The Dojo Kun

Third Dan Research Project

By Peter Warner

The Dojo Kun

If you have been practicing Karate for just a short time you will know that Do-jo means place of the way (training hall).

Kun in Japanese is a title somewhat like –san as in Smith-san (Mr Smith) but is informal and in Japan used mostly for males such as boys or juniors in the workplace.

However when Dojo and Kun are put together in the context of Karate they take on a whole new meaning, literally translated they become The Morals of the Place of the Way.

In Shotokan Karate there are 5 morals of the dojo and these are taken from the “Twenty Precepts” or “Niju Kun”, of Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) the founder of Shotokan Karate. Further reading on Master Gichin Funakoshi, the Twenty Precepts, his teachers and his students can be found in a multitude of places and I recommend that the reader further investigates this path. Recommended reading would include Karate-Do Kyohan and Karate-Do Nyumon, both written by Master Funakoshi, in which the author explains not only techniques but also some of the more spiritual aspects of Karate.

The Dojo-Kun is not unique to Shotokan Karate, it exists in other forms of training. One example of this is Taekwondo where a form of the Dojo-Kun we use in Karate becomes the “students oath”. Show Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit.

In Karate, traditionally the Dojo Kun written in “Kanji”, is hung on the wall of the dojo and remains there for all to see. As we often train in sports centres and halls that are not purpose built dojos this has become somewhat impractical although it is not uncommon for the Dojo Kun to be hung prior to any training taking place and taken down at the end of the class to be kept in a safe place.

The dojo kun should be recited out loud one line at a time, firstly by either the Sensei (teacher) or the Sempai (senior student) and then repeated in unison by all the students in class prior to the final bows that signal the end of a lesson. Dojo “Etiquette” (we shall come back to that later in this piece) dictates that this should be after any period of Mokuso (meditation) has taken place.
It should be noted that the recital of each moral of the dojo is preceded by the Japanese word “Hitotsu” meaning “One” or “First”. That is to say each of the morals is no more or less important than the preceding or following one.

The full Dojo Kun can be found in a number of places including on the back cover of the Shotokan Karate Association Official Grading Syllabus. Here you will find the Japanese version along with the English translation.

I will not repeat the Dojo-Kun word for word here, instead I will attempt to summarise its meanings. Again, although these have been placed in order remember that no one is more important than another.

  1. Seek Perfection of Character
  2. Defend Truth
  3. Effort
  4. Respect Others
  5. Refrain from Violent Behaviour

Seek Perfection of Character

This means that Karate is more than just a physical activity. All Karate-ka should understand the importance of character building through physical exertion and discipline. Character building begins with the perfection of techniques through repetition. This is where a number of beginners effectively give up the way of Karate as they feel they reach a plateau, are no longer progressing and are getting nowhere. Many of us have seen, at first, keen students become disillusioned when they feel they have reached this plateau. Whether they feel they are no longer learning new techniques or Kata or just feel they are not progressing at a rate they had previously done so, they give up “The Way”. However with the development of stronger techniques comes confidence and ultimately the spirit to fight. This spirit can take some time to develop but once achieved can help in other areas of life which can include times of personal crisis or sickness.

Defend Truth

This can be subject to a number of interpretations, can touch on loyalty and relates to both student and teacher alike. Be truthful to others and never give false praise or criticism, neither of these things aid development either in the dojo or out of it. Take feedback and work with it, both positive and negative. Be truthful and honest to yourself; know your strengths along with your weaknesses. Learn from them.


If something is worth doing it is worth putting all of your effort into it. A person will learn very little from Karate if they train in a half-hearted manner. This doesn’t mean that everything that one does should be at full power and speed, rather that one should concentrate where needed and apply one’s self in an appropriate manner as only they will know how. Any job worth doing is a job worth doing well. Try to take this into your everyday life. This can only result in positive things.

Respect Others

Etiquette is an important part of the Japanese culture, Karate begins and ends with it. This can be witnessed with the bowing observed before during and after any Karate class. Although outside of the training hall we tend not to bow to others (this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t), etiquette and respect is an important part of everything we do. There is a similar sentiment in what could be loosely described as the Yoga version of Karate’s Dojo-Kun. Here taken from the “Ashtanga” or “8 Limbs” the first limb “Yama” relates to what is known as the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Ultimately, show respect to everyone and everything (even if you don’t feel like you should, still do it!).

Refrain from Violent Behaviour

Referred to as “Impetuous Courage” the Japanese “Kekki” combines the character (Kanji) for blood with the character energy symbolising the rush of blood to the head we sometimes get when faced with a testing situation. Essentially this part of the dojo kun deals with a persons urge to resort to physical violence when confronted with such a time, rather than find a peaceful resolution to it. It is hoped that with continued practice this urge be controlled and the karate-ka learns to remain calm if found in such a position. The karate-ka should never resort to violence and self-control must be present at all times. In short - never lose your temper- no good will come of that!

The above is not an exhaustive explanation of the Dojo Kun – I suggest you memorise the official version. In doing so you may well find your own interpretation.

The morals of the dojo will help in your karate training.
You may find that the Dojo Kun helps you in everyday life.

Peter Warner.