Philosophy & Martial Arts
SECOND REPORT – MAY 2013
“People like Funakoshi are attributed to writing things like “The 20 Precepts” relating to Martial Arts. What would a modern day equivalent be?”
Before I can offer a modern day equivalent I should really explain what the precepts are, as I understand them.
At first glance I thought they were rules or instructions for training in the art of karate. However, the deeper I delve into the history of Funakoshi and Karate; it seems that perhaps these precepts are instructions for the life that is the Way of Karate. Ambiguous, I know, I will try to expand.
“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants” Gichin Funakoshi
Funakoshi wrote the 20 Precepts as one liners, with no further expansion or explanation. Many people have, along the way, translated and interpreted his words. Some suggest that he wrote them in such a fashion to entice the mind of the ardent karate student. A book was written in 1938 by Genwa Nakasone called Karate-do Taikan, which sought to expand on the precepts and received Funakoshi’s endorsement; so I hope that I am travelling down the right road. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Funakoshi still meant for us to interpret these concepts ourselves. The act of seeking meaning is a lesson in itself.
1) KARATE BEGINS WITH COURTESY AND ENDS WITH COURTESY
This point refers to respect; it not only covers the reverence for those who hold authority or seniority over us, but also humility towards others and all manner of life on this planet.
2) THERE IS NO FIRST ATTACK IN KARATE
This is a moral instruction to avoid violence; he is telling us that we should not be the architect of violence.
3) KARATE IS AN AID TO JUSTICE
We must have moral fortitude to do the right thing.
4) FIRST CONTROL YOURSELF BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO CONTROL OTHERS
Recognise your own strengths and weaknesses and then, realise the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent.
5) SPIRIT FIRST, TECHNIQUE SECOND
Your mindset is more important than anything. You need a fire in your belly, the technique will develop after.
6) ALWAYS BE READY TO RELEASE YOUR MIND
Thoughts can get in the way of performance. The aim is to be competent without having to think about it – ‘unconscious competence’.
7) ACCIDENTS ARISE FROM NEGLIGENCE
Straight forward really, carelessness in our actions can lead to disaster.
8) DO NOT THINK THAT KARATE TRAINING IS ONLY IN THE DOJO
Karate should be part of our lives. We should strive to lead wholesome lives outside of the dojo. There is a Buddhist saying that “any place can be a dojo.” Karate Do is not only the acquisition of certain defensive skills, but also the mastering of the art of being a good and honest member of society.
9) IT WILL TAKE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO LEARN KARATE; THERE IS NO LIMIT
It is a lifetime dedication to the perfection of the human character through unlimited physical, mental and spiritual seeking.
10) PUT YOUR EVERYDAY LIVING INTO KARATE AND YOU WILL FIND MYO
MYO is described as a wondrous & strange feeling, to have outstanding skill. Through the intensity of our training we develop attributes which help us to deal with life’s obstacles outside the dojo.
11) KARATE IS LIKE BOILING WATER; IF YOU DO NOT HEAT IT CONSTANTLY, IT WILL COOL DOWN
To remain good at karate, you need to train constantly & consistently. If you stop training you start to lose your skills. “If one does not use it, one will lose it.”
12) DO NOT THINK TO WIN; THINK ATHER THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LOSE
I have come across two possible interpretations of this precept and both seem to me perfectly sensible. The first is to turn away and run; avoid confrontation. The second is that karateka understands the principles of fair play and excels in the celebration of competition. For those that win, it is a celebration of the tactics and skill that won the match. For those that lose, it was the experience of the loss and the chance to learn from their mistake. So there are no winners and no losers. Both are winners.
13) VICTORY DEPENDS UPON YOUR ABILITY TO DISTINGUISH VULNERABLE POINTS FROM INVULNERABLE ONES
When the enemy strikes out, seek for weaknesses in your opponent. Every attack has its counter attack.
14) THE BATTLE IS ACCORDING TO HOW YOU MOVE: GUARDED OR UNGUARDED
Traditional Karate Do uses combat situations called Ken & Tai. Ken is seizing the initiative; Thai is waiting for the enemy’s first strike. Water adapts to reach its goal, so must you.
15) THINK OF YOUR HANDS AND FEET AS SWORDS
Hands and feet have power, combat is serious. Also consider that your opponent’s hands and feet have power.
16) WHEN YOU LEAVE HOME, THINK THAT YOU HAVE NUMEROUS OPPONENTS WAITING FOR YOU
This is not advocating paranoia, moreover a healthy awareness and vigilance.
17) BEGINNERS MUST MASTER LOW STANCE AND POSTURE; NATURAL BODY POSITIONS ARE FOR THE ADVANCED
“Karate has many stances and it also has none” This refers to the fact that stances are effectively the moving of bodyweight. When we first begin to learn Karate it is easier to understand a specific stance, where to place our feet, our posture and therefore our body weight will follow. Once we mastered the low stance we understand how to use our bodyweight and move it to our advantage.
18) PRACTICING KATA IS ONE THING; ENGAGING IN A REAL FIGHT IS ANOTHER
Kata is precise and exact, developing finite movement and body awareness. In combat we flow and adapt.
19) DO NOT FORGET CORRECTLY TO APPLY: STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF POWER, STRETCHING, CONTRACTION OF THE BODY AND SLOWNESS AND SPEED OF THE TECHNIQUES
Kata is the combative principle frozen, mindful of muscles, speed, size and in tune with our body.
20) ALWAYS THINK AND DEVISE WAYS TO LIVE THE PRECEPTS EVERY DAY
Be mindful of your training; honest perception of where you are. Reflect on your training.
A modern day equivalent
In my research I have looked at Codes of Conduct held by other clubs and organisations for ideas. The Bushido Code, the code of the Samurai Warriors is not a modern code but is inspiring. It holds fast, the seven virtues of RECTITUDE, COURAGE, BENEVOLENCE, RESPECT, HONESTY, HONOUR and LOYALTY.
Another ancient code, the Knight’s Code of Conduct is very similar holding the virtues of LOYALTY, SERVANT-LEADERSHIP, HONESTY, SELF-DISCIPLINE, KINDNESS, HUMILITY, EXCELLENCE, INTEGRITY, PERSERVERANCE and PURITY.
I have even discovered that there exists the moral and ethical code of the Jedi. Although fictitious, another ancient code:
- Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
- Jedi use their powers to defend and protect, never to attack others.
- Jedi respect all life, in any form.
- Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
- Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.
And the Guide Law:
- A Guide is honest, reliable and can be trusted.
- A Guide is helpful and uses her time and abilities wisely.
- A Guide faces challenge and learns from her experiences.
- A Guide is polite and considerate.
- A Guide respects all living things and takes care of the world around her.
Instructions for Life by the Dalai Lama (which just so happens to live on the wall in the office at the centre).
1) Always take account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2) When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
3) Follow the three Rs
- RESPECT for self
- RESPECT for others
- RESPONSIBILITY for all your actions
4) Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.
5) Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6) Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7) When you realise you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8) Spend some time alone every day.
9) Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
10) Remember that sometimes silence is the best answer.
11) Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12) A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13) In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situations, don’t bring up the past.
14) Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
15) Be gently with the earth.
16) Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
17) Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18) Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19) Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.
Okay, so here is the code that I have had hanging on my wall for the last 15 years. It has been my moral compass and I think it qualifies as a modern day equivalent:
21 Suggestions for SUCCESS by H.Jackson Brown, Jr.
1) Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.
2) Work at something you enjoy and that’s worthy of your time and talent.
3) Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.
4) Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
5) Be forgiving of yourself and others.
6) Be generous.
7) Have a grateful heart.
8) Persistence, persistence, persistence.
9) Discipline yourself to save money on even the most modest salary.
10) Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.
11) Commit yourself to constant improvement.
12) Commit yourself to quality.
13) Understand that happiness is not based on possessions, power or prestige, but on relationships with people you love and respect.
14) Be loyal.
15) Be honest.
16) Be a self-starter.
17) Be decisive even if it means you’ll sometimes be wrong.
18) Stop blaming others. Take responsibility for every area of your life.
19) Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.
20) Take good care of those you love.
21) Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mum proud.
As I said at the beginning of this paper, this report is based on my personal interpretation of Funakoshi’s 20 Precepts. I believe they will hold many different meanings for others, but that is the very essence of Philosophy. I do not believe that the precepts are intended to be a rule book of what to do and not to do when studying karate. I see them as a much wider set of directions on how to live a good and honourable life. I offer the following 3 passages as ‘evidence’ to my conclusions.
Master Gichin Funakoshi, My Way of Life
“Each year in the month of April, a great number of students enrol in karate classes of the universities’ physical education departments – most of them, fortunately, with the dual purpose of building up their spiritual as well as their physical strength. Nonetheless, there are always some whose only desire is to learn karate so as to make use of it in fight. Those almost inevitably drop out of the course before half a year has passed, for it is quite impossible for any young person who objective is so foolish to continue very long in karate. Only those with a higher ideal will find karate interesting enough to persevere in the rigors it entails. Those who do will find that the harder they train, the more fascinating the art becomes.”
Vincent A. Cruz, The 20 Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi
“Karate Do is not only an instrument to attain physical abilities, but it is also an instrument to find the mastery in the art of being a good human being,”
In the book Moving Zen: Karate as a way of gentleness, the author C.W. Nicols travelled to Japan in 1962 to learn karate and judo. At the Yotsuya dojo, at the end of a lesson, the karateka would chant an oath with strength and sincerity:
“Dojo kun!” (morals of the dojo)
“Hitotsu! Jinkaku kansei ni tstutomuru koto!” (One! To strive for the perfection of character!)
“Hitotsu! Makoto no michi o mamoru koto!” (One! To defend the paths of truth!)
“Hitotsu! Doryoku no seishin o yasinau koto!” (One! To foster the spirit of effort!)
“Hitotsu! Reigi o omonzuru koto!” (One! To honour the principles of etiquette!)
“Hitotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto!” (One! To guard against impetuous courage!)
6th May 2013