Morality in the Martial Arts. The Ten Components of Conduct.

core values


It seems the only way this world is going to come out of this deep moral funk we are in is through the teachings of traditional martial arts.  People are at unrest.  We have defuncted all traditional ways of thinking and are searching for a compass to lead us out of this moral depravity.

What better way to teach morality and proper conduct than through the martial arts.  This article covers the ten components of conduct all martial artists should strive for.

Gichin Funakoshi, known as the “Father of Karate,” says it this way:

As a mirror’s polished surface reflects whatever stands before it,
and a quiet valley carries even small sounds,
so must the student of karate render of their mind empty of selfishness and wickedness
in an effort to react appropriately toward anything they might encounter. 
This is the meaning of the kara or “empty” of karate-do.”

It isn’t the technique as much as the attitude that makes a true practitioner of the martial arts.

Think back on all the great masters.  Do they exude arrogance and egotism?  Are they calm and wise?

This calmness and wisdom did not come about by boisterousness and conceit.  There is no room in the martial arts for an ego, however large or small.  The bully, the narcissist, the slouch, none of these types of personalities last long in a dojo.  Respect for oneself and others is the #1 requirement for exemplary conduct.  After all, the martial arts turns your body into one of fitness and strength, and the same happens to your mind.

When Da Mo came across the Buddhist monks that did nothing but sit around and meditate, he whipped them into shape because he believed the body and spirit were connected.  If you neglect one, you neglect the other.

With that in mind, read on about the importance of morality in the martial arts.

Respect.  One of the most important words in the martial arts.

Morality.  Why is it such an important component of the martial arts?


martial arts is good for kids

Respect, morality, and the martial arts go hand in hand.

The training of a child through martial arts in correct behavior and right-thinking forms lifelong good habits of mind and body.

However, the level of achievement of morality is directly dependent on how far a student advances in practice.

A boisterous and brazen person is limited in their achievement, narrow-minded and egotistical, thinks their style is the best and their main goal is to kick someone’s butt. This better-than, bullying mentality does not take one very far in life.

In this day and age, the lack of morality is readily apparent in societies across the world.  People seem to forget that it takes community to survive, and community means getting along.  Getting along means respecting one another’s property and person.  Respecting oneself is the ultimate sign of getting along, because if you do not like yourself, you do not like anyone else.

cartoon kids
Respect for oneself and each other

It is not a surprise that Da Mo went to live with the monks, since he was a monk himself.  Under his guidance, the practices of the monks in the Shao Lin temple became the basis for Zen Buddhism.  The moral precepts of Buddhism were originally integrated into the training of the monks by the emperor because after Da Mo’s death, some of them took to the countryside, marauding and pillaging the villagers.

But just because the martial arts and Buddhism carry the same moral precepts, read on, and you will see morality has nothing to do with religion, but with a state of mind and attitude.

Buddhism is a way of life, just like martial arts becomes a way of life.  The two are directly related in the most unlikely place – the practice of morality.  Both lead to a way of exemplary living, a way of life.


never depart from the way of the martial arts


The Way – the path to an enriched and fulfilling life.

The way of morality in the martial arts is not an easy road.  Only the dedicated will survive, but the benefits are great.

Morality is a living a life of acting and thinking, of living present in every second in both thought and deed.  Morality, as described here, is not what you normally would think. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines morality as 1) principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, 2) a particular system of values and principles, 3) the extent in which an action is right or wrong.

For our purposes, a particular system of values and principles most easily describes the role morality plays in the martial arts.  If the monks had not learned to be humble with their art, it would not have survived for nearly 2000 years.  Violent acts eventually die down.  A true sign of an art is how it is preserved over the ages.

This “true art” is threatened.  Traditionalists keep the spirit going, but in today’s world, traditions of all kinds are fading fast, and the carrying on of traditional martial arts is no exception.

The rigid training of the Shao Lin monks, the life-and-death commitment of the samurai, and the struggles of the Okinawans to keep their fighting art alive; they all had moral principles to tame their weaponless defense.

The student learns ways to disable an attacker.  As the techniques increase in level, the ways of defense become more brutal.  Target points on the human body meant for disabling or killing are also target points that will heal.  The student must learn the difference between these two.  Within his two hands he holds the power to heal or kill.  With that comes a huge responsibility.  And that is why there is a system of values and principles that define the martial arts.

Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming and Jeffery Bolt in their book on Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu wrote about the dual development between deed and thought:  Morality of Action and Morality of Mind.


morality in the martial arts

Morality of action.  How one behaves in society, in the outside world.

Humility gains and pride loses

1. Humility.  Humble people admit there is something greater than themselves, something beyond their reach.  This promotes continuous learning, and humility is the foundation for learning.  One must admit they know next to nothing to absorb the gap that is filled in by learning and practice.

“Humility gains” by reminding the martial artist that his training can always be improved upon.  There is always someone better than you.  For every day you don’t train, your opponent gains a day.  No matter how much you know, how perfect your techniques are, there is always more to learn and perfect.

“Pride loses” by creating a feeling of satisfaction and adequacy.  Pride gives the practitioner a false sense of achievement.  Why practice?  This thinking halts your growth in a heartbeat.  Remember the adage, “Pride goeth before a fall!”

Humility is the building block for the other four levels of morality of action, because if one isn’t humble, they certainly won’t be respectful.

2. Respect is intimately related to humility.  Both recognize the goodness in everything.  There is no “bad” style of the martial arts, most are closely related.  There is no reason for dojo wars or cock-of-the-walk mentality.  Each is in this for their own reasons, and each reason is valid.  Who are we to judge whether another person’s reasoning is good or bad, or our style is better than theirs.

Respect gives the martial arts the pure spirit it deserves.  In the dojo we show respect in many different ways; to other students by treating them well, to the dojo by keeping it clean and in repair, to oneself by wearing a clean gi and having a clean body.  And especially, respect to the master of your art, for this is the person that can guide you to the higher levels of ability.  Bowing shows respect to the sensei, the dojo, the other students, and to yourself.  These gestures are important because they help us acquire correct behavior.

3.  Righteousness.  Steadfast and upright.  Doing the right thing.  

Just like the monks of old, fighting for the old reign, for the life they lost to the Manchus, you find yourself standing up for justice, compelled to fight the evils in the world.  It is not an easy torch to carry.  This is what it means to be righteous – morally good and virtuous.  Live a clean life because others are looking up to you and they trust you.

4. Trust – If you are respectful and humble, and stand up for what is right, then people learn to trust you.  They know your word is good and you do what you say.  To be dependable shows honesty and good character, and it shows you are loyal.

5. Loyal – to be faithful to the ideals that one believes in – ideals of family, culture, country, and the martial arts.  A student may be called on to teach, which he must honor.

If your master has taken the time to reach you to the level of achievement where he feels comfortable allowing you to teach, then he deserves your loyalty and respect by passing on what he has taught you.

This is the ultimate compliment to the masters before you.  Without you, your art dies.

Morality of thought.  If a man is a ship, then the will is the rudder.

Can you spend three hours a day training?  If the will is strong, if the desire is there, you can.  It takes long hours to become proficient at your art, it has been said after you throw 10,000 kicks and 10,000 punches you are well on your way to perfection.

That’s a lot of kicks and punches.  How many do you throw in an hour’s practice?  It all adds up.  Without the will to succeed, you quit before the 10,000 is close.

1. Will is the heart of the matter.  The will is the force that gets us through, not only the 10,000 punches and kicks, but through life’s challenges.  In times of personal trouble, sadness, grief, loss, laziness, self-doubt, it is your will to overcome, to survive, that gets you to the other side.

2. Endurance supports the will; it is the will’s physical fuel or energy source.  You may want to succeed, but not have the endurance.  Can you endure those 10,000 kicks over the course of many years?

3 & 4. Perseverance and patience are the will’s mental sources of energy.  Endurance is physical energy, perseverance and patience are the mental energy that gives you the right mindset.  Those long years of practice can only be endured with perseverance and patience.

5. Bravery is the principal action for the will; the spiritual courage to fight truth.  This is not an easy task, fighting truth.  People do not want to see it; they do not want to hear there is a better, more peaceful way to live.  It takes great strength and bravery to endure the onslaught that goes along with standing up for what is right.  Sometimes it means physically defending yourself or your family; sometimes it means speaking out when you see someone wronged; sometimes it means just getting through your day!

As you can see, the five components of morality in action: Humility, respect, righteousness, loyalty, and truthfulness are intimately tied to the five components of morality of mind: Will, endurance, perseverance, patience and bravery.  Perhaps you can also see how these ten components are necessary to advance in the martial arts.  As these qualities are practiced, they become a part of one’s character.  Just like learning respect in the dojo transfers to treating others with respect in the community.


Humility is indeed the building block, the foundation for moral character.



“Once humility becomes a living ideal the thought of showing off or boisterous disappears.”
Master Yang

Whether you are a practitioner or an instructor, it is important to carry these precepts with you.  These are not just for the dojo, but a way of conduct throughout your life.  Your training as a martial artist sets you off from the others.  People look to you to see if you are a bad-ass or if you are someone they can trust.  You are a reflection of your dojo and of your art.  Just like the mirror looking back, you are the mirror for your art.

Promote kindness and goodwill in your world.  It only takes one or two to start the momentum.  Advertise your dojo by putting your best foot forward and being helpful and kind.  Practice humility.  It is practice because understanding what it takes to be humble doesn’t happen overnight.  Perhaps that is why the old masters are calm and wise.  It took a lifetime to get there.


Sensei Carol

Rules to follow in the Dojo that will never let you down

Mushin Kenpo Karate is based on mutual respect for all people in class or out.  As martial artists in a class, the people around you are your brothers and sisters.  Treat each other well.

Rules are not made to be broken, but to be followed.  Showing respect for one another is the most important aspect in a dojo. It is important to show respect to the dojo itself, the instructors, past and present, other students, your parents, friends, and anyone else that comes into your life.

When people treat each other well, there is a sense of comradery and teamwork.  Everyone in the dojo has the same goal; to learn to protect themselves and the ones they love.  The instructors of Mushin Dojo do not tolerate bullying of any kind, inside or outside the dojo.

Students are expected to conduct themselves with utmost decorum.  You are representatives of Mushin Dojo, and if you are out on the streets picking fights and showing off your stuff, you are not a representative of the art.

Below are the rules of Mushin Dojo.  They are simple and straightforward.  Act responsibly and the rules are easy to follow.

When to Bow:

  • Upon entering or leaving the dojo.
  • Upon formal opening and closing of class.
  • Before engaging in a workout with a training partner (bow to each other).  This expresses to your training partner that you are there to work out and not to hurt or damage each other.
  • Whenever you wish to address an instructor directly.  (Bow and wait for the instructor to return bow before entering the instructors’ area or training)
  • When entering a mat or ring.
  • Bowing upon entering a dojo shows respect for the past masters that had spent their lives training and developing the martial arts.
  • Bowing to your instructor shows respect and to thank the instructor for taking the time to teach you.

Other Mushin Dojo Rules:

  • No gum chewing during work outs.
  • No smoking in class.
  • Never interrupt the instructor – wait for questions.
  • Wait for permission before leaving the dojo floor. 
  • Never walk away from a workout.
  • No swearing in the dojo.
  • No eating in the dojo.
  • Keep the dojo immaculate.
  • Always wear clean uniform and have a clean body.

Show Respect for Others in the Dojo

  • Refrain from losing your temper.
  • Never make fun other other’s mistakes.
  • Immediately move away from an injured person.
  • Never put down another person’s art.
  • By loyal to your own art.
  • Seek approval of your instructor before entering a tournament or giving a demonstration.
  • Never handle weapons that you are not qualified to.
  • Apply yourself fully to periods of meditation.

Traditional Okinawan Karate is not a sport!  Do not refer to it as a sport. It is a martial art.



Ancient Beginnings of the Martial Arts

two figures with a spear


 “In the broadest sense, karate, like all other means of barehanded fighting, must have originated together with Mankind itself, for the earliest men were constantly at battle either with the beasts around them or with each other.  Karate as an organized technique, however, did not appear until men began to live together in communities.  Because at this state in the growth of civilization groups of people all over the planet developed styles of fighting that resembled karate, it would be improper to say that karate originated either in the Orient or in the Occident, though the way of karate, as it is known today, is definitely Oriental.”
(Masutatsu (Mas) Oyama “This is Karate”, 1965.)

Mas Oyama “This is Karate”


Normally, a modern-day karate student, if he learns history about his art, is told Japan and Okinawa is where karate started.  However, the word “karate” wasn’t applied as a technical term until 1936 when a group of karate masters from Okinawa gathered together and decided this is what this empty-hand art should be called.

In fact, kara (empty) and te (hand), is about as self-explanatory as it comes.  But empty-hand fighting didn’t start in Okinawa, or Japan, or even China.  Martial arts students are taught that Chinese boxing (kungfu or quanfa) started with Boddhidharma (Da Mo) crossing the Himalayas to China from India where he ended up at the Shaolin temple, and that their particular style is an offshoot of all three of these countries in a round-about way.

As a student of martial arts history, this scenario left many questions.  As a student of Tomari-te, I had a lot of questions.  The masters tell us karate came from te, but there isn’t much literature on the origins of this Okinawan fighting art, and next to nothing about Tomari-te.


  1. Where did te come from, and why is little said about Tomari?  The neighboring villages of Naha and Shuri are credited as the foundation of karate, but where did te come from?

This is where the history gets a little murky.  I will delve into the Okinawan history of te at a later time, but first, let us address this question:

2. Where did Da Mo learn the martial arts?  Did he have a vision while he was meditating in his cave at the Shaolin Temple for nine years, and came up with this ah-ha moment about how to defend oneself?  Or did he come from India having been trained in the martial arts?

Most martial art historians credit Bodhidharma (460-534 BCE) as the founder of the martial arts.  Da mo – Bodhidharma or Da mo, or Daruma (Japanese).   Da mo is the name I will be using when referring to this monk who journeyed a great distance to pass on his knowledge.

In my research for this project, Master Oyama is the only author who has mentioned the history, as he knew it, of earliest man having some sort of self-defense at his disposal.  His was forward thinking, because there was little knowledge in his time of the civilizations that came before us.  Many things about civilization have been discovered since 1965.  Archeology has come a long way in the last 50 years with the discovery of civilizations older generations had no idea existed.

Even into the 1990’s there wasn’t much said about the evolution of karate outside of Okinawa.  The old karate masters of karate also had no idea of where their art began, other than what they were taught, and this accounts for the lack of solid information pre-17th century Okinawa.

In fact, Da Mo did come to China with knowledge of the martial arts, and ended up at the Shaolin Temple in 527 BCE.  He hailed from India, possibly Madras on the eastern coast of India; where he entered the priesthood of Buddhism and became the 28th patriarch of the Buddhist faith.  He was also an accomplished martial artist.  He had two books, and with these he instructed the monks at the Shaolin temple by building their bodies through physical training, and their minds through discipline and meditation.  (There is some controversy about how and when these books appeared, but we will address that another time.)


If karate, like all other means of barehanded fighting, originated with Mankind itself, then where did barehand fighting originate?  Perhaps you imagine a caveman carrying a large stick or a mastodon’s thighbone for a weapon.  From the earliest time, man has had to defend himself against aggressors.  Watching out for hungry wild animals and greedy neighbors probably took up most of the caveman’s day, and as time went on, he became more skilled at how he defended himself.

You have to give the human race kudos for being imaginative and inventive.  The hallmark that has keep us alive and on this planet for as long as we have is our innovative spirit.  Always trying to improve on what is.  The wheel evolved this way, and it makes sense to surmise weapons also evolved this way.

Here is a timeline of ancient civilizations relevant to this discussion:

Rome 753 – 476 BCE
Persia 550 – 331 BCE
Greece 2700 – 479 BCE
China 1600 – 1046 BCE
Danube 3500 – 550 BCE
Indus 2600 – 1900 BCE
Jiahu 7000 – 1700 BCE
‘Aiu Ghazal 7200 – 5000 BCE
Catalokoyuk 7500 – 5700 BCE

I have included only the civilizations that thrived in the countries that most affected the development of the martial arts.  Other than the crossing of the Bearing Strait, until the 1500’s, the South and North American and Mesoamerican cultures were isolated from the neighbors across the sea.

The oldest civilization recorded is the Catalkoyuk settlement in today’s Turkey that existed from 7500 to 5700 BCE.  A civilization evolved when nomadic hunter/gatherers decided to settle down into a community and build houses and began farming and raising animals for food instead of foraging.

The earliest recorded civilization in China was the Jiahu settlement (7000 to 5700 BCE.).  It was located in the Henan province; is it ironic that the first Shaolin Temple was also located in the Henan province many centuries later?  This was a civilization that left behind pottery, and a stone flute made from one wing bone of the red-crowned crane and “Neolithic grog”, the first people that used fermentation to turn grapes into wine.

stone carving of jiahu civilization
Jiahu Civilization

We will explore this interesting culture more in depth at a later time, but for now, it is just an example of how people lived more than 9,000 years ago.  The Bronze Age started up around 3000 BCE., and that is when weaponry started taking off.  By the end of the Iron Age (1500 – 1200 BCE.) they were able to combine different alloys with the bronze, and when steel was discovered, the weapon industry boomed!

With the exception of the Indus civilization (2600 – 1900 BCE.), weapons en masse are found at excavation sites of the other settlements.  Interestingly, the people of this culture had no need for war!


Every successful civilization conquered other civilizations.  Each civilization had a military.  Marauding warriors and conquests over land were just as prevalent then as they are now.  Other than what was practiced in the different civilizations, there was no formalized means of fighting until the 33rd Olympics in Greece (648 BCE.) when pankration was held as competition.

The Greeks give credit to the mythological gods Hercules and Theseus for inventing pankration.  Ancient drawings show these two gods wrestling and boxing.  Pankration is much like today’s karate, using many of the same techniques of punching, kicking, grappling, chokes, takedowns and joint locks.  There was no gouging or biting, but everything else was fair game.  There was also a similar style during that time that used animal hides on their hands but did not allow kicking or throwing.  In 479 BCE., when the Persians overtook the mountain pass at Thermopylae, a small group of Athenian Greeks (trained in pankration) put up a good fight and held off the Spartans for three days before their leader was killed and they lost the battle.  The Persians remarked on the excellent fighting skills of the Greeks.

Pankration, the ancient Greek fight art

King Phillip, father of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE.), inherited a weak army and made it the strongest in the world.  He practiced pankration and used this discipline to train his troops.  he gave them uniforms and changed their short swords to long 18-foot spears.  After the death of Phillip, Alexander continued in his father’s footsteps and trained his Great Macedonia phalanx in this fighting style. The Macedonia warriors were an elite part of Alexander’s army because of their great strength and fighting abilities.

Upon his conquering of Alexandria, Alexander left his wounded in the city while he completed his conquests.  His Macedonia warriors married Greco-Bactrian women, the kingdom that extended as far east as Seres – (the name by which the Greeks and Romans knew China).  Seres – the land where silk came from.



The East/West trade began during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE)  King Wu was a forward-looking man, and this was a deeply rich culture.  The history of China is quite interesting, and here you can read about some of the contributions the Han Dynasty made to the world.  King Wudi was troubled by the Xiongnu people on his western and northern borders.  In 138 B.C.E., he sent his trusted emissary, Zhang Qian, to the west to appeal to the Bactrian satrap to help overcome the Xiongnu people, who were also enemies of the Bactria.

The Xiongnu were an aggressive tribe, and would maraud northern China’s borders, which is the reason the Han began to build the Great Wall – to keep the Xiognu out.  They were expert horsemen, reportedly bringing 300,000 archers on horseback at one time to terrorize the Chinese.  You can imagine King Wudi’s excitement when he learned from Zhang Qian that the Bactrian satrap was willing to trade horses for China’s products.  The western horses were faster and leaner than the horses and chariots used by the Chinese, which made a better match against the warring Xiongnu.

Not only did King Wudi begin building the Great Wall, but he built the Silk Road, as well.

Actually, the Silk “Road” is a series of different routes between China and the West.  It was a network of trade routes built by the Han Dynasty in 130 BCE and lasted until 1453 CE when the Ottomans closed the road.  The first road was King Wudi’s single silk road, and closure of these routes by the Ottomans sent the Europeans exploring water routes to replace the land routes.


map of silk road routes
The Silk “Routes” by land and by sea

The world was a busy place back in the day.  People traveled and traded goods all over the known world.  Once the Silk Road was completed, it opened up travel over some of the most treacherous landscape in the world.  Crossing the Gobi Desert and circumnavigating the Himalayas was a challenge for travelers and had kept China isolated from the rest of the world for centuries.  The Silk Road solved that problem, and trade between the East and West began in earnest.

Trade not only of goods, but of religion – and of the martial arts.  Up until the Olympics, warfare was developed among the individual armies.  The official designation of pankration as an Olympic sport brought it great fame, and generals, like Phillip and Alexander, saw how it would add value to the training of their troops.

When Alexander dropped his injured troops off in Alexandria, it seems logical that this fighting art was introduced into the Indian culture, and that Alexander’s troops taught the people martial arts and it spread from there.  But DaMo was experienced in a much more ancient art, a martial art developed in India, and this is the art he brought to China.  As you will see, Alexander’s troops may have spread their martial arts, but on further examination, it was more of an exchange of techniques, rather than introducing anything new.

Over time the martial arts and Buddhism flourished side by side.    Together with the moral teachings of Buddhism, thanks to the massive movement of people and ideas around the world, he introduced the beginnings of the martial arts as we know them today.


two figures grappling
Ancient Greeks wrestling
Pankration drawing on a Greek vase










Chaos – Where Great Dreams Begin




Eleven Benefits of the Martial Arts


Gichin Funakoshi, Father of Karate

The martial arts have been around for 2500 years. The Chinese were the first to discover that health and wellness could be gained through exercise and a proper attitude, and that is why the martial arts and health are intertwined. A strong body makes for a strong mind. The Chinese also discovered the points used in healing, if applied in a different way, are also the points that destroy, maim and kill.

This is why you will not find a combative martial artist. Rather than the way of war, a true martial artist will seek the way of peace. A traditional bow says “I hide my weapon. I come in peace.” (Left open palm over a closed right fist.)

Here we cover the two most important rules of the martial arts, and the eleven benefits that will be gained with consistent and dedicated practice. Continue reading “Eleven Benefits of the Martial Arts”

A Word About the Martial Arts

martial arts is good for kidsFrequently, parents bring their child to the dojo with despair in their eyes.  “We’ve tried everything to get Johnny to calm down, but nothing seems to be working!”

Parents enroll their child in the martial arts as a last resort, desperate for him to learn to cope with the stressors of life and school. Many times, the parents are at the end of their ropes, not knowing what to do about the bad attitude, the poor grades, and the defiance.

Nothing special is done for these children. They learn the same techniques as the other students, they are expected to pay attention and follow along.

Within three to six months, the parents come to the sensei (teacher) amazed that their child’s grades have improved, his attitude is better, and he is more outgoing and gets along with others.

This used to puzzle me. Yes, the instructors were great, but what makes the difference in such a short time? Continue reading “A Word About the Martial Arts”