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Itosu’s 10 Precepts - New translation

In this podcast we will be examining Anko Itosu’s 10 precepts of karate! In 1908, Itosu – who was the creator of the Pinan (Heian) kata – wrote a letter outlining his views on karate and explaining why he felt karate should be introduced on to the Okinawan school system. It is this letter, and the 10 precepts recorded within it, that is the subject of this month’s podcast.

There are many English translations of this important document; but unfortunately they vary quite a bit and in some instances express very different sentiments. There is a 1938 book called ’Karate-Do Taikan’ which contains relatively good quality photographs of Itosu’s 1908 letter. To get the translation discussed in the podcast, I scanned the pictures of the original Itosu document from the book and sent those scans, without any background information, to one of the UK’s leading translation companies. As non-karateka and professional translators I felt that they would be able to give an accurate translation.

The translation company informed me that the document was written in “a very old literary style” and hence was difficult to translate accurately; even for professional translators. This may also help explain why the existing translations of the document vary so much? The translation company contacted a specialist based in the USA who would be able to accurately translate the document and the scans were sent to him. Not cheap, but worth it I feel.

The translation was taken from scans of Itosu’s original handwritten letter. This translation was also done independently by a professional translator who is a specialist in this kind of work. The translator was not a martial artist and he therefore has no specific view to promote. I therefore have no reason to doubt its accuracy (copied below).

This podcast discusses Itosu’s precepts and some of the ramifications they may have for how we should view karate. I hope that you enjoy it!

Best Wishes,


Itosu’s 10 Precepts (translation commissioned by Iain Abernethy)

Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism. In the past the Shorin-ryu school and the Shorei-ryu school were brought to Okinawa from China. Both of these schools have strong points and I therefore list them below just as they are without embellishment.

1. Karate is not merely practiced for your own benefit; it can be used to protect one’s family or master. It is not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian.

2. The purpose of karate is to make the muscles and bones hard as rock and to use the hands and legs as spears. If children were to begin training naturally in military prowess while in elementary school, then they would be well suited for military service. Remember the words attributed to the Duke of Wellington after he defeated Napoleon, “Today’s battle was won on the playing fields of our schools”.

3. Karate cannot be quickly learned. Like a slow moving bull, it eventually travels a thousand leagues. If one trains diligently for one or two hours every day, then in three or four years one will see a change in physique. Those who train in this fashion will discover the deeper principles of karate.

4. In karate, training of the hands and feet are important, so you should train thoroughly with a sheaf of straw (#).  In order to do this, drop your shoulders, open your lungs, muster your strength, grip the floor with your feet, and concentrate your energy into your lower abdomen. Practice using each arm one to two hundred times each day.

5. When you practice the stances of karate, be sure to keep your back straight, lower your shoulders, put strength in your legs, stand firmly, and drop your energy into your lower abdomen.

6. Practice each of the techniques of karate repeatedly. Learn the explanations of every technique well, and decide when and in what manner to apply them when needed. Enter, counter, withdraw is the rule for torite.

7. You must decide if karate is for your health or to aid your duty.

8. When you train, do so as if on the battlefield. Your eyes should glare, shoulders drop, and body harden. You should always train with intensity and spirit as if actually facing the enemy, and in this way you will naturally be ready.

9. If you use up your strength to excess in karate training, this will cause you to lose the energy in your lower abdomen and will be harmful to your body. Your face and eyes will turn red. Be careful to control your training.

10. In the past, many masters of karate have enjoyed long lives. Karate aids in developing the bones and muscles. It helps the digestion as well as the circulation. If karate should be introduced, beginning in the elementary schools, then we will produce many men each capable of defeating ten assailants.

If the students at teacher training college learn karate in accordance with the above precepts and then, after graduation, disseminate this to elementary schools in all regions, within 10 years karate will spread all over Okinawa and to mainland Japan. Karate will therefore make a great contribution to our military. I hope you will seriously consider what I have written here – Anko Itosu, October 1908

(#) – Translator not a martial artist and hence translated the word “Makiwara” to “Sheath of Straw” when leaving the word un-translated would have been fine.

10 Precepts
Iain Abernethy