Dojo-kun: Karate’s Organized Brainwash?

Imagine a dark, chilly, evening. A cold wind is blowing in the trees…

I was on my way to training.

Walking around the rural hamlet of Naha is sometimes a bit scary, especially when it gets darker. You never know what (or who) you will encounter around the next corner. And I’ve encountered some strange things in my days…

As I slowly came closer to the dojo, I could hear the kids’ voices loud and clear, through the open windows.

“Hitotsu! Reisetsu wo monji!”

As always, the training was ending with everyone reciting the Dojo-kun (for those of you who don’t want to follow the link, the Dojo-kun is basically the “rules/motto/philosophy” of a dojo).

“Hisotsu! Wa no seishin…”

I was now standing on the narrow street right below the dojo, which is located on the second floor. The kids’ voices echoed in my head…

That’s when I saw the light.

And no, it wasn’t one of those crazy bikers, nor was it a lightning flash.

It was a mental light.

The Dojo-kun is organized brainwash!

“Hitotsu! Joujitsu ni oborezu…!”

The kids were still screaming above.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Brainwash is often connected to negative things. I mean it in a more… “neutral” way. Brainwash in the sense of “an effort aimed at instilling certain attitudes and beliefs in a person”. This could of course be “bad” beliefs, depending on how you look at it.

But isn’t this what the Dojo-kun is, after all? Organized brainwash?

Let’s see.

Here is an example of a Dojo-kun (the one mentioned in the “story”), in Japanese, with a translation by me:

  • “Hitotsu! Reisetsu wo monji!” = One! Hold politeness in high regard!
  • “Hisotsu! Wa no seishin wo toutobi!” = One! Respect the spirit of peace and harmony!
  • “Hitotsu! Joujitsu ni oborezu!” = One! Suppress favouritism!
  • “Hitotsu! Hitasura doryoku seyo!” = One! Devote yourself to endeavour!

(Since every point is equally important, they all start with “Hitotsu!”, which means “One!”)

Now, when you know the meaning of the words, doesn’t it sound a little like brainwash? “Supress this, devote yourself to that, respect this…!” Random thoughts that pop up in my head are: religion, sect, communism, media, cult, propaganda, super-evil… etc.

Maybe I’m just paranoid.

But let me tell you, these four lines, the Dojo-kun, are repeated every training.

And for your information, a normal Japanese Karate kid trains a lot! 4 hours/day on normal days, in school, if they choose Karate as their physical activity. On weekends (!) they train from 9 am to 6 pm with their school class also. And on top of that, they train in their own club on weekday evenings, on average 2-3 times/week.

And that is just the kids…

Now, if you repeat the Dojo-kun every training, you will have said it maaany times after a few years. That has to influence you in one way or another.

This – to me at least – smells like brainwash.

But it is bad?

It depends on the Dojo-kun, of course. If it has a positive spirit, then I think it’s great.

And so do the people who have become millionaires from writing books on positive thinking.

Because it actually works.

If you bombard your mind with repetitive positive thoughts (a good Dojo-kun), those thoughts will become internalized, right? The hope is therefore to transmute thoughts into beliefs, and maybe even into actualities. Visualizing the manifestations of a belief, and then verbally affirming it (by reciting it every training) and thinking it using one’s “internal voice” is the best way to effectively brainwash yourself.

So the Dojo-kun is brainwash… by yourself!

There is actually a nice word for brainwashing yourself.

Autosuggestion.

Deliberate autosuggestion is intended to change. Change the way one believes, perceives, or thinks. And hopefully, in the end, make your Karate club superior to other clubs!

Or, with a bad Dojo-kun, maybe not…

Hmm… I’ll give you another Dojo-kun. Then we can compare it with the previous one.

This one is from a really traditional dojo, whereas the previous was from a more modern “sport-based” dojo. I’ll just give you the translation directly:

  • One! We regard the human life as important.
  • One! We regard peace and harmony as important.
  • One! We practice correct manners.
  • One! We cultivate and exercise our whole spirit.
  • One! We cultivate and exercise our whole body.
  • One! We devote ourselves to the never ending search of knowledge.
  • One! We always follow the Dojo-kun.

Is this better, or worse, than the first one?

I think this is much better.

It somehow doesn’t sound as brainwashy… And to tell the truth, these two dojos are the complete opposite.

Now, since I have shown that the Dojo-kun most likely isn’t brainwash, (but instead autosuggestion) I think it’s time to stop here. but I would like to conclude by telling you an interesting anecdote:

In one of these two dojos they always clean the floor after practise. The cleaning is done with really short brooms, and one evening I asked: “Why are the brooms so short?” “Half-price?”

After not laughing at my joke, the sensei told me this:

“If you use a short broom, you have to bow. You can not use it unless you bend forward, like when you bow. So, this means, that even if the president wanted to train here, he would have to show courtesy, like everybody else.”

Guess which dojo it was.

I don’t have to tell you, do I?

It was the second.

6 Comments

  • Julia
    That's an amazing point. Oh, and at my dojo, this is our dojo-kun. ( please excuse my terrible spelling...)Karate begins and ends with courtesy.Actions have consequnses.So we are responible.We lead by example.There is no excuse for bad manners.
  • That's an interesting version, thanks for that! I like it.
  • Usdating
    I've made it to the end. Thanks for putting it together. Lots of things I didn't know. BOOKMARKED!
  • Batman
    I remember there was a dojo kun recited at the end of a kyukoshin class I went to when i was younger and fitter, but I never knew what it was and didn't stay long enough to learn it. In my current class we don't use one, and don't wash the floor either. I regret that in away but having said that I'm too exhausted after class to do much of anything :p I do sometimes feel I'm missing out on some of the "karate experience" though
  • warrioress
    Another great article Jesse-san! I was ready to flame you at first because I thought you were against the dojo kun. lol. Lucky I'm a patient person!
  • Charles
    Nice write up again Jesse. FYI the usual Kyokushin Dojo kun:We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm unshaken spirit.We will pursue the true meaning of the martial way so that in time, our senses may be alert.With true vigour, we will seek to cultivate a spirit of self-denial.We will observe the rules of courtesy, respect our superiors, and refrain from violence.We will follow our religious principles and never forget the true virtue of humility.We will look upwards to wisdom and strength, not seeking other desires.All our lives, through the discipline of karate, we will seek to fulfill the true meaning of the Kyokushin way.

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