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The Black-Belt Oath

PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2008 4:02 pm
by HanshiClayton
This is a passage from pages 278-279 of Shotokan's Secret, the First Edition. The same oath appears in Shotokan's Secret, Expanded Edition on page 339. It seemed appropriate to include it here with the other essays on karate philosophy. The subject of this section was whether or not karate builds good character.


We can’t just blindly assume that punching and kicking builds good character. Many of our students have no idea what “good character” means. We have to tell them.

Sakugawa wrote the first dojo kun about 200 years ago, which means his rules are somewhat out of date. Funakoshi’s dojo kun are closer to the mark, but written in the wrong heritage for our students. We need a code of behavior that fits our Western heritage in ways Sakugawa and Funikoshi could not imagine. What I have in mind is something like this:

The Black Belt Oath

    I wear the black belt. It means I have a special responsibility, because I carry life and death in my hands.

    I do not hurt people. I protect the young, the weak, and the helpless. If I see someone being hurt, I make it stop. I don’t just look away.

    I obey the law. When someone breaks the law, I tell the police, even if it is a friend. I do not just ignore a crime.

    I tell the truth. I don’t lie, not even when I might be punished. When someone is lying, I say so. I don’t just pretend I didn’t hear.

    I win or lose by the rules.
    I do not cheat. When I see someone cheating, I say so. I won’t let them steal a prize or a grade that they didn’t earn.

    I keep my promises. When I give you my word, I don’t take it back. I expect others to do the same.

    I follow my conscience. If something is wrong, I say so, even when all of my friends disagree. I will not be silent just to be safe or popular.

    I swear on my honor to preserve rather than destroy; to avoid rather than confront; to confront rather than hurt; to hurt rather than maim; to maim rather than kill; to kill rather than die; and to die rather than dishonor my belt.

    The ancient masters tell us that winning one thousand victories in one thousand battles is not the highest skill. The highest skill is to win without fighting. This will be my lifelong goal.

    This is my oath, sworn on my sacred honor, and only death will break it.

This oath was written for a twelve-year-old audience, but it makes an important point. After all, if a Shotokan blackbelt can’t stand up for what is good and true in the world, who can?

I have this oath on the wall of my dojo. Now and then I look up and see one of the teenagers studying it with careful attention.