KAMAWANU – Accept The Challenge

4 Jul

Our vanity would have just that which we do best count as that which is hardest for us. . . (See Endnote # 1)

While the above commentary was made in the late 1800’s by Friedrich Nietzsche, it seems to have become the raison d’etre for modern society. Today, preservation of the status quo, political correctness and conformity have so imbued our individual and societal persona that we have all become weakened. So that we don’t “Rock the boat”, we languish in our conformity and hide from challenge. While fully believing to the contrary, we no longer seek to challenge ourselves so as to afford our psyche the ability to rise to the challenge. Rather, we simply consider ourselves to be challenged by that which is, at best, mundane. That which we consider a challenge is derived from a position of internal weakness. That is to say that we lack the confidence to truly challenge ourselves.

How then do we pull ourselves out of this psychological mire? I submit the answer is to reacquaint ourselves with our individual internal strength and instill an attitude derived from the phrase “Kamawanu”. Kamawanu is not the sole province of the martial arts. It has in fact been embraced by various aspects of popular society to convey the populist ideology of the moment. There is; however, an oral tradition within the martial arts that breathes life into the challenging potential ascribed to the mystique of Kamawanu.

Oral tradition states that Dojo of old sometimes hung a rather esoteric sign outside of the Dojo. This sign was not hung for public view by Dojo that were for the faint of heart. Rather, the sign was hung outside of Dojo wherein the training was hard core physically, spiritually pure and from the heart. The sign contained no words. In place of words, it simply depicted three symbols: a sickle (Kama), a rice bowl (wan) and the phonetic symbol for the sound “nu.”

These symbols read together formed the phrase Kamawanu (See endnote # 2). While there is no direct translation of Kamawanu, the phrase is interpreted variously as “It doesn’t matter” and “I(we) don’t care.” Martial oral tradition has a more figurative interpretation. (See endnote # 3) When hung and displayed outside “hard-core” Dojo, the phrase Kamawanu was interpreted as:

We don’t care if you enter or not, we don’t care if you challenge us or not.

Interpreted in this manner, Kamawanu can be used to crave, desire and accept challenge as a means of improving oneself and rising above a conformed, mundane existence. One needs the inner strength and confidence so as to accept challenge rather than seek to define challenge as that which one readily and easily accomplishes.

Have faith in yourself, your resilience and your abilities. Then hang a figurative sign about yourself depicting a sickle, a rice bowl and the sound “nu” – Kamawanu. You no longer care if others or situations challenge you or not. Rather, you crave and desire the challenge and your ability to ride to the challenge.

Until the next article, I remain ready to rise to the challenge – Kamawanu to you.



Sensei John Szmitkowski


  1. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good & Evil, Part Four: Maxims & Interludes (1885), Maxim # 143.
  2. The Kama in the photo is one of a pair of authentic Japanese Kama given to me by Shihan Wayne Norlander in 1995, R.I.P my friend.
  3. Kamawanu is an integral part of oral tradition of Goshin-Do Karate-Do. It is the companion to the tale of Dojo Yaburi, or those that would challenge a Dojo owner and keep his fees for one month’s teaching  if he was not up to the challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with Goshin-Do Karate-Do tradition, the following reference to Kamawanu may be both of interest and helpful: Furuya, Kensho, Kodo: Ancient Ways (O’Hara Publishing, Santa Clarita, CA, 1996) p. 40.

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2 Responses to “KAMAWANU – Accept The Challenge”

  1. Tim Brown September 4, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Thank you, sir, for a valuable interpretation of Kamawanu. I have been intrigued for some time now about it’s meaning and significance. I have a friend in the martial arts… He has the Kamawanu symbol tattooed on his forearm. Although I do not hold a belt in any of the martial arts, I live my life in a very similar way to its philosophy. I feel very drawn to it. Thank you for making me feel more at home.

    • senseijohn September 5, 2011 at 6:26 am #

      Dear Tim:
      Thank-you for your comment. I created this blog so as to introduce the non-martial artist to martial arts protocol, philosophy & ideology. As such, your comment provides satisfaction to me knowing that the purpose of the blog is reaching fruition. My larger project is to bring the Sanchin Kata to everyone, particularly the non-martial artist, through my book and DVD (which is now available). If your friend knows Sanchin, you may wish to ask him to teach it to you; you will not be disappointed. Thank-you again for your comment & I hope my future articles will be worthy of your reading.
      — Sensei John

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