An Overview of the Dojo Kun
by Maxime Eluau

Dojo Kun

What does the dojo kun symbolize inside a traditional dojo?

The word "dojo kun" is made of three kanji: do () jo () kun (). "Dojo" translated literally means "place of the way". This word was borrowed from the Buddhist tradition by the Japanese martial artists around 1868. Originally used to describe a designated area or room in a temple complex where monks would go to receive instruction, the word dojo nowadays means the place where the martial artist practice his art. The last kanji "Kun" means an advice or a warning.

Put together, "dojo kun" is a Japanese martial arts term which literally means training hall rules/advise. They are a kind of etiquette, of behavior, a form of reflection that each martial artist has to study deeply and follow during the training sessions inside the dojo but also incorporate it in his daily life outside the dojo. These reflections, guidelines are normally written by a master of martial arts, a founder of a martial arts style or by someone who has a long and sincere experience in martial arts discipline and possess his own dojo. The dojo kun are normally recited at the end of training by the sempai of the dojo during the closing rei of the karate class, first in Japanese and then in the official dojo's language. In the Shinsokai, the dojo kun is an important part of our training as important as katas or the other disciplines we practice inside the dojo. These rules/advice are generally posted at the dojo's entrance or on the shomen wall possibly in the Tokunoma, in order to remind everyone inside the dojo about its importance and to show beginners as soon as possible about the etiquette they will have to adopt during practice. The dojo kun are not only precepts intended for karate practitioners. Some other Japanese martial arts have their own dojo kun too, like for instance Judo or Aikido. But nowadays, with the emancipation of karate all around the world, the dojo kun is something almost unknown to most karateka, in Occident and even in Japan. Unfortunately, they are there just to enhance and are not considered in most dojos. Sensei Clarke mentioned in his book "Shin Gi Tai: Karate training for body, mind and spirit": "In today's world of the karate conglomerate, the dojo kun is sometimes used to enhance conformity within the group. Originally it was a set of precepts the sensei wanted their students to ponder, but the rise of the multinational karate organization has seen the dojo kun take on more of a mission statement rather than personal advise from a teacher to his students."

As an old student of Sensei Miyazato (July 1922-December 1999), Sensei Barrett has displayed in his dojo the dojo kun from his teacher, the founder of the Jundokan. This dojo kun was created when the late Sensei Eiichi Miyazato decided to open his own dojo in Asato, Naha city, in June 1956, and was taken from the teachings of his sensei, Chojun Miyagi.

When kun are recited by the students in the dojo it has to be done with spirit and determination. Each is preceded by "Hitotsu!" meaning "one" or "first". They all start with "first" because each one has the same level of importance. In other words, it's impossible to rank them. As a student of Shinsokai, I will talk today about the dojo kun we use inside the dojo. The study of karate is something personal. It is the same regarding the subject of this article. All reflections and comments shared below represent my personal interpretation for each kun, views which are not universal to all. So, when reading them, you might agree or not with the explanations. It doesn't matter. The most important thing is that these precepts inspire you and help you to progress in your own karate understanding.

Miyazato Eiichi
Sensei Eiichi Miyazato next to Chojun Miyagi's statue

HITOTSU, KENKYO NI SHITE REIGI O OMON ZEYO
FIRST, BE HUMBLE AND POLITE

Maybe the easiest precept to understand. This precept is of course less applied to the Goju ryu karateka and more to appreciating our exchanges with people in our daily life. It's a piece of advice that can be applied everyday by everybody, karateka or not.

When we read this kun and start thinking about it, we have to bear in mind that in the past, in Okinawa, a karate master only agreed to accept a student if he could see him as a person endowed by good character, a well educated man.

Karate training is generally conducted as a group activity and you will have many opportunities to work with your training partners and maybe even with your sensei. So by keeping humble and polite you will show your respect to them and displaying good character which will increase the efficiency of your training. At the same time, this state of mind will help with your karate improvement.

Jundokan Dojo
Jundokan's entrance

HITOTSU, TAIRYOKU NI OUJITE TEKIDO NI SHUGYO O SEYO
FIRST, TRAIN CONSIDERING YOUR PHYSICAL STRENGTH

Karate training is an activity which requires physical strength and conditioning as well as agility. You might have some injuries through the years of practice. Karate study is a martial art discipline which helps us to reveal our true nature but also to maintain a healthy body. So, this kun reminds us to always listen to our body in order to not damage it. While you work to develop your karate skills, keep your own condition in mind and do your best to avoid injury or overexertion. In case of injury, if you can train, work around it by doing other kind of exercises so that you don't aggravate it and it might help you to recover faster too.

HITOTSU, SHINKEN NI KUFU KENKYO SEYO
FIRST, PRACTICE EARNESTLY AND WITH CREATIVITY

Your training will only be beneficial if you strive for excellence at all times by practicing earnestly. So when you train, always try to focus your mind upon what you are doing in order to optimize your training to the maximum. Push yourself and don't give up in front of the difficulties you will encounter along the path. At the same time, don't be afraid to explore your karate by yourself. Your sensei will guide you during your study by teaching you plenty of things but nothing prevents you from trying, for instance, a new bunkai (kata application) which may better suit your physical characteristics, to use the hojo undo tools differently or making your own training program day after day. By adopting this attitude you will take the ownership of your training and it will offer you the possibility of having a better feeling for what you are doing too.

Jundokan Dojo
The Jundokan Dojo in Naha

HITOTSU, HEISEI CHINCHAKU NI SHITE BINSHO JIZAI NARE
FIRST, BE CALM IN MIND AND SWIFT IN ACTION

Trying to make a decision or to solve a problem under stress or in a state of nervousness is not the most appropriated manner/spirit to do things correctly. It's the same in the case of self defense. If you are not calm enough to evaluate the situation in order to act in the best manner, you might put yourself in danger. But if you are calm, confident and swift in your actions in order to avoid the conflict or, in the case of that not being possible, to finish it up as fast as you can by using the appropriate technique(s) in light of the place and context. This is just an example of the millions of different possibility where it's preferable to be calm in mind and swift in action: At work, when you are driving, in your personal life, etc.

In the case of karate, it will be difficult for you to progress or to train properly if you are stressed or nervous. Besides that, it could be dangerous for you and your training partners too during the two persons drill exercises. The ability to act decisively and with confidence comes from calmness and swiftness gained from rigorous and disciplined training. So, if you are calm in mind you will be able to deal with any situation.

Jundokan Dojo
Some hojo undo tools from the Jundokan

HITOTSU, SESSEI O OMON ZEYO
FIRST, TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH

When you start practicing karate, having a good healthy way of life is one of the most important things. Karate training is a life time pursuit of excellence. So as my sempai, Garry Lever, said in one of his books: "What do you expect of your training if you smoke, drink a lot alcohol and eat junk food?" You have to respect your body if you want to go far in karate and also in life! Your body and mind have the potential to continue to strengthen throughout most of your life so don't do stupid things. In a video I have seen on YouTube, Morio Higaonna said in one of his numerous interviews that the secret of longevity and the best way to prepare one's body for karate training is to eat well and to sleep well. So, don't let poor health be a barrier to your potential in karate and life.

HITOTSU, SHISO NA SEIKATSU O SEYO
FIRST, LIVE A PLAIN LIFE

Miyazato Sensei taught us that a plain and simple life allows us to focus on what is truly important by removing the distractions caused by overindulgence. When I read this sentence, what comes to mind is this: be in harmony with yourself. Listen to yourself and live your dreams in order to not have any regrets in the future. Live your life as you wish according to your priorities.

Karatedo helps us to balance our body and mind but it also helps us to find answers and helps us make decision to better live our life too.

Jundokan Dojo Kun
Jundokan's dojo kun

HITOTSU, MANSHIN SENU KOTO
FIRST, DO NOT BE TOO PROUD OF YOURSELF

Stay modest in order to not become arrogant and keep your ego under control, but at the same time, recognize and add value to the hard work you have done. Pride can be a dangerous barrier to successful training and for your ego but if you have been honest, if you know you have worked hard to deserve this reward, don't be afraid to be proud of yourself. As the proverb says: "You get out what you put in!" Rewards (which are not specifically belts or rank) also help motivate us to continue our journey and to keep going forward. If you know inside you that you deserve a grade, accept it with honor but at the same time, remain humble and modest. Be aware of this progression but at the same time keeping the beginner's mentality. Like everything, in the end, it's a question of balance.

HITOTSU, SHINAMAZU KUSEZU SHUGYO O EIZOKU SEYO
FIRST, CONTINUE YOUR TRAINING WITH PATIENCE

Understand that karate training is a lifetime pursuit. It's not a race. It's not a competition. In karate, there is no rush. There is no shortcut either. Train earnestly and with patience! Don't be discouraged by short term performances. Keep in mind that the most important thing in karate is the way you do things and that everything comes with time! It's not because you train harder to get more titles in karatedo that your karate will be better than before or that you will understand it better either. To really grasp the essence of the art you will have to pass through some phases in order to grow up mentally and physically. Keep in mind that the progression is something personal. It depends on the time and the energy you put into it!

Maxime Eluau

“No matter how you may excel in the art of Karate, and in your scholastic endeavors,
nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life.”