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 ‘true north’ 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 – 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, Inazō Nitobe, explained the concept of gi as follows: “Rectitude is one’s 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.” Other historians describe gi or rectitude as “the bone that gives firmness and stature”. 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, “I 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.”


Jin – Benevolence

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 – Respect

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.   “Respect for ourselves guides our morals. Respect for others guides our manners.” Laurence Sterne


Makoto – Sincerity

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. “Sincerity 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.” G.I. Gurdjieff


Meiyo – Honour

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, “honour is the reward of virtue.”


Chugi – Loyalty

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, Inazō Nitobe stated “there is no distinction between one who serves (samurai) and one who is loyal.”


Jisei – Self-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.  “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 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 “it’s the journey, not the destination” 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.