Whatever Happened to Dojo Kun?


Politeness in the Dojo…What Happened?

I remember the first time I took a Karate class, I THOUGHT I knew what I was in for, I had watched many martial arts movies.

That first class surprised me in so many ways.

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“Kiostske!” and everyone ran to position, I was signaled to go to the last spot and we all faced the front of the dojo (shomen).

“Seiza! kneel at attention right leg first, then left, knees 1 fist apart” Sensei started.

“Me wo tojite! Close your eyes, and meditate, lips slightly open, jaw relaxed, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.   Let the worries of the outside pass away.  Clear your mind, this is training time.”

I sat there quietly wondering what this was all about, I had some other thoughts that were arrogant and rude, I must say that in hind sight my association with this particular sensei may have been the best thing to ever happen to me, but that is another story.

At this point Sensei said “me wo akete, open your eyes” and after a brief pause yelled “dojo-kun!”

The most senior student in class loudly proclaimed the single word “titles”, and everyone responded the next line

“Manners”

“Be humble respectful and courteous above all!”

“Peace”

“Observe the way of peace and teamwork!”

“Drive”

“Practice with all the drive you have, and strive for more than you think you have”

“Courage”

“Have true courage in all facets of life”

“Self-improvement”

“Strive for individual achievement for the benefit of others”

There was more to the beginning ceremony, but at this point I was very confused.

I found out later that it is the morals of the school, repeated before and after class to drill it in to our heads.  Morals is probably a bad translation, but “rules” doesn’t seem to fit either.

The more I thought about it, the more sense the opening ceremony and dojo-jun made.  After all it is karate-do, not karate-jitsu (link to the do vs jitsu article).

In the years since then I am amazed that more styles don’t include dojo-kun, and more mind-settling ceremonies.  As an example, a few years later, I switched to Kenpo Karate and was struck by the blatant rudeness of the instructor.  Gone was Dojo-kun, gone was the humbleness of the students, gone was the friendly atmosphere, gone was the Japanese, even referring to Sensei as such, it was just “Sir”.

The “Kenpo Creed”, written by Mr. Ed Parker Jr., sounds more like a half-hearted apology for having to beat people up, than it does a set of rules to live by.

I come to you with only Karate; “empty hands.” I have no weapons, but should I be forced to defend myself, my principles or my honor.  Should it be a matter of life or death, right or wrong, then here are my weapons, Karate; “empty hands.”

This has always rubbed me the wrong way, of course, the fact that he dropped “do” and “jitsu” from his arts name may indicate something.  His choice of “empty hand” in the creed is also interesting, since the character on the patch is the homonym for empty, but it means “Tang Dynasty China”, so it literally means “Chinese hand” not “empty hand”, but that is another story.

Kenpo isn’t the only style to eliminate Dojo-kun, and of the schools I have studied in, those that eliminate Dojo-kun, are always less friendly, they are less patient, ruder, and generally not as well behaved.

The “Tao Te Ching” says in poem 38

Failing Tao, man resorts to Virtue.
Failing Virtue, man resorts to humanity.
Failing humanity, man resorts to morality.
Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony.
Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty;
It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.

I have to think that we have drifted so far, that ceremony is our first step to get back on the road.  Dojo-kun shouldn’t be necessary; we should all be wonderful people without having to repeat it.  I feel strongly though that dojo-kun should continue to be part of every school, especially those teaching children, because we can all use the reminder to be better people.

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