The Principles of Karate #12


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

12.) Do Not Think Of Winning. Think, Rather, Of Not Losing.

The 12th principle deals with one’s everyday mind-set. To the outside observer, Karate is about fighting…about the physicality of punching and kicking.

But in reality, true Karate is about developing strong character…developing the correct mind set that will allow us to be productive citizens as we strive to grow our knowledge and skill in our service to others.

In this principle, Master Funakoshi touches on the proper attitude we should develop and maintain as we interact with others.

“Knowing only how to win and not how to lose is self-defeating” was one of the last injunctions delivered by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu before his death.

The mental attitude that considers only winning inevitably breeds excessive optimism and causes impatience and fretfulness.

Practitioners who think only of winning lose their sense of humility. They begin to ignore or disregard those around them, an attitude that can create enemies.

The best attitude to adopt is this: based on our true strength and unshakable conviction, we are firmly resolved in our own mind not to lose to any opponent regardless of who he my be; yet, with a mild demeanor, we try as far as possible to avoid friction with others.

Follow the saying, “When angered he can make even a ferocious beast crouch in fear, but when he smiles even little children run to him.” A samurai with false courage is tough on the outside and soft on the inside. The truly courageous person is gentle on the outside and tough inside.

Karate-do has always been regarded as the martial art of gentlemen. The everyday mentality of the practitioner of karate-do should aspire to be outwardly gentle but inwardly strong.

The principle of focusing on not losing has points in common with this passage by Sun Tzu:

“A strategy in commanding troops should not depend on the enemy’s not coming, but rather should rely on one’s own ability to await and meet him when he does come. It should not depend on the enemy‘s not attacking, but should rely on our not being susceptible to attack.”

  • Sun Tzu, “The Nine Variables,” The Art of War

In short, the above passage warns us to always be prepared, an admonition that is widely applicable in many facets of our daily lives.


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