Karate and Religion: Complementary or Contradictory?

Karate can be translated as the way of karate which does not only mean the method of training but also how we conduct ourselves and our relationships with other people. It is a guide for the direction we should go in.


A pointer to how we achieve the way is contained in the lines of the dojo-kun. (The morals of the dojo). The first line is “Hitotsu! Jinkaku Kansei ni Tsotomoru koto!" which can be translated as, "One! To strive for the perfection of Character!". The key words are strive and perfection. This does not mean that we will achieve our goal for perfection but includes the attribute of Humility as we can never achieve perfection but we can never stop trying to become better people. Most Karate-ka who think they have perfect technique or indeed that they are perfect, give up training in a very short space of time.


The second line is "Hitotsu! Makoto No Michi O Mamoro Koto!” which can be translated as "One! To Defend The Paths of Truth!". This is possibly aligned more with Buddhism with a reference to the Eightfold path. Karate was likened by Nicol to Moving Zen (Buddhism). Is this an indication that we need to be Zen Buddhists to be true karateka? Possibly but probably not. However we can cross-refer this to one of the Christian commandments not to bear false witness, to be honest and true and I am confident that no matter what religion you follow your guidance will be along the same path.


Ideals of respect for others and trying to become better people (as explained in other lines of the Dojo-Kun) can be recognised by most followers of different religions. In any dojo you will probably find a mixture Christians, Moslems, Sikhs , Hindus , Buddhists and followers of other different religions all training side by side in multi-racial harmony.


When I began training back in 1984 I had no religion but during the intervening years I have become a Christian. Isn't there a conflict I am often asked? Can the two co-exist or even compliment each other? As I have already stated there is a lot of common ground between the two. Both Christianity and karate talk of the “way”. One translation of karate-do is the way of the empty mind and Christ said he was “The way the truth and the light.” Using the word “way” implies providing a path leading somewhere or a direction to something. There are many paths up a mountain but there is only one summit.


Both my religion and my karate talk of spirit. Karate spirit is manifested in an ability to keep going under duress or when physically drained and further by following the ways of karate-do by adhering to the dojo-kun. The Christian spirit is a gift from God himself to all believers and can manifest itself in many ways. The “fruits of the spirit” was described by St Paul as love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Is this not the dojo-kun?


Karate-do pointed the way for me to become a Christian but that will not be the same for all. It may lead you towards your own faith. It may confirm the faith you already hold. For me there is no conflict whatsoever only complimentary suggestions. To arrive at an understanding it is not just a matter of turning up to training a couple of times a week ignoring others expecting enlightenment. If that is how you train you will be no further forward in twenty years time. Being a Christian is not just a matter of going to church on Sundays but taking it's teachings into your heart and life in a way you affect others. This is similar to that of karate-do to live your life by the morals of the dojo-kun all of your waking hours. Remember Funakoshi said, “Karate is not just for the dojo”.


By diligent training we can be lead along Karate-do “the way” which does not conflict with religious beliefs. Taking in the things we have in common rather than trying to find conflicts can give us a common focus of how to live our lives correctly. As a Christian I find many attributes of Karate I can empathise with which enhances my Faith and not diminishes it. Regardless of your religious faith both the teachings of that and the dojo-kun guide us to being better, kinder more tolerant and loving human beings. For people of no Faith a search for meaning may lead you towards a faith but in any case will at least give some moral values with which to live your life by.


However whatever your religion or even if you have none at all enjoy your training!