The Dojo Kun
By Jenifer Tull-Gauger
I was first introduced to the Dojo Kun when our dojo became affiliated with the United Ryukyu Kempo Alliance. I liked it right away and couldn’t help comparing it to the Dojo Creed which had hung in our dojo. The Dojo Kun was shorter and to-the-point in valuing some high principles. The five values: good moral character; honesty; perseverance; respect; and restraint, were obviously worth pursuing. I had no hesitation about promoting the Dojo Kun. My first task was memorizing it.
Research taught me that most traditional karate schools promote the Dojo Kun. (Unfortunately ours had lost it somewhere along the way, but fortunately Allan Amor and the URKA gave it back to us.) The martial arts master Shungo “Tode” Sakagawa created the Dojo Kun. He was the first person on Okinawa to have a dojo – meaning the first to teach martial arts to a group of many people outside of his family.
Sakagawa taught these people how to fight, maim and kill people. They could not and should not realistically practice those techniques daily. So he came up with the Dojo Kun so his students could have a part of their training to practice every day in all of life’s areas and situations.
I agree with Sakagawa and many current martial arts teachers that if we are going to teach our students to fight (even in self defense), and use techniques which can maim and kill, then it is our responsibility to teach them how to prevent and avoid fights, and how to use moral character concerning these situations. The Dojo Kun does this.
Our adult students have said that the Dojo Kun transformed their lives. They have used it while driving, at work, and even at the store, to keep their sanity and stay rational in difficult situations. A few kids say they followed the Dojo Kun to help them in a specific situation. Mostly, it becomes ingrained in our younger students, so they don’t even realize they are using it. I shared a nice copy of the Dojo Kun with a hero I had read about, in appreciation. I also shared its principles with an assumed criminal (see my 2/19/14 blog, “The Free Lesson”).
My favorite story about sharing the Dojo Kun is when it went to China. Over the years, a friend of mine had been around the dojo enough and loved words enough that she had memorized the Dojo Kun, even though she was not a karate student. She went to China to teach English for several months. In her extensive training for this job, she was told not to teach, promote or even talk about anything religious as a guest teacher in that communist country.
In China, the students asked her questions about America. The discussion turned toward religion and beliefs. The students asked her, “What do you believe in?”
Being a very religious person, and being forbidden to speak of it, my friend replied, “Strive for a good moral character. Keep an honest and sincere way. Cultivate perseverance or a will for striving. Develop a respectful attitude. Restrain my physical abilities through spiritual attainment. That is what I believe.”
It took me a while to realize how important it is. First I had to learn it and live it and see others do the same. The Dojo Kun has helped my students make decisions, it has helped me guide them, and it has helped me on my own path. If I had to strip down our curriculum and pick only one thing to teach, it would be the Dojo Kun. The Dojo Kun is the most important thing we teach.
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