The Power of Setting Limits

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Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.50.46 AMI remember that when Jiu-Jitsu first became popular in the U.S., it seemed like “traditional martial arts” became yesterday’s news.

I was the worst offender. I left my traditional training behind because I thought that the lessons were antiquated and irrelevant. I thought there was so much freedom in not having to be bound by an “old” way of thinking.

But with a little hindsight, it’s easy to see that I might have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. There were some really powerful principles happening in some of those traditional teachings.

Take Shotokan Karate. It understands the power of setting limits. To do this, it uses a tool called the Dojo Kun – the statement of basic training principles before anyone begins moving on the mat.

Here it is, in it’s simple beauty: Seek perfection of character. Be faithful. Endeavor. Respect others. Refrain from violent behavior.

So we can say that the class starts with the answer to the problems.

Master Funakoshi understood, after eighty years of practice, that those problems were forever looming in the practitioners’ experience:

  • That if we weren’t careful, our character could be compromised with the power of the martial arts.
  • That if we weren’t careful, our ability to stay focused and be faithful will be compromised.
  • That if we weren’t careful, our confidence turns to arrogance and we forget to respect one another.
  • That if we weren’t careful, we would misuse that power and become violent.

That’s why there are reminders.

Please understand: for many years, I didn’t want to say the Dojo Kun. Senior students here can tell you – we never used to begin the class with the Dojo Kun. I excused it away by saying that I just wasn’t ready to uphold those principles.

And I completely missed the whole point, the reason Master Funakoshi added them to the practice.

Why do I say that?

Just like on the highway, we see signs to yield, to slow down, to merge. They put the signs up before we have to do all those things, otherwise we wouldn’t have a chance to react. Can you imagine pulling out into traffic without ever looking at a traffic signal? There would be accidents every single time.

The lines of the Dojo Kun act as reminders, alerts to prepare us for what’s to come. We don’t see them when we’re ready…we get ready because we see them.

They’re so valuable because we need a simple, clear guide for our training (as well as for our everyday lives). We’re working on these points because without a regulating principle, the power of martial arts can easily cause us to crash and burn.

So it’s it’s still my work to stay aware and present, just as it’s your work. We have prepare ourselves properly so we don’t cause any collisions, don’t run anyone over and arrive at our destination – wherever it is – in one piece.


For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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One Comment

  1. Raoul

    Thank you for sharing this powerful point. It’s easy to overlook the virtues that old-school training brings to new-school. Awesome!

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