Tohkon — Fighting Spirit 闘魂

Fighting spirit powers us through, over, under, and around the obstacles that we are sure to face as we pursue the objectives that support our goals. We practice our fighting spirit on the dojo floor so that we use it when we need it outside the dojo.

Tohkon 闘魂 [pronounced "toe-kon"] “koh-koh-row” literally means “fighting soul”, or “fighting spirit” – tohkon is the energy and strength inside your spirit that helps you to power through obstacles, to make your way through a forest of difficulties and come out the other side, accomplished and fulfilled.

Synthesizing Fighting Spirit

To have tohkon, we must practice so many other fundamental parts of karatedo. We need wa (harmony and balance; read more), we need a strong kokoro (spirit; read more), and we need kime (the focus of knowing and pursuing our goal; read more).

Tohkon is one of the concepts in karatedō that is easiest to talk about and most difficult to have. In general, our need and appreciation of our fighting spirit usually comes at a time when we need it most: on the fourteenth pushup of a twenty-pushup set; when our legs hurt and ache and yet there is another half-hour of kicking drills left in class; when our project at work has nay-sayers and detractors blocking progress and sapping our energy.

Still, it is for this very reason that tohkon needs to be experienced, practiced, and cultivated in class.

Powering past the fourteenth pushup despite the burning in your shoulders will train your tohkon as much as it will train your pectoral muscles. And the next day, at work, that strengthened tohkon will help you persevere through the obstacles facing your project; as surely as you finished your twentieth pushup, you’ll know you can finish your project.

Through, Around, Under, and Over Obstacles

We are guaranteed – absolutely – of facing challenges and obstacles in our daily life. What our fighting spirit is for, however, is finding ways around those obstacles.

Even if that means unorthodox movement, retreating, recasting or redirecting our objectives – we must find a way to move towards our goals. Tohkon is as much about preverance as it is anything else. The energy to keep going, sometimes seemingly away from our objective so that we might maneuver around an obstacle, is what tohkon gives us.

Fighting spirit is also something that gives us that "extra edge" or that last little push that we need. Tohkon isn't an "always-on" superpower that we have. We can call on it, and there is a cost involved in terms of our focus and energy.

But when we need it, our tohkon is there to push us forward when we most need it.

The Magic of Fighting Spirit

People often speak of “strength of will” – this is tohkon. Many times, those with tohkon seem almost magically to overcome obstacles and to make things happen almost out of thin air.

There is no magic involved, however.

Rather, their strong fighting spirit gives them the calm, focused assurance that no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the difficulties, they will persevere.

Tohkon is not magic, but its effect for those that possess it, perhaps, has that quality of magic.

Cultivate and exercise tohkon in class, so that you might have it in all parts of your life.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
闘魂 fighting spirit [soul] (tohkon)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei at the Goju Karate dojo in Mill Valley, California on 9 April 2012; this concept was presented again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 6 September 2023.