Ancient Martial Wisdom for the Modern Samurai

 What is a martial art?

A.   A practice that incorporates blocking, punching, kicking or throwing a partner using bare hands and/oresoteric weapons.
B.   A physical discipline encompassing time-tested personal protection techniques and regimens to improve strength, flexibility, coordination and cardiovascular capacity.
C.   Recreational pastime or sport.


Answer:  all of the above, however none completely defines what really constitutes a martial art and more importantly, how a classic combative system can fortify the body, mind and spirit of the modern warrior.

Once cultivated, strength and skill are only employed to protect and empower the world around us.¬†Beyond physical practice, a strong code of¬†conduct¬†and¬†‚Äėtrue north‚Äô moral compass govern¬†and¬†mold true¬†budoka(martial artist).¬†For generations,¬†the¬†Japanese warrior class¬†followed¬†eight guiding principles as detailed in¬†theBushido¬†(Path of the Warrior)¬†and¬†Hagakure¬†(Beneath the Leaves ‚Äď Lessons on¬†Warriorship). ¬†These moral building blocks are as¬†relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago:


Gi¬†¬†–¬†Rectitude, Justice or Justified Action

Author and historian,¬†InazŇ欆Nitobe,¬†explained¬†the concept of¬†gi¬†as follows: ‚ÄúRectitude is one‚Äôs power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance¬†with reason, without wavering. ¬†To die when to die is right, to¬†strike when to strike is right.‚Ä̬†Other historians¬†describe¬†gi¬†or rectitude as ‚Äúthe bone that gives firmness and stature‚ÄĚ. Minus a skeletal frame,¬†the¬†body lacks support, and without¬†gi¬†or rectitude, there is no¬†structure¬†for even the most skillful and well-schooled warrior.


Yu- Courage

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty or¬†intimidation for a just cause¬†or¬†belief.¬†More broadly, it can be seen as¬†fortitude and¬†the¬†ability to¬†transcend the norm, rise above conformity in defense of what is truly right, or in the words of Nelson Mandela, ‚ÄúI learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave¬†(individual)¬†is not he (she) who does not feel afraid, but he (she) who conquers that fear.‚ÄĚ


Jin РBenevolence

Jin, or benevolence, is an act of kindness or the inclination to be kind, generosity for the betterment of humanitythat stems from empathy and compassion. It demands we step outside ourselves and reject modern society’s current state of narcissism and self-absorption. From my perspective, it is different from charity, which can be aselfless act, or sometimes, self-serving when it makes us feel better, fuels the ego and perhaps, leads us tojustify material worth. In sharp contrast, true benevolence aims to create good in the world, without reward or recognition, and the most altruistic individual of all time might be.  Mr./Ms. Anonymous


Rei РRespect

Rei¬†may be interpreted as¬†respect,¬†admiration¬†or¬†reverence for¬†an individual¬†or group, ideal or ideology. It¬†requires humility,¬†feeds and¬†restores¬†us on a deep, emotional¬†level, and often¬†is¬†demonstrated through grateful thought, word or action. ¬† ‚ÄúRespect for ourselves guides our morals. Respect for others guides our¬†manners.‚Ä̬†Laurence Sterne


Makoto РSincerity

Makoto¬†or sincerity¬†is often explained as truth and authenticity, freedom from deceit, hypocrisy¬†or duplicity, honesty.¬†A¬†sincere¬†action is without artifice, or cunning. It seeks no personal¬†payoff, nor is it limited by fear of repercussion. ‚ÄúSincerity is the key¬†which opens doors¬†through which you will see your separate parts, and you will see something quite new. You must go on trying to be sincere. Each day you put on a mask¬†and you must take it off little by little.‚Ä̬†G.I. Gurdjieff


Meiyo РHonour

Honour¬†defines the duties of an¬†individual within a social group. In martial ethos,¬†it¬†is also synonymous with chivalry, holding to a pledge to defend what is just and good, or to quote Cicero, ‚Äúhonour¬†is¬†the reward of virtue.‚ÄĚ


Chugi РLoyalty

Loyalty is devotion,¬†dedication and faithfulness to¬†a¬†cause, country,¬†people or¬†principles.¬†Martial artists¬†apply this concept¬†in personal¬†and professional relationships¬†with¬†family, friends, teachers, fellow students, employers and employees.¬†Loyalty is¬†earned and plays an instrumental role in¬†giri¬†(reciprocity), both up and down any¬†social system. In clarifying¬†chugi,¬†InazŇ欆Nitobe¬†stated¬†‚Äúthere is no distinction between one who serves (samurai) and one who is loyal.‚ÄĚ


Jisei РSelf-control

On a physical level,¬†self-control is the hallmark of a warrior.¬†A samurai avoids provocation and whenconfronted with difficult or dangerous situations, responds with thoughtful, deliberate action. ¬†Mentally, emotionally and spiritually,¬†jisei¬†is¬†our capability¬†to¬†harness¬†the¬†ego, and¬†dedicate energy to the actual obstacle at hand¬†rather than those borne of insecurity or pride. ¬†‚ÄúYou have power over your mind,¬†not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.‚Ä̬†Marcus Aurelius
Martial teachings can help us better face, conquer and even, enjoy¬†the challenges of 21st¬†century life, but unlike many other things in our instant gratification world, it is¬†no quick fix.¬†The oft-used expression ‚Äúit‚Äôs the journey, not the destination‚ÄĚ reminds us that physical, technical, emotional, mental or spiritual¬†gains¬†are¬†earned¬†over years, decades,¬†or a lifetime of¬†patience and¬†practice.

So what is a martial art?  I’ll leave you to answer that question.