REIHO, SAHO, KU et al.


Karate is a discipline, not just the practice of Kihon, Kumite and Kata. It is a tool for training the mind, body, and spirit -in preparation not just for battle, but for life itself! This training requires the karate-ka to employ intense concentration, commitment, and effort; it is a lifetime journey.

Our Saiko-Shihan, Makoto Gima stated:

Three years for the peach and chestnut to ripen
Eight years for the persimmon to ripen
A lifetime for karate. 
   Having begun karate, one continues for his entire life.”

We know that Karate is steeped in Okinawa and Japanese roots. But do we know what the essence of that culture is? Do we comprehend the very essence that permeates Japanese Budo?

I am talking about ‘Reihō’, ‘Sahō’, ‘Wa’ and the notion of Ku (Kara).

The Karate Dojo is not a ‘gym’ or training hall, it’s a place where ‘Do'(Chinese read ‘Tao’) or the ‘Way’ is taught, practiced and assimilated. 

“(In Chinese philosophy) the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.” 

In Karate ‘Do’ or ‘Michi’ is the ‘path’ to learning and understanding the correct attitude of respect, sincerity, and modesty.

Since Karate is a martial art, etiquette, and Dojo rules are essential to the safety of everyone. But, we must look beyond that!

Gima sensei stated: 

Through hard training, karate seeks to foster a spirit that strives for truth and respect for others. It aspires to a complete and rounded character. In Okinawa, the Karate expert is called Bushi, namely a person of character, pure and noble, who has mastered the mysteries of the true art.” 

Budo, Japanese harmony -reliant upon truth and respect for others. The complete and rounded character! We can call this training a ‘culture’ that is meant to create safety and discipline – and ‘Harmony!’ A culture that is meant to assist in the betterment of society and of life.

Not surprisingly these concepts continue through Japanese society, from behaviour in the home, setting up a room for special occasions, conduct in meetings; indeed in everyday life!

Our manners, behaviour, and demeanour, both inside and outside the dojo is of great importance. Funakoshi Sensei once said:

“Dojo nomino Karate to omou na”, essentially ‘do not forget that karate is also outside the dojo!

From Feudal/Samurai times correct etiquette and manners have been pivotal to Japanese culture and life.  

Again referring to the teaching of Gima Sensei:

“Right actions comes from a good heart. With hard work and diligent training, one may achieve a certain level of skill, however, one might struggle for his entire life without being able to attain a certain spiritual level. Since everything comes from the heart; if the heart is in the right place, so will be the form. If the heart is warped, so will be the form.”

The heart! The spirit! The feeling, being aware of the environment, all contribute to harmony!


Before the advent of Covid, we saw Japanese people wearing masks, in public, on trains, in meetings, so as not to infect others with their colds and sicknesses etc.  Such is the reserved culture prevalent in Japan, The Japanese people can be gregarious, hospitable, and jovial, but there is an underlying concept of fitting into society and judgement. Some people may use the masks as a way of creating a separation between themselves and society. Almost trying to be non-existent in order not to upset the harmony and balance. Not to stand out.  Of course, others use them to prevent the spread of sickness.  As there is that use, the other (hidden usage) is not as obvious.

Japan as a whole act for the whole.  Thus harmony is key. 

It can be found everywhere from architecture to behaviour, the way a meal is laid out, or a room is set. The Japanese call this ‘wa’ (harmony). “Wa’ is critical to Japanese culture. ‘Wa’ stresses interdependence over independence, cooperation over dissent, and patience over resistance.  


” First, don’t forget, Karate begins and ends with respect. “Hitotsu -Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na! 一、空手道は礼に始まり礼に終る事を忘るな

Funakoshi Gichin

This can be seen when we bow on entering the dojo, from the deep bow towards Shomen, to the Sensei, and to each other. Two individuals bow together out of respect (and an almost ‘we will look after each other’ attitude) before engaging in practice. We may liken this to the ‘Tōrei’ (bowing to the sword) with the Katana. We bow to sword, deep and sincere respect must be shown; but we equally ask that sword to look after us! 

The angle of the bow in society is indicative of respect and status. The back of the neck should not be shown beneath the Keikogi etc. Manners, etiquette, and respect for culture. We do not sit sprawled or with the sole of our feet showing. When we listen to instruction we don’t fold our arms or lean against the wall. We listen politely, intently, and with respect.

Respect! From the beginning to end of Keiko we show it. It is here, that very Reihō, that helps us to stay human and put aside our ego.  It is here where we create an art, not a sport, a way of life not a club for fighting.


Sahō refers customs via actions, ceremonies or dealing with everyday matters and routines. 

Most restaurants take pride in the presentation of their meals, the patrons expect it.  The Chado (tea ceremony) is extremely details and intricate in custom but simple and elegant.  The concept of both would be to create an experience for the customer.

Sahō is also reflected within room decoration, how Omiyage (gifts) are wrapped and presented, even how meishi (business cards) are exchanged. How the dogi is worn, the obi is tired. Certificate presentations – all reflect the Sahō.

Sahō keeps order and consistency, therefore helps create the concept of ‘Wa’.

Etiquette and Manners are where all Karatedo begins (and ends), thus there are rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave both inside and outside the Dojo. 

Whether it’s in the context of Budo (Martial Art) or in daily life, Japan follows a strict, formal, disciplined etiquette quite rigorously. Etiquette gives us protocol and orderly ways to behave, it teaches us respect and courtesy, but ultimately, etiquette is about training your mind. Within the Dojo this is of paramount importance.

It can be said that Budo training is austere, and attached in some way to violent activity therefore, Reihō helps to develop habits allowing us to stay human during training, and in life.  Terms Satu Jinken and Katsu Jinken come to mind:

“The sword that kills is also the sword that gives life”

Karate without Reihō and Sahō cannot be Karate-Do; it is just fighting; just Jutsu.


Mushin – Calligraphy by Makoto Gima

We all hear about Zanshin (Lingering mind) and of course Mushin (the empty mind). Both are critical elements. It is Mushin that allows us to react naturally in conflict. Mushin we refer to as ‘no mind’. Clearly a mind that is devoid or worry is capable of processing and reaction. Think of ‘Tsuki no Kokoro’ and ‘Mizu no Kokoro’. These allow a natural and instinctive response. Reaction to causation before thought process hinder response.

“If the mind congeals in one place and remains with one thing, it is like frozen water and is unable to be used freely: ice that can wash neither hands nor feet. When the mind is melted and is used like water, extending throughout the body, it can be sent wherever one wants to send it.” 

Takuan Soho

Referring once more to Gima Sensei:

‘Kara in karate means zero or emptiness. Contrary to what one would expect, the state of emptiness is the place where all things come together.’ 

Going back to his senior Gichin Funakoshi also stated:

“Just as an empty valley can carry a resounding voice, so must the person who follows the Way of Karate make himself void or empty by ridding himself or all self-centeredness and greed. Make yourself empty within, but upright without. This is the real meaning of the ’empty’ in Karate.”

He also stated in his book Karate Do Nyumon:

“Once one has perceived the infinity of forms and elements in the universe, one returns to emptiness, to the void. In other words, emptiness is none other than the true form of the universe.”

All the above relates to harmony of the individual to the universe. Karate, and other Budo is a way of understanding and utilising these principles. 

We must remember -Karate begins with a bow and finishes with a bow! Karate relies on respect, etiquette, manners, sincerity. The society we live in relies on harmony.

Karate is part of the ‘way’, part of the harmony of mankind, and therefore part of the universe.

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