Tuesday, 16 February 2016

7 Training precepts of Funakoshi

I have written many times about the history of Taekwondo, and how important Gichin Funakoshi is in it. He is the teacher of most of the first generation of Taekwondo masters. To me at least this makes him a central figure in Taekwondo history, and when reading his works I also get an apreciation of just how much of the traditional Taekwondo I study has been influenced by him. The Yun Mu Kwan (later Ji Do Kwan), Chung Do Kwan, Song Mu Kwan, and Oh Do Kwan all have roots stretching back directly to Funakoshi. Mu Duk Kwan`s founder Hwang Kee was also strongly influenced by him allthough he did not train directly with him, he did read Karate books (most likely written by Funakoshi) and he trained a little at the Chung Do Kwan.

Recently I filled my "holes" in my Funakoshi collection and got the remaining books written by him, so now I am the proud owner of all his translated works. I am "celebrating" by going through each book carefully, taking notes as I slowly make my way through them and I will share some of those notes and my thoughts regarding them along the way. So far I have completed "The Essence of Karate", 21 Guiding precepts of Karate and Karate Do Nyumon (Master introductionary Text of Karate). Going through the latter I found 7 training precepts that Funakoshi tells us about that I think might help people who study Taekwondo too. So without further adu here are the training precepts:

First a short sumary of the precepts themselves:
  1. Since Taekwondo (Karate) is a martial art, you must practise with the outmost seriousness form the very beginning.
  2. Try to do exactly as you are taught without complaining or quibbling.
  3. When you are learning a new technique, practise it wholeheartedly until you truly understand it.
  4. Do not pretend to be a great master and do not try to show off your strength
  5. You must always have a deep regard for curtesy, and you must be respectful and obedient toward your seniors.
  6. You must ignore the bad and adopt the good.
  7. Think of everyday life as Taekwondo (karate) training
(Note that I have inserted "Taekwondo" where Funakoshi says "Karate")

Since Taekwondo is a martial art, you must practise with the outmost seriousness form the very beginning.

I think this is much more to do with what I call "martial intent" than what other people might read into the precept. If you remember the post about "one strike one kill" you will remember that I wrote about the mental focus people had when practising even their basics. Today many who practise their basics think that it is a useless practise with outdated useless techniques, but for those who keep in mind that Taekwondo is a MARTIAL art practising each and every facet of training with the outmost seriousness will help you so much. Even when it does not makes sense, still ensure that you are doing your very best.

Try to do exactly as you are taught without complaining or quibbling.

One of the best things of training in a traditional Dojang is how everyone embraces what "Karate by Jesse" describes as "The shut up and Train Mentality." I am not talking here about a militaristic Dojang where people are beaten to a pulp for asking questions (although those kinds of Dojang has been prominent historicly), but rather a Dojang where the training time is used as a training time, quesitons and talking is held at a minimum and theory is taught outside of the training. In the Dojang I "grew up" in we did not speak much during class. The teacher gave us short comands and explanations and we were taught little by little. By that I mean a few techniques per grade, perhaps one new thing each session. We revisited techniques more indepth over the course of training, we did not start out with a full lecture on how to do a technique, but over time you gained an indepth understanding by listening to Your instructor and senior students as well as asking questions before or after training.

Another thing that really bugs me, but which I dont often see in adult classes (but frequently do see it in childrens classes) is when the teacher shows the students what to do and the kids all go: "no way, we cant do that" instead of just trying. I am not good at jumping kicks. In fact I am very very bad at them. But when my teacher tells me to do a jumping spinning hook kick I will do the best jumping spinning hook kick that I can do (even if it does look very bad and it ends up more of a "skip" than a real "jump"). I will not delay each and everyones training by protesting the technique, I simply do as I am told and to the best of my ability. The lesson here is also something that you can take home with you. If my girlfriend tells me to make dinner I will make the best dinner that I am capable of (burned meat :-P ), I will not protest and tell her (what we both know) that the dinner will be much better if she makes it. If my boss hands me an assigment that I am not fully up to I do say that someone else will be able to do this better, but if he wants me to do it I will do it to the best of my ability.

Following this training precept will save you so much time, both in the Dojang, in your home and in your proffessional life.

When you are learning a new technique, practise it wholeheartedly until you truly understand it.

Ever learned a technique which you found utterly useless and unpractical but Your teacher insisted you keep training it until you hated it and then some, and suddenly it became one of your "go to techniques"? I think that this is partly what Funakoshi means by this precept, but I also think that he also means that we should not simply "collect" techniques, but we should truly understand it; meaning being able to apply it and adapt it to the ever changing circumstances in combat. Today many "learn" a technique or a form and then instead of repeating it over and over and internalize it, or practising it with a partner they go looking for the "next big thing", the next technique, the next form, etc. Here Funakoshi tells us to study "deep" and not becomming forms or technique collectors.

Do not pretend to be a great master and do not try to show off your strength.

This one is something that Funakoshi goes to great length in his writings to fight: the stereotypical martial arts fighter who is gruff and muscular, crippling people left and right, destroying bricks and boards for fun and generally just giving the martial arts a bad reputation. He is not saying we should not do our best when promoting the martial arts through demonstrations, but pointless acrobatic and circus tricks did not belong in his vision for martial arts, and in the early days of Taekwondo neither did it hold much place in their version too. Today however you will have to look hard to find a demonstration team demonstrating "traditional" Taekwondo. All is high acrobatic kicks, baked roof tiles and bricks, paper thin wooden boards and movie style ho sin sul. When we demonstrate we usually demonstrate a selection of the syllabus you will be practising if you join. The point being to demonstrate to get people to join Taekwondo. A typical demonstration therefore has a selection of basic techniques, a few forms, some formal sparring, some free sparring, some self defense techniques and some breaking. People see this, they join and they get what they expected. I wish that more Taekwondo Dojangs would "go back" and demonstrate what they do in the day to day training instead of circus tricks, acrobatics and movie style choreographed "self defense".

You must always have a deep regard for curtesy, and you must be respectful and obedient toward your seniors

I am not so sure that I need to elaborate this much for a Taekwondo audience. After all Curtesy is one of Gm Choi`s tenets (Choi as in General Choi of the ITF) of Taekwondo and much have been written about them. I will say that of all the training precepts this one is perhaps in my view anyway one of the most important ones and one which is easily taken from the Dojang to the outside world. Your seniors in Taekwondo are those with a higher rank but outside it is the age that counts. Your seniors are everyone from your School teacher, to your parents, older siblings etc. Following this in a heartfull and mindfull way will give the general public a good opinion of the martial arts. This training precept is also mirrored in both the Mu Duk Kwan and the Ji Do Kwan philosophy which I hope to Write more on in the future as the Oh Do Kwan tenets and 5 laws of Taekwondo is well known but little if anything is written of the ethical philosophy of the other Kwan.

You must ignore the bad and adopt the good.

In all cultures and in all people there are good things/aspects and bad things/aspects. It is a common human flaw that we focus on the bad so much that we miss the good aspects of a culture or person. Here Funakoshi advices us to ignore the bad and adopt the good, which is a profound and very wise advice. If there is a person who is great at the theoretical aspects of Taekwondo, but very bad at the physical side of things, dont focus on the bad side kicks, or bad Poomsae performances, or how slow he moves in sparring. Ignore all of that, but speak to him about the theory which he is good at. Learn the good aspects he has and ignore the bad.

I have a close relationship with Korea and Korean culture due to my heavy expousure from training traditional Taekwondo, over 12 visits to Korea and one 1 year stay there. Many People think that I unconditionally love Korean culture because of this, but what I have done is to follow Funakoshi`s advice (which I originally received from my own teacher long before I read anything by Funakoshi). While Korean culture has a lot of positive sides (philosophy, etchics, manners, food etc) it does not come without what in my own view is bad sides (inhuman working conditions, inhuman pressure of students, a lot of double standards etc). This is also true of my own Norwegian culture as well of course. At one time during my longest stay in Korea I found myself focusing more and more on the bad sides to the point of not being able to see the good sides. I talked to my teacher about this issue, and he agreed with my observations but asked me to try to focus more on the good sides than the bad sides.

What I have done since then is that I have tried to take what is the best aspects of both Norwegian and Korean culture and make it into my own character as a result of this, and likewise I have done the same with the people I meet. It is an incredibly powerful precept this, and I do hope that many more will take this to heart.

Think of everyday life as Taekwondo (karate) training

This one is perhaps the most profound precept of all. We learn so much more in the Dojang than merely breaking another human being (the martial aspects), we also learn to set and reach goals, have a strong spirit with a "never say die" attitude, curtesy, patience, working through pain, and so much more. What many do however is that they go to the Dojang, practise a little and then leave the Dojang forgetting all they have learned. They seem to think that Taekwondo is something you do "inside the Dojang" and that "outside" belongs to the outside world. I think that the "Do" aspect of Taekwondo among other things is to transfer the lessons of the Dojang (the place we study the "Do") to the everyday life we live. If you need to be polite in the Dojang, you should be polite everywhere. If you need to be patient in the Dojang, you need to be patient all times. If you can work through pain and discomfort in the Dojang, you should be able to do the same in your everyday life etc. Like so many ITF exponents say: "The tenets of Taekwondo is not only for the Dojang!" Some things are easier to transfer to everyday life than other things, but we should (according to this precept) try to integrate Taekwondo into our everyday life, and not let it be a simple physical activity done a few times a week.

Funakoshi wrote many books, and as I am now working through them one after another there will be many more posts based on his works on this blog. I mentioned the books I have worked through but to give people a "Funakoshi study list" this is a list of all English books (there might be some untranslated works out there still):

  • Essence of Karate
  • 21 guiding precepts of Funakoshi (1930s)
  • Tote Jitsu (Karate Jitsu 1920s)
  • Karate Do Kyohan 1935
  • Karate Do Nyomun (1943?)
  • Karate Do My way of Life (1950s)
  • Karate Do Kyohan 1958 (unfinished by Funakoshi, but edited and published one year after his Death. This is the most famous book of his).
And with that I wish you all happy training and happy studying :-D

I hope to provide much more video content to this blog in the future. I have therefore set up a GoFundMe page on www.gofundme.com/traditionaltaekwondoramblings which I hope I can crowdfund a video editing software so I can make good quality videos for the blogs readers. If you want to contribute please visit the link to my GoFundMe page. Every donation helps :-)


  1. Thanks for the list - I'm trying to get some more Funakoshi works to read (other than just Essence of Karate). Any one(s) you found particularly informative?

    1. All of them:-P but his 1935 karate do kyohan translated by Neptune publishing and his auto biography are possible his best works. His 1935 book contains the most applications as well if that is of interest + it was written around the same time the Koreans studied on Japan :-)