The Dojo Kun
In the mid-1700's Sensei Tode Sakugawa was commanded to teach his martial skills to the royals and nobles of Japan. Apprehensive about teaching such skills to people who were notoriously amoral, Sensei Sakugawa created the dojo kun, a set of precepts of right behaviour, which he made an integral part of the training of all his students. His students passed them on in turn, until, over the years, the precepts have become almost universally accepted as part of all Japanese martial arts training, and you will see them posted and hear them recited in almost every dojo.
Our dojo kun passed down from Sakugawa through Matsumura, Itosu, Nakamura, and thence to my Sensei. Today a hand-calligraphied copy of the dojo kun hangs in the shinza of our dojo. It is recent and treasured gift from Sensei Toma, master of both karate and calligraphy.
During warmup exercises students are often asked to recite the dojo kun. The order of the precepts doesn't matter, as they are equal in importance.
- Endeavor to improve your character.
- Defend the way of honesty and loyalty.
- Strengthen your spirit through continual practice.
- Respect others and be courteous.
- Seek harmony and practice humility.
Truly, these are words to live by. But, just to make sure all bases are covered in our dojo, two other precepts accompany our dojo kun:
You will find these characters on either side of our shinza, flanking our dojo kun. "Shinjitsu" means "truth," and "koki jissen" means "free yourself from desire."
I believe in the precepts set forth in the dojo kun, and I believe in shinjitsu and kokki jissen. I have believed in these things all of my adult life. When I was growing up I read a lot. One day when I was fourteen years old or so, I read something that impressed me so strongly that it became part of my life, my own "dojo kun." You may know it. It's a poem:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And which is more you'll be a Man, my son!
I think the seeds of character were planted in me early, though. My mom and dad were Scout leaders when I was young, and I was a Scout for a while, as was my brother, and all my cousins, too. I was really too young to understand what it was all about then, but I remember it made me proud to recite the Scout Oath, and I knew there was something really important in the words because they went to my heart even then. The Scouts say it like this:
On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
I know there are good people everywhere, all around us, trying their best to live good and honorable lives. And surely each has a personal dojo kun engraved on his heart. Such people are a joy to find, and not so rare as you might think if you take the time to look closely. But I have to say I don't think I've ever found so many of them in one place as I have in our dojo...
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
It gives me to hope that one day the good folks will out number the idiots.