Gichin's Twenty Principles of Karate

Couple praticing martial arts

If you are a practitioner of traditional Shotokan karate, it is very likely that you will be at least vaguely familiar with the foundation of this martial art. Specifically, Shotokan is a style of karate that was developed by Gichin Funakoshi through the combining of styles he learnt from his time training under Anko Asato and later Anko Itosu. The quick striking style and emphasis on power that Gichin's form of karate involves have persisted to the modern day, with UFC fighter Lyoto Machida demonstrating in recent years the sheer power and devastating effect of the Shotokan karate style (he is a known proponent and practitioner of Shotokan karate who often strikes swiftly and with huge amounts of power, often before the opponent can even react).

As well as being the main founder of was dubbed by his students as Shotokan karate, Gichin also made great efforts to popularize karate in general, not just his own particular style of the martial art. In addition to making efforts to spread karate into clubs across the world as well as many universities, Gichin also wrote the Niju Kun, translated as “guiding principles”, all in relation to karate and of which there are twenty. Gichin's work in the proliferation of karate throughout the world and his role in the growth of the martial art were based upon these principles; they illustrate the important philosophies which karateka (a practitioner of karate) should understand and follow.

Published in 1938, these twenty principles are actually said to have been written many years earlier, perhaps as far back as 1890 when Gichin was just 22. There is much debate over whether these priniples were written sooner or later as they would likely carry much more weight if it was the latter because of the lifetime of experience Gichin would then have had; they could then essentially be a condensing of a lifetime's worth of experience rather than the naïve philosophies of a young man. Nevertheless, these principles are often quoted and misquoted to the present day and offer some positive ideas on the practice of karate as a martial art as well as the psychological and spiritual development of the karateka. These principles are translated as follows:

  1. Never forget that karate begins and ends with respect.
  2.  There is no first attack in karate.
  3.  Karate fosters righteousness.
  4.  First know yourself and then know others.
  5.  Rather than physical technique, mental technique.
  6.  Let your mind roam freely.
  7.  Inattention and neglect causes misfortune.
  8.  Never think that karate is practiced only in the dojo.
  9.  Karate is a life-long pursuit.
  10.  Everything you encounter is an aspect of karate: find the marvelous truth there.
  11.  Karate is like boiling water: if you do not keep the flame high, it turns tepid.
  12.  Do not think about winning; think about not losing.
  13.  Respond in accordance to your opponent.
  14.  Wage the battle with natural strategy.
  15.  Regard your hands and feet as sharp swords.
  16.  Step out the door and you face 10,000 foes.
  17.  Learn various stances as a beginner but then rely on a natural posture.
  18.  The kata must always be practiced correctly: real combat is another matter.
  19.  Never forget your own strengths and weakness, the limitations of your body, and the relative quality of your techniques.
  20.  Continuously polish your mind.

It isn't the purpose of this page to offer any sort of in-depth analysis on the individual points of the Niju Kun, but it can help to read through them as they are a fantastic insight into the thinking and the philosophy of the inventor of Shotokan karate. If you are after a more in-depth analysis of each of the finer points of Gichin's Niju Jun then this article at I love GKR may be extremely helpful to you.