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The Principles of Karate #1

(Adapted from Gichin Funakoshi’s Book, The Guiding Principles of Karate)

1.) Do Not Forget That Karate-Do Begins and Ends With “Rei.”

To many outside observers the martial arts, Karate included, are about fighting…about trading blows with someone.

The expectation is that someone trained in Karate will hit first when conflict arises, to rely on physical skill rather than use their mental skills to diffuse the situation.

Many years ago I was hired to coach a local high school swim team. When the athletic director introduced me to the high school principal he happened to mention that I was a black belt in Karate. Immediately the principal inquired as to how I would handle discipline issues with my team members should they come up. His assumption was that I was trained to strike first and ask questions later.

The truth is real Karate is about respect. It is about respect for self…respect for fellow students…respect for instructors…respect for your place of martial study, the dojo.

Funakoshi believed that Karate-do begins with “Rei.”

Rei is often defined as “respect,” but it is much deeper than that. It implies a proper attitude that one demonstrates outwardly as well as an inward sense of “self esteem.”

Proper rei is shown through the act of bowing.

We bow as we enter and leave the dojo showing respect for our place of study. We bow at the beginning and end of class showing respect to our instructors. We bow to signify respect to our fellow students or instructors when we start or finish a training drill. And ultimately, we are showing that we respect ourselves.

That inward feeling of esteem or respect is transferred to others. It is an expression of “rei.”

Mr. Funakoshi pointed out that without rei there is disorder and that it is the one of the primary differences between humans and animals.

He further points out that combat methods that lack rei are not martial arts but rather examples of violence. Physical power without rei is no more than brute strength and lacks value for those who wish to better themselves through the martial arts.

There is a technical side of martial arts mastery. We call it the “jitsu.” Students will spend ceaseless hours of practice to learn and perform proper martial technique. But without that sincere and reverent heart, the martial art practitioner is missing the one ingredient that brings value to their training.

Students must bring balance to their fighting skill…a balance of Karate-do and Karate-jitsu…through an emphasis and appreciation for rei.

All martial arts, not just Karate, should begin and end with “rei!” Unless they are practiced with a feeling of reverence and respect, they are simply a form of fighting. Without rei, martial arts lose their full value.

True ‘rei’ is the outward expression of a respectful heart.

All martial arts should begin and end with REI!

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