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Shotokan Karate

A BRIEF HISTORY

What is Shotokan Karate? In Japanese ‘karate’ means ‘empty hand’ in reference to the empty-handed nature of karate, but also that the student’s heart empty is of negative emotions. ‘Shotokan’ means ‘house of Shoto’ in Japanese. ‘Shoto’ was the pen-name of the founder of modern karate, Gichin Funikoshi, who introduced the art to Japan in the 1930’s.

Empty-handed martial art was developed in China, where the Japanese called it ‘chinte’ (Chinese hand). Chinte was introduced to the small island of Okinawa in the 17th century by Chinese soldiers, merchants, and diplomats.

The Okinawans made this empty-handed martial art their own. Each Okinawan district had its own style of karate, and its own masters. Traditionally each master had only a very few students whom he would train in his style of karate in secret.

The Japanese were impressed with the superior physique of the karateka (karate practioners) who were very strong and fast from years of hard training with their teachers. The Japanese asked the Okinawan karateka to train the Japanese soldiers in Karate. The karateka were asked in 1905 to develop karate training suitable for children to be taught throughout Okinawa.

Much of this public school training system is used in karate classes today in the United States and throughout the world. Karate was introduced to American soldiers after World War II, and to the United States.

THE DOJO KUN (THE ETHICS OF TRAINING)

Traditionally the Dojo Kun is recited by all the students at the end of a class. The Dojo Kun consists of five statements developed by the founder of modern karate:

  • Seek perfection of character (grow up to be a good person)
  • Be faithful (be faithful to your parents and yourself)
  • Endeavor (devote yourself to working hard)
  • Respect others (karate begins and ends with respect)
  • Refrain from violent behavior (karate is about harmony, not fighting)

The recitation is especially useful for children who have the opportunity to internalize these virtues at an early age.

Alex Ndem kicking in Olympic Karate and Sports Center Houston dojo

THE DOJO KUN

Spoken with pride

A Dojo Kun is a verbal affirmation that is recited by all of the students, usually at the end of each training session.

The purpose of the Dojo Kun is to remind all of the students in the dojo, regardless of their rank, that the physical, mental, and spiritual growth that they enjoy as a by product of their karate training, must also extend beyond the dojo's walls.

By that I mean, in order to derive the true benefits of Shotokan karate-do, each student must take the underlying principals of this art form and make them a regular part of their daily life.

The following Dojo Kun is taken from the 20 Precepts of Master Gichin Funakoshi, it should be recited out loud one line at a time, first by the dojo's sensei or senior sempai, and then repeated immediately afterwards, in unison, by all of the students in attendance prior to the final bows at the end of each class.

SEEK PERFECTION OF CHARACTER

BE FAITHFUL

ENDEAVOUR

RESPECT OTHERS

REFRAIN FROM VIOLENT BEHAVIOUR

And when you leave your dojo, always be sure and take the meaning of those words out into the world with you. Because it is in the every day world that is outside of those four walls that you train behind each day, that the true meaning of the dojo kun is truly meant to be practiced.

The following explanations set forth the meaning of the Dojo Kun.

1. Seek Perfection of Character

Character
This means that the art of karate is more than just physical. All beginners, especially the young, should be taught the importance of character building through discipline and rigorous training. For the beginner, the character building process begins with perfecting techniques through repetition. The spirit to fight will be achieved as one gains more confidence through development of stronger techniques. Train to bring out the spirit, not only to fight but to overcome personal problems especially in times of sickness, domestic crisis or business problems. It is a long path to develop these spiritual values but once the concept is understood and experienced it will provide a lifetime benefit of inner strength and peace.

2. Be Faithful

Loyalty
To be faithful is a strong samurai tradition and an extension of the Confucius influence on the family and martial arts. The faith to be shown is in your sensei and dojo. The student must always be faithful to his sensei and follow in much the same way as a medieval samurai was bound to follow his feudal lord to the death without hesitation. While this may seem unusual in the present day, it is unreasonable to expect a sensei to teach all he knows to a student who is likely to leave for the slightest reason. The student must prove his loyalty over the years. The faith and loyalty extended to the sensei will be rewarded, in that a greater amount of knowledge and wisdom will be passed on to the student and this bond between sensei and student is extremely valuable and is the basis of the learning relationship.

3. Endeavor

Effort
To endeavor means complete dedication and commitment necessary to achieve mastery of the art. In no case is mastery possible without strenuous effort and sacrifice on the part of the practitioner. The endeavor must be of a sincere nature and not just superficial. Serious effort on the part of the student will be recognized by the sensei who will in turn spend more time with him or her.

4. Respect Others

Etiquette
Respect for others is an important part of the Japanese and Okinawan culture therefore common to the martial arts. Gichin Funakoshi stressed that karate begins and ends with etiquette. He also stated that without courtesy there is no dojo. This is a reflection of the formal nature of the Japanese people and may be observed bowing during training as well as at home or office. Dojo etiquette is well defined. You bow correctly and show respect in everything you do and everywhere you go. Respect is extended to all...senseis, parents, educators, law, deceased, nature, etc.

5. Refrain From Violent Behavior

Control
A trained fighter is a person with a fierce competitive spirit and great strength so it is unfair to use it against an untrained person. The karate-ka's spirit is unbeatable and must use his knowledge only for the sake of justice. A person of character can walk away from a fight because he is in control of his emotions and is at peace with himself. He does not have to test his abilities on the street. He wins without fighting and he will have no regrets because no one will be injured. Refraining from violent behavior is hard to explain to many Westerners because of their environment, or the attitude of winning tournaments, and they want to do it as quickly as possible which is against the principles of karate-do and dojo kun. It is therefore necessary for instructors to constantly remind the students of the importance of the dojo kun.

Sensei Alex Ndem is a former member of the USA Shotokan National Karate Team and two time Karate world champion

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US Team Gold
2005 National Shotokan World Champions