Karate Precepts and "Dojo Kun" (Part 3)
Japanese Karate

Dating back nearly 200 years to the beginnings of Okinawan karate as we know it today, great masters have often left behind letters of advice to their successors, lists of precepts that sum up their philosophical and/or technical approaches to the martial arts, or "Dojo Kun," usually short sets of rules for the dojo or brief summations of their advice and beliefs. In some schools, these Dojo Kun are repeated before or after practice as a promise or creed of the style or school. Below are a number of such precepts and Dojo Kun by a variety of famous masters. In many cases, these have been translated multiple times, often inconsistently. I have attempted to give a version that makes the most sense, sometimes taking part of one translation and melding it with parts of others. For historical interest, I am also including the original calligraphy of the master when it is available. Part 3, below, covers major Japanese styles of Karate derived from Okinawa. Parts One and Two included Okinawan Shuri-te/Shorin-ryu and Naha-te/Goju-ryu schools and styles.


Twenty Precepts of Funakoshi Gichin
(1868-1957, Founder of Shotokan and pioneer of karate in Japan)

  1. Karate-do begins with courtesy and ends with courtesy.
  2. There is no first strike in karate.
  3. Karate is an aid to justice.
  4. First know yourself before attempting to know others.
  5. Spirit first, technique second.
  6. Always be ready to release your mind.
  7. Accidents arise from negligence.
  8. Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.
  9. It will take your entire life to learn karate, there is no limit.
  10. Put your everyday living into karate and you will find "myo" (subtle secrets).
  11. Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.
  12. Do not think that you have to win, think rather that you do not have to lose.
  13. Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.
  14. The out come of the battle depends on how you handle weakness and strength.
  15. Think of your opponents hands and feet as swords.
  16. When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you.
  17. Beginners must master low stance and posture, natural body positions are for the advanced.
  18. Practicing a kata exactly is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another.
  19. Do not forget to correctly apply: strength and weakness of power, stretching and contraction of the body, and slowness and speed of techniques.
  20. Always think and devise ways to live the precepts of karate-do every day.1

Funakoshi Sensei's Twenty Precepts in the calligraphy of one of his most senior students, Gima Shinken.

Funakoshi Gichin's Dojo Kun
Seek perfection of character.

Be faithful .


Respect others.

Refrain from violent behavior.

Funakoshi's Dojo Kun in the calligraphy of long-time Japan Karate Association

Chief Instructor Nakayama Masatoshi (1913-1987)


The Shito-ryu of Mabuni Kenwa (1889-1952) uses the Dojo kun created by Funakoshi Gichin

* Seek Perfection of Character.
* Be Faithful.
* Endeavor.
* Respect Others.
* Refrain from Violent Behavior.2

Mabuni Kenwa also created the "Shito-ryu's Five-way spirit"

One- Determination. Never forget the spirit of first beginning.
One- Morality. Never neglect courtesy and etiquette.
One- Development. Never neglect effort.
One- Common sense. Never lose common sense.
One- Peace. Never disturb harmony.

Another common set of precepts used in Shito-ryu schools also apparently was handed down by Mabuni Sensei

Mabuni Kenwa (center) and his sons, Kenei (left, born 1918) and Kenzo (1927-2005)

First point -- Be courteous in your manners.
First point - Have a strong sense of justice.
First point - Be responsible for your words and actions.
First point -- Respect one another.
First point -- Karate-do is the way of the spirit to give you courage and ambition to reach your goals as part of your life3

Mabuni Kenwa Sensei also left behind the following "Five Principles"

Master Mabuni developed his system around five basic principles of defense which he named
"Uke no Gogensoku"

Tenshin: Avoiding your opponent's attack through body movement.
Ryusui: The ability to flow with your opponent's movement in a way that is controlling and which permits the defender to gain an advantage.
Kushin: Control of an attack that utilizes body movement originating in the knees and keeping the back straight so as to maintain balance and strength.
Rakka: To block in such a decisive manner that one's opponent is physically and psychologically defeated with one blow.
Hangeki: To counter an opponent with a decisive blow. Seen as the last resort on the continuum of use of force to defend one's self.4

Dojo Kun of Demura Fumio's Itosukai Shito-Ryu

Be courteous.

Keep the heart pure and the fist sacred.

Refrain from inappropriate speech and conduct.

Trust one another and create harmony.

Maintain the spirit along the road to perfection. 5

Demura Fumio (left), Beisho Shihan Jim True (center), and Sensei Brian Ricci (right)

Dojo Kun of the Japanese Itosukai

* Be courteous.
* Keep the heart pure and the fist sacred.
* Refrain from inappropriate speech and conduct.
* Trust one another and create harmony.
* Maintain the spirit along the road to perfection.


                                                                                    (1915-1992)                                                       (born 1942)


The Wado-ryu of Ohtsuka Hironori (1892-1982) uses the Dojo kun created by Funakoshi Gichin

  1. Strive for perfection of character.
  2. Defend the paths of truth.
  3. Foster the spirit of effort.
  4. Honor the principles of etiquette.
  5. Guard against abuse of skill.

"Think not of the Martial Arts as combat alone; it is also the study of peace and the seeking the way of harmony."
By Grand Master, Hironori Ohtsuka6

Another version of Ohtsuka Sensei's Precepts has also been handed down

Respect and courtesy for everything.
Be serious in everything you do.
Work hard mentally and physically-repeat techniques again and again.
Strive to become a better person.
Find peace and harmony within your life.7

Yet a third version of Ohtsuka's Dojo kun is in circulation

An elderly Master Ohtsuka practicing with his son

The purpose of the Wado system of karate, the International Wado Ryu Karatedo Renmei, The International Japan Karatedo Federation, and at any Dojo affiliated with these bodies, is to teach the Japanese Martial Arts, their spiritual attitudes, traditions and culture.

Revere that which is Holy. Honor your Father and Mother. Respect your elders and other person's property and rights.

Be thankful for all things; your life, friendships and love. Gratefulness will bring happiness.

Discipline your mind and body so that you have absolute control over both. Only a disciplined person can attain his or her goals in life.

A person's character will be judged by their sincerity and integrity. Only one who is sincere should be worthy of your friendship and trust.

Unity of one's mind, body and spirit in all endeavors are essential to one's success. Concentrate on one thing at a given time.8


Gogen Yamaguchi (1909-1989)

The five precepts of Japan Karate-do Goju-Kai Dojo Kun

We are proud to study the way of Goju.

We are courteous in manners.

We strive to develop courage and fighting spirit (humble yet strong).

We cultivate fellowship and understanding (the spirit of Cooperation).

We respect the ideals of loyalty and honor, traditional from olden times in Japan. 9

Five Secrets of Japanese Goju Ryu
By Gogen Yamaguchi

Move quickly.

Sound, calm mind.

Be light in body.

Have a clever mind.

Master the basics.


Dojo Kun
by Sosai Mas Oyama (1923-1994) and Eiji Yoshikawa (1892-1962)

  1. We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm unshaking spirit.
  2. We will pursue the true meaning of the Martial Way, so that in time our senses may be alert.
  3. With true vigor, we will seek to cultivate a spirit of self-denial.
  4. We will observe the rules of courtesy, respect our superiors and refrain from violence.
  5. We will follow our religious principles and never forget the true virtue of humility.
  6. We will look upwards to wisdom and strength, not seeking other desires.
  7. All our lives, through the discipline of karate, we will seek to fulfill the true meaning of the Kyokushin Way.


Oyama's Precepts
  1. The Martial Way begins and ends with courtesy. Therefore, be properly and genuinely courteous at all times.

  2. Following the Martial Way is like scaling a cliff - continue upwards without rest. It demands absolute and unfaltering devotion to the task at hand.

  3. Strive to seize the initiative in all things, all the time guarding against actions stemming from selfish animosity or thoughtlessness.

  4. Even for the Martial Artist, the place of money cannot be ignored. Yet one should be careful never to become attached to it.

  5. The Martial Way is centered in posture. Strive to maintain correct posture at all times.

  6. The Martial Way begins with one thousand days and is mastered after ten thousand days of training.

  7. In the Martial Arts, introspection begets wisdom. Always see contemplation on your actions as an opportunity to improve.

  8. The nature and purpose of the Martial Way is universal. All selfish desires should be roasted in the tempering fires of hard training.

  9. The Martial Arts begin with a point and end in a circle. Straight lines stems from this principle.

  10. The true essence of the Martial Way can only be realized through experience. Knowing this, learn never to fear its demands.

  11. Always remember: In the Martial Arts the rewards of a confident and grateful heart are truly abundant.11

1 There are numerous translations of Funakoshi's "Twenty Precepts." This is taken from (with slight editing) http://www.shotokankarate.ca/dojo%20kun.htm .
2 http://www.shitokaiusa.com/dojokun.htm
3 http://www.kansasgenbukai.net/files/dojokun.pdf.
4 http://www.genbu-kai.com/Shitoryu.html.
5 http://www.stamfordisshinryu.com/id80.htm.
6 http://www.usawadoryu.com/EventsFiles/WadoRyuHandbook.pdf
7 http://www.worcesterwadoryu.org.uk/index_files/page0008.htm
8 http://www.useasternwado.com/DojoKun.htm
9 http://www.stamfordisshinryu.com/id80.htm
10 http://www.stamfordisshinryu.com/id80.htm
11 http://www.dupreekyokushin.com/pages/dojokun.html and http://www.simmey-do.com/kyokushin1.htm.