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The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate: The Spiritual Legacy of the Master    by Gichin Funakoshi order for
Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate
by Gichin Funakoshi
Order:  USA  Can
Kodansha International, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) founded modern 'karate-do', 'the Way of the Empty Hand'. He brought the martial art from Okinawa to Japan in 1922, and remained in Tokyo to train and spread awareness of the discipline in Japan and worldwide. The master's guiding principles are presented in this book, along with original calligraphy and a commentary written by Genwa Nakasone in 1938.

An Afterword by Karate-do Shoitokai President Jotaro Takagi informs us that 'Funakoshi saw striking parallels between Buddhism and his treasured karate'. Translator John Teramoto also emphasizes the spiritual side of a martial art that is primarily about 'building character'. The first principle is 'Do not forget that karate-do begins and ends with rei' - rei combines self-esteem with a respectful attitude. The interpretation of the second, 'There is no first strike in karate', goes back to the samurai tenet against the reckless use of weapons, and the true spirit of 'budo', the 'Way of Martial Arts'. The third exhorts the reader to stand for Justice. The fourth, 'First Know Yourself, Then Know Others', reminds me of the advice given to Laertes by his father in Hamlet.

Some principles will be interpreted at different levels, based on experience, for example the sixth, 'The mind must be set free'. Several are accompanied by tales of ancient swordmasters and their wisdom. Many relate to applying the spirit of the martial art to everyday life, e.g. via ongoing 'learning through practice'. The twelfth, with its subtle focus on 'not losing' rather than on winning, takes a different perspective than is the norm in Western culture, an important shift in emphasis. The twentieth demands that the reader be 'constantly mindful, diligent and resourceful' - the interpretation states that this 'encapsulates all the principles that come before it', relating to Buddhism, the spiritual emphasis of these guiding principles, and their application to life in general.

I recommend reading and thinking about The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate. Whether or not you practice the martial arts, they make a great deal of sense, and will take you far, as a philosophy of life.

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