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Simple Lessons:

Short, concise lessons and concepts helpful to students and teachers

"Dao" or "Do"

By Terry Bryan

Dao, also spelled Tao, is a very important concept in ancient Chinese thought. It is often translated as "the way" or "the path," but these words do not do justice to the true meaning. In English we use the word `way' to describe concepts like course, method, manner, mode, means, practice, fashion, technique or style. These tend to lead us to believe that way is a method of action, but in Chinese thought, non-action is of equal importance in the dao.

The other commonly used term is "path" and can be equally misleading. For example, one might inquire "the way to Denver", and yet the path could be a multitude of responses. Responses could range from head north on I-25 to giving specific latitude and longitude coordinates.

Those that understand the backwoods of Colorado understand that there many types of paths one follows in the wild, as well as many different methods of marking those paths so others can follow. The art and science of tracking animals and other humans that have gone down a path ahead of you is an art and science unto itself. Yet those of us who study this method soon find that the natural paths created by nature’s engineers, like the deer and sheep, are the most
economical and easiest to use when traveling. It seems most animals are very in tune with nature and automatically follow the dao.

In problem solving, we usually brainstorm and identify several ways to solve a specific challenge, and then try to select the best way. While there are many solutions that will work, we assume that there is one course of action that is better than all the others. This one method would include every little detail of this particular course. This one best method could be described as the dao.

Many times the word dao or do is added to another word to describe a new concept. For example, jiang dao is the word for "to preach" or "to speak the dao". In Japanese language the concept of dao is translated as do and is used in many of the martial arts to describe the total aspect of the way of their martial art. For example, judo, karate-do, or kendo, implies that their martial art form is a complete and well thought out art form that includes aspects of mental, physical and spiritual training.

Lao Tzu once stated that the dao that can be explained is not the dao. This is in reference to the idea of the dao is a constant and changing thing, and one can experience it, and use that experience to understand it, but if you try to study or analyze it, it is no longer the dao. Take for example the martial arts teacher or student. It is impossible to teach students to defend themselves against an attacker in the street, because combat is alive and constantly changing. Yet we can share principles and concepts that may enable the student to go with the flow and adapt to a specific situation, and increase his ability to find the proper path at that time.

This leads us to the concept of karate-do; the way of karate. Many people believe that the path is different for each of us, but has common roots. This is why we spend time to working on goal setting and values clarification with our students. Your path must be congruent with your personal values and goals, and only then will your karate training begin to experience the do aspect.

The path of karate-do is hard to explain and even harder to experience. Each of us needs to find a good Sensei (one who has walked before), to help guide us down this path and to remind us when we step off the path. I can assure new students that the benefits of self-confidence, higher self-esteem and the overall success they will experience in their life because of this journey will be well worth it, but it is they who must keep putting one foot in front of the other along the path of black belt excellence. As you begin or continue along your path in karate-do, I wish you the very best in your journey and hope your journey is as blessed as mine has been and more.


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About the Author:

Terry Bryan is the former General Secretary for the USA-NKF (National Karate Federation), the official governing body for the sport of karate with the US Olympic Committee. He currently is the Executive Director for the American Black Belt Academy, a 501c3 non-profit organization located in Colorado Springs.


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Tao, dao, do, Chinese philosophy, the way, the path, karate-do


Read more articles by Terry Bryan

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