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Bruno Ballardini
Bruno Ballardini's picture
On Funakoshi's last Principle

Dear friends,

happy to join the group. I'd like to contribute to the discussion with a new topic. I recently published the Italian edition of the Shoto Nijukun by Funakoshi after verifying the original text with japanese scholars. So, I had a great opportunity to make some discoveries. The most interesting of them was about the 20th Principle: Tsune ni shinen ku fu seyo  (I tried to put here the Kanji but the system does'nt accept the characters).

There are a lot of sloppy and misleading translations around, with different interpretations as "The spirit must always aim at the highest level" or "Always think and devise ways to live the precepts every day" or "Continuously polish your mind". And they are dramatically wrong. The right translation is "Be always creative". That is quite another thing.

Now, the question is: how such a wrong translation could affect the approach and the practice itself of billion of people in the world, transmitting a wrong sense? And how would have been different our last 30 years of practice with such a different idea? Why did the JKA, till the beginning, force that interpretation? What kind of attitude would they try to obtain? Perhaps a sort of mysticism in militarism?

Sorry for my bad English... anyway, all my compliments to Iain for his concrete creativity :-)


Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture

Hmm, in my opinion it is very dangerous talking about "right" translations in absolute terms, especially when dealing with the transfer of interpretive and context based Oriental languages like Japanese to delineative and content based European ones such as English (not too sure about Itailan though!).

Clearly there is a problem with "Always think and devise ways to live the precepts every day" as the precepts themselves are not mentioned at all and it is a bit of a stretch to interpret the word "shinen" (thought, idea, mental process) as referring to them.

Like wise "The spirit must always aim at the highest level" is also perhaps trying to extrapolate a meaning too far from the original.

In my opinion "Continuously polish your mind" is not so far from the intended meaning but is a little clunky and inelegant (the polish metaphor for improving and purifying something dosent work too well with a non physical subject and "mind" is perhaps too nebulous in meaning here). "Polish" is the natural metaphor most often used in Japanese for mental cultivation so perhaps there is some influence from that coming in here?

I do take issue with "be creative" though as it ignores the word "shinen" alltogether. The general meaning of kufu is indeed along the lines of ingenuity and searching for a creative solution but it does have another meaning in the context of Buddhism of dilligently applying the self to ascetic practices. The presence of the word shinen here strongly indicates to me that it is referring to the mental discipline and cultivation aspect of martial arts. Almost all analyses of the 20 precepts by Japanese sources that I have read also seem to take it in that way (That dosen't automatically make them right but it is telling).

Of course, this in no way devalues the idea of being creative in one's training and application or goes against the truth of dodgy translations being pedalled around for a long time. I can fully support the hypothesis that the early karate pioneers spread the very militaristic discipline culture that was prevalent in the karate of their time (and in Japanese society in general) and would quite likely interpret "spiritual cultivation" as cultivating obedience and deference to authority when explaining the precepts. 

Bruno Ballardini
Bruno Ballardini's picture

Thank you. I noticed that also Bruce Clayton in his "Shotokan's Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins" supports "Be always creative". And even Robert Redmond in his famous blog from Japan shares the same opinion:


On the other hand, I completely agree on your rendering of kufu and shinen and, accordingly, the sentence could be interpreted as "Always cultivate your spirit/spirituality". But I have a problem here: it's difficult to talk about "spirit" without the word "spirit" in the original sentence.

So, could it be right: "Always perfect your intuition"?


miket's picture

How about "always cultivate your understanding" [implied:  of budo/ bujutsu/ or the precepts he sets down, take your pick]?

I am totally reading that from the sysntax of this thread, as I do not speak Japanese.  Taken in context, however, (the context of the thread, but more, I mean from the context of a 'complete' reading of Funakoshi's 20 precepts---  what we might call his 'instructional paradigms', personal philosophies, or 'laws' about approaching karate training), it seems to me to fit as an appropriate summary,  and to embody both ideas of creativity and self-development.  Just a thought...

ky0han's picture


Heiko Bittmann translated this in his book "the teachings of karatedo" as this: "Always reflect and continually seek perfection".

tsune - always, regularly ni - particle shinen - thought kufu - idea, device, scheme seyo - although, also, too

So for me "Always pay attention to the mental development too" makes sense for me when I take Gavins thoughts on kufu along with shinen into account.

Regards Holger