Philosophy of karate

Forging a Karate Mind

Karate is not a game of points, weight classes or showy demonstrations. It is a martial art and way of life that trains a practitioner to be peaceful; but if conflict is unavoidable, true karate dictates taking down an opponent with a single blow.

Such an action requires strength, speed, focus, control. But these physical aspects are only part of the practice; they are just the vehicle, not the journey itself.

True karate is based on Bushido. In true karate, the body, mind and spirit — the whole person—must be developed simultaneously. Through kihon, kumite and kata we learn to control our movements. But more importantly, we learn to give up control too. We can perform the techniques without thinking about them, and remain focused without having to concentrate on any one thing. In essence, the body remembers how to move and the mind remembers how to be still.

This harmonious unity of mind and body is intensely powerful. Even the greatest physical strength and skill are no match for the power of wholeness.

The result of true karate is natural, effortless action, and the confidence, humility, openness and peace only possible through perfect unity of mind and body. This is the core teaching of Zen, the basis of Bushido, and the of the JKA’s karate philosophy.


“The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the characters of its participants.”

Master Gichin Funakoshi


Keeping with Tradition

An increasing number of karate organizations have established weight classes and a point system for tournaments, giving karate a sport-like status. In fact, more and more, the art of karate is being made into a popular competitive sport. Some people hope to make it part of the Olympics, just like judo.

At the JKA, we’re not opposed to this trend, but we are concerned by what it presages for the future of karate. We believe that “sportifying” karate is incompatible with its true spirit; it keeps the form to an extent, but discards the essence. True karate is a way of life, not a sport or competition.

The purpose of a competition (kyogi) is to win. So there are weight classifications to make it more “fair,” and a rule-based point system for keeping score. The problem is that those rules are often arbitrarily changed.

But not at the JKA. Our tournaments are all shiai (“matches”). The goal is not to win, but to pit one’s skills against another’s, thereby testing one’s progress and techniques. JKA karate ultimately attempts to defeat the opponent with one blow. Either you down the opponent or the opponent downs you; there are no points to be gained along the way. Each match has a clear “winner,” but winning itself is not the final objective. The only goal is to apply one’s finest skills to the best of one’s ability.

This is our way.

So what is the future of JKA karate? The same tradition we have maintained for over half a century. The JKA has never changed its fundamentals or rules. The inseparable trinity: kihon, kata and kumite, leading to kime, remain essentially unchanged, although constantly refined. JKA karate is completely natural, not arbitrarily crafted for use in a point-based match.

As the Keeper of Karate’s Highest Tradition, we will continue to pass on the full power and the full depth of the spiritual dimensions that underlie our art. Our tournaments shall remain as shiai, opportunities for each individual karate-ka to test his or her progress. And we will continue with our mission to ensure that the true essence of karate-do is understood and practiced throughout the world.


Bushido: “The Way of the Samurai”  has been the samurai code of conduct in Japan for centuries. Based firmly on the teachings of Zen, Bushido was intended to help the samurai master their nature and understand their minds and the universe through direct experience—as well as through fostering strength, self-control and wisdom.

Bushido is based on seven essential principles:

  • seigi : The right decision and rectitude
  • yuki : Bravery and heroism
  • jin: Compassion and benevolence to all
  • reigi : Courtesy and right action
  • makoto: Truthfulness and utter sincerity
  • meiyo: Honor and glory
  • chugi: Devotion and loyalty

Martial spirit and courage were, of course, essential aspects of Bushido. But for the samurai, Bushido’s highest goal was complete virtue in thought and action. Each samurai followed a carefully designed regimen of polite ceremony and etiquette intended to promote such virtue. With its emphasis on prescribed form, Bushido helped the samurai harmonize mind with body, enabling them to maintain a certain calmness, or heijoshin (literally, “ordinary everyday mind”), even in the face of hardship. Sincerity, kindness, honesty, filial piety and honor all formed part of the core of Bushido. And they were the seed from which the karate tradition grew. These attributes, and the wisdom, understanding and peaceful strength they promote, are some of karate’s greatest benefits. They are also among Japan’s greatest gifts to the world.


The 20 precepts of karate

Before he established the JKA, Master Funakoshi Gichin laid out the Twenty Precepts of Karate, which form the foundations of the art. Within these twenty principles, based heavily on Bushido and Zen, lies the philosophy of the JKA.

  1. Never forget: karate begins with rei and ends with rei (Rei means courtesy or respect, and is represented in karate by bowing)
  2. There is no first attack in karate
  3. Karate supports righteousness
  4. First understand yourself, then understand others
  5. The art of developing the mind is more important than the art of applying technique
  6. The mind needs to be freed
  7. Trouble is born of negligence
  8. Do not think karate belongs only in the dojo
  9. Karate training requires a lifetime
  10. Transform everything into karate; therein lies its exquisiteness
  11. Genuine karate is like hot water; it cools down if you do not keep on heating it
  12. Do not think of winning; you must think of not losing
  13. Transform yourself according to the opponent
  14. The outcome of the fight depends on one’s control
  15. Imagine one’s arms and legs as swords
  16. Once you leave the shelter of home, there are a million enemies
  17. Postures are for the beginner; later they are natural positions
  18. Do the kata correctly; the real fight is a different matter
  19. Do not forget control of the dynamics of power, the elasticity of the body and the speed of the technique
  20. Always be good at the application of everything that you have learned.


The five Dojo Kun

Senior instructors at the JKA developed the Five Dojo Kun, which everyone studying at the JKA commits to memory. With each practice session at the dojo, students kneel in the seiza position and repeat these five precepts out loud. This process reminds students of the right attitude, frame of mind and virtues to strive for both within the dojo, and outside.

  • Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto
    Seek perfection of character
  • Makoto no michi o mamoru koto
    Be sincere
  • Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto
    Put maximum effort into everything you do
  • Reigi o omonzuru koto
    Respect others
  • Kekki no yuu o imashimuru koto
    Develop self-control