For many people, Karate carries a sense of mystery and there are misconceptions that it is pseudo-religious or has spiritual overtones. Not quite. There are several branches to the family tree of traditional Japanese karate and each has a very similar set of principles. The founder of Shotokan karate, Gichin Funakoshi, was a poet and philosopher so there is some philosophical background. Here are Funakoshi’s five karate principles, known as the Dojo Kun (pronounced: do-jo koon), that every business leader can use every day.
- Seek Perfection of Character
Character is one of those things that everyone understands but can be hard to put into words. It is a person’s moral compass but it’s about more than just morality. It is the foundation of a leader. Remove a brick from that foundation and it may take a long time for the structure to settle, if it doesn’t completely crumble around you. In short, continue trying to be the best version of you that you can be. We’re all human and make mistakes but meddle with character and you’re asking for trouble.
- Be Faithful
This is not necessarily religious. In this context being faithful means finding something important to your organization, and being steadfast to it. This is your vision, your mission. Stay true to it. If you don’t believe it then neither will the rest of the organization. But if you truly believe your mission and preach it every day then your people will share your vision too. They’ll be faithful and out of this faith comes passion.
- Endeavor To Excel
This one seems obvious but there’s nuance here. Endeavor is an action word. It is something you strive for. Not once, not twice. It is something you do every day. Much like karate, there is no finish line. No matter how much training a karateka (karate practitioner) has, or how much endeavoring a business leader has done, there is no end because there is no mastery, only excellence which is not finite. Funakoshi said, “Karate is like boiling water, if you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.” Excellence is the same, it is something you work continually toward or else it will cool.
- Respect Others
Another no-brainer, right? Too many bad leaders think respect comes with the corner office. It doesn’t. You can’t force respect, you can’t demand it. Respect is earned and it is a two-way street. In order for people to respect you they need to know you’re one of them. They understand you have broader responsibilities but they need to feel that you’d roll up your sleeves and do the grunt work with them if and when you have to. And, you have to show respect to the people with whom you work. If there is a lack of respect in either direction you have to stop and ask yourself why because it’s time to make changes.
- Refrain From Violent Behavior
This may seem counter-intuitive to a non-practitioner of karate because karateka spend so much time training to punch, block, strike, and kick. To traditional martial artists, however, the notion of non-violence is deeply embedded. Reason and negotiation comes first, physical force is a last resort. In business, refraining from violent behavior is so obvious, it’s barely worth saying. Under no circumstances is violence acceptable in the workplace unless you’re a professional fighter. So, let’s look at the tenet less literally and replace the word “violent” with “aggressive”, “abusive”, “offensive”, or a myriad of other less-than-savory expressions.
Refraining from offensive behavior goes hand-in-hand with all of the other principles above. If you are offensive to your employees then you will lose their respect, your character foundation will crack, the employees will lose their faith, and ultimately their motivation to excel.
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