Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate – Principles 1 to 5

Funakoshi’s Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

In this post I will be looking at the first five principles of Gichin Funakoshi’s Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate in a little more detail.

Principle 1 – Remember that Karate-Do begins and ends with Rei

The literal translation of “rei” is “bow”. People often mistake this to mean that one must bow to their opponent. However, this is a simplistic interpretation of this principle. Funakoshi believed karate should be used for improving a person’s character. This means we need to take a deeper look at this principle.

I believe Funakoshi intended this principle to convey the importance of respect in all things. As martial artists we should respect ourselves and also be mindful that our actions are respectful to others. Through karate we develop skills that can make us dangerous. Thus this principle teaches us that through respect we learn to be humble, learn to respect the techniques we have learnt and respect our fellow man.

Principle 2 – There is no first strike in Karate

In “Karate-Do – My Way of Life” Gichin Funakoshi recounts an incident that happened on the island of Okinawa.

One evening when travelling with Master Itosu and several other students, Funakoshi and his party were ambushed by some men looking to pick a fight. Being trained martial artists it would have been easy for them to defeat their opponents. However, Master Itosu sent Funakoshi to talk to the band of man. After some time the situation was diffused without a single punch being thrown.

As karateka we are responsible for our every action. This principle does not teach us to be pacifists, but rather it teaches us to be mindful of our actions. Everything we do has a consequence. In any given situation we need to assess what is happening and give the appropriate response. Just because we have martial skills does not mean every situation need result in confrontation. As the samurai used to say, “A sword must never be recklessly drawn”.

Principle 3 – Karate stands on the side of justice

Funakoshi intended karate to be more than learning martial skills. He intended karate to be character building, developing individuals who could take their place in society. I believe this principle states that karateka should be law-abiding citizens. They should not be using their skills in a negative way.

However, digging a little deeper into this principle suggests that we as karateka must use our skills to fight injustice when it is encountered. As Simon Wiesenthal, the renowned Nazi hunter, said, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing”.

Principle 4 – First know yourself, then others

Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching:

“He who conquers others is strong; he who who conquers himself is mighty.”

This principle echos this and can be seen as a strategy on how to live. Many of us go through life not knowing who we truly are. We stumble from one situation to the next.

In this principle we are urged to look at and understand who we are, firstly as people, then as martial artists. What makes us happy, sad, or angry. Once we know this and can recognize the trigger points, we are more equipped to recognize this in others.

In our karate training it is very important to know our strengths and weaknesses. Through knowing ourselves we are better able  to know what techniques we perform well, and also what techniques we are more susceptible to. More importantly it helps us overcome over-confidence and conceit. By analyzing our techniques and knowing who we are, we become better at analyzing our opponents.

Principle 5 – Mentality over technique

In karate, while it is important to develop our technical skills to as high a level as possible, it is more important to develop a strong mind.

In this principle Funakoshi recognized that most karate practice is not about the techniques you know, but more about your state of mind and knowing when to use these techniques. As was stated in Principle 2, not every situation requires a physical response.

Some self-defense experts like Marc “Animal” MacYoung have described something known as the “monkey brain”. This causes us to be reckless and over-confident. However, with good common sense, self-defense does not need us to get in a physical confrontation. Many time trouble can be avoided by using our brains.



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