What is the difference between “wanting to win” and “wanting not to lose”? 「勝ちたい」と「負けない」の違いは如何に?

Niju jun


In my third book, Shotokan Transcendence (photo below), I wrote a chapter containing Funakoshi’s Niju kun (Twenty Principles 船越二十訓). These principles have been translated by many people but I decided to provide my own translation as I had not found any that satisfied me. If you have not read my book, please purchase one from Amazon US (www.amazon.com) or Amazon UK (www.amazon.co.uk).Shotkan_Transc_R2


In that chapter I covered in-depth the meaning of each of the twenty kuns. However, today I want to pick out one kun in particular to discuss further. The particular kun is the twelfth one (訓第12番).


  1. 勝つ考えは持つな: 負けぬ考えは必要
    Katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo

“Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.”

The reason why I decided to further discuss this kun is because of the experience I had during my recent visit to Japan (Jan and Feb 2016). I wish to explain this important kun in depth through a story of an event that took place in Japan. It is rather a long story but after reading it you will better understand what this kun really means.

OK let us start. On a freezing day in February of 2016, I visited the third largest city in Japan to exchange a very important agreement memorandum with a certain Japanese karate organization. The signing and the ceremony went well and we had a small party afterwards. We had a very nice sea food dinner and a glass of beer to kanpai (to celebrate the agreement) even though I do not drink beer. The party went well and as usual we had discussions of karate which I always enjoy very much. We started our discussion with a few subjects that were related to karate techniques.


OlympicsAfter a period of time one sensei from northern Japan who was there as a special guest asked me how I felt about the possibility of karate being included in the Olympic Games. My answer was clear that I was totally against the inclusion of karate. He expressed that he was in favor of it and asked why I was against this possibility. I explained that the main reason for my opposition is the fear that the budo spirit would be ignored and be forgotten once it is included in the Olympics. This sensei respectfully disagreed and said that he trained his young students not only with the disciplines and hard training but also with etiquette and courtesy. He said proudly that his students would be a good example of budo karate to show the rest of the world. I congratulated him for his teaching. I also told him that I respected him for running his dojo that way. Now I know that he teaches his students how to be courteous and to demonstrate good etiquette. The students’ parents, without being asked, bring some brooms and trash bags when they accompany their children to a tournament. With this equipment they are prepared to clean up the tournament site before they leave, though this action is totally voluntary and nothing is expected by him or by the tournament management. For this reason, I sincerely hope his team will have an opportunity to show their behavior when and if karate is included in the Olympics in 2020.


Although I respect him vNo Olympicsery much and understood what he was saying, I still had to disagree with him. I could foresee what karate would become from watching the current karate tournament competitors’ behavior. This sensei asked me why I was against so strongly to the idea of being in the Olympic Games. This is the explanation I gave to him.


The trend of the recent tournaments is that the ultimate aim or goal has become winning. I fear that this trend will become even more significant once karate is included in the Olympics. I told him that this is the reason why I say karate will lose the budo spirit. This sensei said, “I am sorry but I do not understand.” So, I asked him, “Sensei O. (I refrain from revealing his real name to keep his privacy) do you know the twelfth kun from Funakoshi Nijukun?” He did not know it so I told him the kun that is written at the beginning of this article: Katsu kangae wa motsuna; makenu kangae wa hitsuyo

“Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing.”

He said, “Frankly, this kun is very confusing to me. I do not see the difference between ‘thinking of winning’ and ‘thinking of not losing’. Do you?” I suspect this is what most of the readers also think. So, I answered him, “Yes I do know” and explained that there is a great difference between these two attitudes or desires. Here is my explanation.

If winning is your ultimate goal in a match, one tends to do anything to accomplish that end. I am not saying to win itself is wrong or bad but I am referring to the process of winning. In other words, even if an action is not too honest or is un-budo like one chooses to take it in order to win. As an example, imagine that one competitor is leading the match with one point and he has only 10 or 15 seconds left in the match. What would this competitor do? He will most likely stay back and will not take a chance of losing on a score by the opponent. This means he will stop fighting even if he would not obviously run away but he would maintain a safe distance from the opponent. I asked that sensei if he was the coach of this competitor would he encourage the competitor to stay back or to fight more aggressively.Budo He answered, “If the rule allows the competitor to be dormant or not aggressive then he can use this rule to his advantage. So, I will coach the competitor to stay back and secure the win. There is nothing wrong with this.” His reply was exactly what I expected. So, I continued. “Sensei O. let’s change the situation to a cashier in a store.” He said OK so I asked him a silly question. “Do you allow your student or your child to steal money from a store?” He replied quickly, “Of course, not!” I expected this reply too. So, I continued. “Imagine that there is a store rule that store management will not press charges or conduct an investigation when the cash register is short only by one penny.” “If this is the case, would you allow or permit your student or your child to steal a penny?” He emphatically said, “Definitely not! Taking even a penny is still stealing!” I told him that I agreed and it was exactly my point. I asked why would he let his student or child to do an un-budo like action in a tournament only because a rule allows it? What is the difference between this action and stealing a penny? That sensei said, “Well, I understand your point from your analogy. Then, what about ‘trying not to lose’? Isn’t it the same? If you do not want to lose, then wouldn’t you become less aggressive, in that particular situation?”

This is the challenging point and many people misunderstand this kun.  My answer is as follow; “No, I do not think that is what Master Funakoshi wanted to tell us.” My understanding of its meaning is not to make winning as the ultimate goal in a tournament. This means that karate practitioners must not put winning in front of the principle of karatedo. Therefore, a karate practitioner must not cheat nor act dishonestly in order to win. In other words, a competitor in the earlier situation must continue fighting with the same fighting spirit during the final ten seconds. He will be careful not to let his opponent score against him but certainly he will not run around to waste time or run away from the opponent.” I told him that in budo we (particularly the Japanese samurai) seek the beauty of losing clean or with honor rather than a dirty or dishonest win. I concluded that this kind of attitude or the way of thinking will not be developed or cherished by Olympic competitors and their coaches. That sensei agreed and he uttered weakly, “You are right, sensei Yokota, but that is a big challenge. I am a coach and I am not sure if I can guide my students so that they seek for clean lose and forget winning.”

An honorable lose is much better than a dishonest winning. But once karate becomes an Olympic event, I doubt very much that this spirit will be honored and executed by most of the competitors.

Therefore, as a conclusion I hope that Sensei O will see the educational value in Funakoshi Niju kun, particularly of the 12th kun. Thus, he will add the true budo value when he teaches his young students. He is still in favor of having karate in the Olympics. So I sincerely hope that his team will be the model for the world and show the true karatedo spirit and actions when his students compete in the Olympics.


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