September 14, 2011

Putting the Dojo Kun into the Dojo

At the end of training, we recite the Dojo Kun.  This serves as a great reminder that we should carry these principles out into the world in our daily lives.  But we must also incorporate these principles into how we train, so it is important to reflect upon what we’re saying so that we can bring these principles into the dojo. 

We are all familiar with the shorter English translation of the Dojo Kun: seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor, respect others, and refrain from violent behavior.  But the longer translation can help to provide some additional insight and help us interpret what these precepts mean for our training: strive for the perfection of character, defend the paths of truth, foster the spirit of effort, honor the principles of etiquette, and guard against impetuous courage.  While there is certainly overlap between precepts, each one has a different lesson in relation to our training. 

Strive for the perfection of character:  Karate training is not easy and takes a lifetime, so what is perfection in training? To really understand this principle, we must look beyond technical skill. It is important to understand why we train, and why we perform certain movements and combinations. To be able to perform a technique or a drill in training is easy, but to really understand it takes much longer and much more effort.  It takes an attitude of always wanting to be better to force us to understand why it works, why we do what we do, and to focus on making those little changes that can make a big difference. Similarly, we must aim to understand the reason behind the etiquette we follow, the protocols that exist in karate.  It takes a great deal of humility and effort to admit that we’re not perfect and yet to always strive for perfection. Ultimately, we must aim to constantly better ourselves through our understanding.  Each day that we train, we should learn something new, discover something new about ourselves and our training. We want to always try to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today.

Defend the paths of truth: Truthfulness and honesty help us to become better people, and honesty in our training is the only way to become better karateka. We must be honest with our fellow karateka, as well as Sensei, but more importantly, we must be honest with ourselves. Every time we step onto the dojo floor, we make a commitment to do our best. Do you keep that commitment? Or do you look for any opportunity to be lax? Even if Sensei's eyes are not on you, you know the truth. Similarly, we must accurately assess our own strengths and weaknesses in training. If we make excuses or try to hide our shortcomings or act like we're better than our ability, we only fool ourselves. Obscuring the truth only makes it harder to see what can be improved upon.

Foster the spirit of effort: As karateka, to get the most out of our training, we must make karate training a priority and do everything we can to keep that commitment.  We know that when we miss a class or don’t give our best effort, it doesn’t just affect our own training, but also affects our training partners.  So we make every effort to make it to training and once we're there, we're always putting in our maximum effort. We should not only push ourselves, but also our partners so that they try their hardest.  Training time is our time and is limited, so we should always make the most of it.

Honor the principles of etiquette: We must always show respect for our Sensei, our Senpai, and our training partners.  But respect is not just observing specific rituals.  Etiquette is revealed by our words, actions, attitude, and overall demeanor.  Our understanding of etiquette is shown in many things, including how we approach class, how much effort we put into training, how we treat our fellow karateka, and how we bow.  We must bow properly and have the proper feeling within ourselves each time we bow.  We must listen to our instructors and to our seniors.  If we are always giving our best and pushing others to be their best, we are respecting their desire to train. By setting a good example for our juniors and encouraging them to improve, we show them respect. We may be friends with fellow karateka, but life outside the dojo is different from life inside the dojo, and within the dojo we need to understand, follow, and respect the hierarchy that is integral to karate training.       

Guard against impetuous courage: Training is about self-improvement, and helping others improve. It is our goal to train with intensity and to push our fellow karateka to their limits, but never with intentions to harm them.  This principle is strongly related to respect, where we need to push our partners to improve while having a humble and respectful attitude and treating our partners with respect.  We need to think about our words and actions instead of just reacting, and must always be in control of ourselves, in both body and mind. 

The Dojo Kun is meant to aid in focusing our training, to give us something to aim for beyond physical improvement and exercise. Reciting the Dojo Kun at the end of class keeps it at the forefront of the mind, but if we do not think about what it means, or strive to follow the path it lays out, then it is little more than a set of words. By always trying our best, with complete honesty, respect, and control, we can reach a step closer to perfection, and the ideals of karate-do.

Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Nidan and Arpan Ghosh, Shodan