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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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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