Kizuna — Community 絆

Kizuna represents the community that is our dojo, and the bonds that we form and nurture with our fellow karateka. But it also represents the greater communities we inhabit outside the dojo.

Kizuna [pronounced “kih-zoo-nah”] literally means “the ties that bind" and generally is considered to mean "community."

Kizuna 絆 is a deeply important concept both inside and outside the dojo. Understanding its importance is key to building a satisfying life and fulfilling much of our fundamental purpose in the various roles we play in our lives.

Forging Bonds

The meaning of Kizuna 絆 has actually evolved over the centuries.

Originally, more than a millennia ago, it described the rope used to tether domestic animals such as horses and dogs. Over time, though, the idea of tying together animals to posts (and hence to their owners) evolved to refer to the bonds between people.

In fact, a passage in The Tale of the Heike, compiled in the 13th century, uses the term to refer to the bonds of love between a father and his children. And as time went on, Kizuna 絆 came to refer to the bonds both inside families and ties in a greater community.

The key to understanding this concept lies in this history: community is forged by bonds that connect people to one another. These ties create bonds that offer security, obligation, caring, mutual trust, support, and even love.

Communities of All Sizes

Kizuna 絆 can be seen as a bottom-up organizing motif. At the base, perhaps one might consider families – these are the ultimate bonds, and they are the foundation of all other communities in society. In families, we have bonds between parents and children, and these bonds form the basis of the obligations and responsibilities that all members have to one another in a family.

Then, as members of families interact with others, a kaleidoscope of communities is formed. These can include schools, clubs, companies, cities, and even nations. All of these bonds can exist in parallel, and in different levels of responsibility and obligation, but at their root, they all eventually come down to the basic building block of the family.

The Nature of the Bond

The bonds that make up Kizuna 絆 are powerful and resilient. Another concept, Giri 義理 describes the makeup of these bonds: a sense and desire to fulfill one's obligations – one might call this one's "duty" – to the other person in the bond.

These bonds are the glue that not only forms a community, but in fact, they are the community itself. While the community is composed of it members, of course, the actual bonds between those members constitute the community.

These bonds include a mutual trust and understanding about every member of the community's roles, obligations, and a general perception of what the community is made up of, and why the community exists.

These community bonds are incredibly important; humans have evolved these bonds over centuries, and they serve as the organizing function for all human society.

In Our Dojo

Our dojo is a community, and the dojo community itself is a perfect distillation of kizuna. Our dojo Kizuna 絆 is composed of all the karateka – all the men and women, all the boys and girls – who train at our dojo. But it also includes the families of all these karateka, and while the families of adult students may not have a frequent involvement in our Kizuna 絆, we see the families of all our kids many times a week at the dojo.

The strength of a dojo is in its Kizuna 絆. The ties that bind everyone together form a support net, and the bonds that compose the dojo community act as the skeleton of our dojo, creating both form and function.

Kizuna is Strength

Sometimes, we see ties that bind as a constricting, limiting, thing. This is the wrong way to think of these bonds, and clearly the wrong way to think of Kizuna 絆.

The bonds of a community are their strength; you can directly measure the strength and health of a community by the strength and number of its internal bonds.

Whether the community is a dojo, or a family, or a company or a city, Kizuna 絆 is integral to the happiness and success of all our relationships.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
community; ties that bind (kizuna)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei at the Goju Karate dojo on 26 June 2024.