As I have explained to quite a few people over the years, I think the “Dojo Kun” is a very important thing. These ethical guidelines of Shotokan are basically the core of my “personal religion.” I try to live by the concepts described within this code of ethics. I have spent quite a bit of time studying and contemplating both the English and the Japanese versions of this set of precepts. I estimate that I have repeated these lines over 10,000 times in English and at least 5000 times in Japanese. And I never tire of it. Because I think it is important.
And I think in times like this, it may be worth reminding ourselves why we commit these lines to memory. I will provide some thoughts below. But I urge you to consider and reflect for yourself how you may want to implement these concepts for yourself.
Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto
Seek perfection of character
As always, try to be the best person you can be. What does this mean during the pandemic? If you have the time, volunteer helping others. If you have the money, donate to worthy causes. Smile often. Ask people how they are doing…and then listen to their response. This is the first of the five concepts. But I believe this is first for a reason. It is the big one. The other four concepts are example components of this one.
Makoto no michi o mamoru koto
The Japanese version is more descriptive – and I think far superior a concept – compared to the simplistic English version. The Japanese version is a poetic way to say, basically, “do the right thing.” And we should always be trying to do the right thing. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.” The question is, what is the right thing? How does one stay on the true path if it is unclear what the true path should be? If unclear, see concept #1, above.
Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto
Self-explanatory. Don’t give up. This situation is going to take a while to get through. It’s going to take perseverance, patience. But we should have confidence that we will eventually get through this.
Reigi o omonzuru koto
The Japanese version is actually about courtesy. Regardless, show courtesy and respect. We are all frustrated these days. Don’t take out your frustration on others. You can have opinions that are different than those of other people. But let’s be courteous. See also concepts #1 & #2.
Kekki no yuu o imashimuru koto
Refrain from violent behavior
The Japanese is a little different than the English again on this one. It reminds us to control our temper. We should not just control our physical aggression but also work to not be verbally or emotionally abusive. Ironically, people often hear a message more if it is not shouted and are more likely to do what you want if you ask them to do it rather than demand it. If you are following all the other concepts, above, this one is easy.
No need to chant these phrases multiple times each day to understand the concepts and how they should reflect the way we act. But I think it is sometimes worth reflecting on the words and what they are meant to remind us of as we try to be the best version of ourselves.
Good luck out there.