Maxims for the Students


By Master Gichin Funakoshi

From Karate-do Kyohan

The word “bu” of budo (martial arts) is written with the Chinese character for “stop” within a character signifying two crossed halberds meaning to stop conflict. Since karate is a budo, this meaning should be deeply considered, and the fists should not be used heedlessly.

Youth is justice and vigor. Vigor is stimulated by bu (martial arts) and it overflows into good or sometimes bad actions. Thus if Karate-do is followed correctly, it will polish the character, and one will uphold justice, but if used for evil purposes, it will corrupt society and be contrary to humanity.

Force is used as a last resort where humanity and justice cannot prevail, but if the fist is used freely without consideration, then the user will lose the respect of others and be shabbily treated, while being censured for barbaric action. At any rate, the high-spirited youth in the prime of life is prone to rash speech and action, so prudence is essential.

One must have dignity without ferocity. Martial arts must bring one to this height. It will not do to act recklessly to no purpose and cause trouble for others. Masters and saints may appear as simpletons. Those who are pretentious declare to the world that they are just novice scholars or martial artists.

To stand still is to regress; those who think that they have learned everything and become conceited braggarts proclaiming their own merits after learning the movements of some kata and acquiring dexterity in their physical movements are not fit to be considered as serious trainees in the martial arts.

It is said that even a worm that is an inch long has a soul half an inch long; thus as one continues to gain skill in karate, one must become more careful with one’s speech. Again, it is said that the higher the tree, the stronger the wind, but does not even the willow manage to withstand the wind? Similarly the trainee of Karate-do must consider good behavior and humbleness as the highest of virtues.

Mencius said, “When Heaven is about to confer an important office upon a man, it first embitters his heart in its purpose; it causes him to exert his bones and sinews; it makes his body suffer hunger; it inflicts upon him want and poverty and confounds his undertakings. In this way it stimulates his will, steels his nature and thus makes him capable of accomplishing what he would otherwise be incapable of accomplishing.”

If introspection reveals the self to be unjust, then no matter how base the opponent may be, will I not be afraid? If introspection reveals the self to be just, then I will go even though against a thousand or ten thousand men.

A gentleman should be gentle and never be menacing; close, yet never forward; slay but never humiliate; no sign of indecency is found in his abode; his nourishment is never heavy; even a minor mistake is corrected but there is no accusation. Thus is his strength of will.

A gentleman must be broad-minded and strong willed. The responsibilities will be heavy, and the way is long. Make benevolence your lifelong duty. This surely is an important mission. It is a lifelong effort, truly a long journey.

An ordinary man will draw his sword when ridiculed and will fight risking his life, but he may not be called a courageous man. A truly great man is not disturbed even when suddenly confronted with an unexpected event or crisis, nor angered upon finding himself in situations not of his own making, and this is because he has a great heart and his aim is high.

Eight important phrases of karate:

The mind is the same with heaven and earth.
The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the sun and the moon.
The Law includes hardness and softness.
Act in accordance with time and change.
Techniques will occur when a void is found.
The Ma requires advancing and retreating, separating and meeting.
The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
The ears listen well in all directions.

Therefore I say: Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.

If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.

When birds of prey are attacking, they fly in low without extending their wings. When wild beasts are about to attack, they crouch low with their ears close to their heads. Similar]y, when a sage is about to act, he always appears slightly dull.

Lin Hung-nien says a stone with no water within it is hard. A natural magnet with no water within it is dense. If a body is hard within and dense without, how can it ever be penetrated? If a thing has an opening, then it will be filled. If a thing has an inch of cavity, then one inch of water will fill it.