Ikigai can be described as the food or fuel of life. It is similar to what the French call raison d’être, a “reason to live”, and rather than merely surviving, making your earthly existence a work of art.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535 –475 BCE) used the word logos to illustrate principle, plan, formula and measure as it pertained to the philosophical concept of becoming, rather than being. He believed that life was movable and malleable: Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do, is who you become.
While his theory might be “Greek” to us, what Heraclitus was describing is ikigai, that place where passion, mission, profession and vocation intersect.
Some people might take years, decades, to realize their ikigai. Others may search in vain for a lifetime.
Mine revealed itself when I was a youngster and began practicing martial arts. I didn’t “start” karate practice. It started me.
The day I tied a white belt around my waist everything changed. Training ignited a flame that has burned brighter with every passing year. When my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the reply was immediate: “A karate teacher.” (Full disclosure: my hardworking Polish dad seemed less than impressed with my answer and continued his dinner with a side-order of disappointment.) He never inquired about my plans again, and I never looked back.
Karate has blessed me with many of the physical, mental and spiritual benefits all students enjoy. It has also given me zeal and purpose. It has instilled in me an indescribable intensity and focus, and fortified my moral code. It invigorates me when I’m lethargic and soothes me when I’m overwhelmed. When I’m happy, it celebrates with me, and when I’m sad, it brings comfort. Like a devoted friend or relative, it knows me.
An insatiable appetite for martial arts became my profession, my vocation, my calling. It has bestowed upon me an incredible quality of life. An amazing wife, a loving family, treasured friends, good physical health, financial security, the opportunity to learn and express myself, and the freedom to follow my path, and my mission is to give back as much as I’ve received from my practice.
I don’t know if ikigai is born of nature, nurture or a combination of internal and external forces.
What I do know is that after a half-decade as a karateka, I remain a beginner and someone who is as in love with martial arts as the first day I began kicking and punching.
I also know that I’ve found my ikigai and sincerely hope that you have – or will – too.