hand, generates an understanding of perspective and humility. Therefore, royal education considers all aspects of cultivation of human beings

How to Approach Royal Education?

When somebody applies the approach of royal education, it makes sense to consider all three aspects. One should integrate an athletic endeavor, one creative pursuit, and one cultural aspect in a training session. For the highest effect all of these three learning goals should be transparent for the trainees.

Moreover, even in or after karate classes it makes sense to discuss this three aspects with the karatekas. The results can lead to a deeper understanding of karate and ones own personality.

Why is Shotokan Karate a Royal Education?

So why is Shotokan karate a royal education? This becomes obvious when we consider its physical, aesthetic, and ethical dimensions. Firstly, Shotokan karate challenges the whole body. Through kumite it also teaches students courage, persistence, and competitiveness. Exceptional leadership requires such qualities.

Secondly, kata offers tremendous opportunities to develop a sense of creativity, taste, and passion. Kata movements must be interpreted and turned into bunkai. Moreover, style, grace, and beauty build the foundation of every performance of kata. Therefore, kata also schools the aesthetic eye. Its reduced and efficient nature, thus, leads to a passion for clear and elegant structures.

Thirdly, the dojo kun as well as the 20 precepts of karate stimulate the development of perspective and humility. In general the Do offers a full education in character and ethics. Like no other martial art, Shotokan karate consists of a well refined philosophical foundation. However, students have the opportunity to think the commandments of the Do through and derive at an own perspective and convictions. The physical confrontation during kumite also leads to an understanding of power and responsibility. These are crucial aspects of exceptional leadership.

The picture shows the emblem of Kurian Consulting how hlp with your royal education.
Nicholas Kurian from The Mentor Scholar can help to develop your Royal Eduction.

Benefits of Shotokan Karate as Royal Education

Once Shotokan karate has been understood as a royal education it becomes obvious that it generates benefits beyond the art and enriches your life. We have identified at least three fields in which it beneficial.

1.    Learning

We divorce our concept of learning from our understanding of emotions.  In reality, you must master your emotions to master learning. And, the two most important emotions to master if you want to learn anything are fear and boredom. In Shotokan karate you learn to deal with both.

Executing kihon can become cumbersome and tedious. Repetitions after repetitions challenge endurance and motivation. Strong opponents and difficult kumite combinations also present challenges. To master them means to master ones own demons and inner resistance. Both become crucial to learn other things in life. Because they may be dreadful and boring. Therefore, you need resilience. As a result, Shotokan karate as royal education poses an excellent instrument to learn to learn. And leaders always must learn.

2.    Identity 

What makes these activities so different than academic subjects is that they transform your identity.  When you learn to surf, you become a surfer.  When you learn karate, you call yourself a karateka. Moreover, you development a identity of a worrier. Much of the research shows that having multiple identities offers a powerful source of both creativity, from combining ideas, and resilience, from having strong identities to fall back on. 

What are your identities?  What is particularly powerful about identities tied to the royal education is that it allows people of different backgrounds – different identities – a powerful way to connect. It also gives one the opportunity to perceive and judge a thing or situation from a different angle. Good leaderships is capable to change perspectives and viewpoints.

3.    Entrepreneurship

One of the most important leadership and entrepreneurship skills is the ability to throw a party. By throwing a party one will learn more about group dynamics and marketing by doing this than in any business class one could possibly take. The same goes for dojos, associations, karate classes, tournaments, seminars, workshops etc. Shotokan karate offers myriad opportunities to experience group dynamics and to organize events and structures. To do so one needs courage, discipline, taste, passion, creativity, empathy, and a stable moral and ethical code. The royal education of Shotokan karate, therefore, can create excellent leadership personalities.

Shotokan Karate as Royal Education?!

Shotokan karate have a tendency to underestimate the effect of their art on personal skills. But Shotokan poses an exceptional means to acquire leadership skills and to become a leader. As a result, we highly encourage every karate instructor to understand his classes as a royal education. Because Shotokan stimulates human beings in a comprehensive way. It offers them vital learning experience to become more courageous, creative, passionate, humble, and precise in their judgements. Therefore, the royal education of Shotokan can produce excellent leaders and mentors.


Do you want to know more about royal education? Follow Nicholas on his website The Mentor Scholar.

Opener picture source: Von Felice Beato – From the English Wikipedia. Origin source unknown, free, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53809

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Shoshin?! The State of Mind for Studying Anything

Shoshin belongs to the basic concepts of budo. But most students of Shotokan karate do do not know what it is and how to achieve it. By Thomas D. McKinnon

‘Shoshin’, (初心), translates to ‘Beginner’s mind’.  To quote the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki:

‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.  A true beginner’s mind is open and willing to consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time.’

Shoshin: The Quintessential Mindset for Learning

Shoshin, simply the best way to approach any learning experience: an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconception. Even when studying at an advanced level just do it as a beginner would.  Listen without commenting, regardless of how much you think you know of the subject.  Observe as if you know nothing, learn as a child learns, and get excited about a new discovery.  Shoshin, like all of the concepts you discover on your journey of Karate-do, will help you to lead a more rewarding life.  Shoshin is the quintessential mindset for learning.  

One of the things that we (karateka) do, prior to and on completion of training, is the ritual mokusoMokuso means to “silent thinking”. However, in the dojo it has further connotations: to meditate or contemplate quietly, thus separating your karate training from the outside world.  I give this guiding instruction to beginners for mokuso:

‘Empty your mind… Concentrate on your breathing, think of nothing but slowly filling and emptying your lungs (using diaphragmatic breathing) whilst emptying your mind.’

The picture shows mokuso, which is a vital step towards Shoshin.
Mokuso is a vital step towards Shoshin

Shoshin: Make Room for Learning

By emptying your mind you are making room for learning, or absorbing, like a child or a complete beginner.  Shoshin is a concept far less literal than it is metaphorical, not to be confused with simply forgetting everything.  As we develop knowledge and expertise the tendency is to narrow our focus, filtering out the things we think we already know, concentrating on details we consider we don’t know.  The danger here is that we may block out information that disagrees with what, we consider, we already know. Unconsciously we sifting out any conflicting ideas in favor of information which confirms our previous experience or philosophical standpoint. 

Entering the dojo for the very first time students, from varying demographics – age, sex, socio-economic, body composition, up-bringing, life skills and experience – begin with shoshin… more or less. 

Female beginners learn quicker than their male counterparts

I know that, in these enlightened times, it is considered politically incorrect to mention the difference between the sexes in regard to anything.  However, for the purpose of clarifying the concept of shoshin, please excuse this political faux pas.  Firstly, I will clarify the statement: ‘Every student begins with shoshin… more or less.’  I will generalize here when I say, male beginner karateka and female beginner karateka start at slightly varying states of shoshin because of their differing life-experiences. 

In my experience, the male beginner generally already has some set, physical responses when hearing the words punch and kick. Fighting is a concept to which they are more likely to have had a modicum of experience.  I’m not saying that this is a good thing or a bad thing, just that it amounts to a difference in the natural state of shoshin of the male and female karateka as they begin training.

Having taught and observed the martial arts for the best part of half a century, I feel qualified in making that last sweeping statement. In addition to that, the following broad avowal: Female beginner karateka, generally, learn quicker to execute techniques more accurately than their male counterparts.  I believe this occurrence to be due to the degree of shoshin they begin with.  The male’s prior familiarity usually means that they have some incorrect habits to first unlearn.  

The picture shows shoshin, which can be trained. Meditation helps to get rid of prejudices and preconceptions.
Shoshin can be trained. Meditation helps to get rid of prejudices and preconceptions.

Shohin Is a Treasured State of Mind

However, swings and roundabouts…  Arguably, one of the single most important concepts to grasp in Shotokan Karate is kime!  The following paragraph is one of the descriptive explanations I use when introducing kime!

‘I believe that kime, like ki, is akin to tapping into the universal energy in little bite sized pieces.  If you have never accessed kime… I have found that, at the point where it is appropriate to punctuate your technique with kime, you should explosively inflict your intent.  And I describe that feeling as, almost, like getting angry for a nanosecond at that point of intended impact.’

In my experience, the male beginner karateka gets his head around that concept quicker. That, I believe, may have something to do with hormones.  However, all that being said, by the time that Shodan is achieved we largely have a level playing field. As adults we may have a tendency to allow our prior knowledge to block us from seeing things anew.  Shoshin, like all those esoteric concepts we utilize in Karate-do, is a state of being that is difficult to articulate to anyone who has not taken this path of Karate-do.  Once understood, however, shoshin is a treasured state of mind for studying anything.