Wednesday, February 25, 2015

States Of Mind: Mushin

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis


As much time as we spend on physical training, budo really isn’t about the techniques. It’s about the mind. We’ve got all these techniques and kata for training the body, but the sneaky secret is that these are training our minds at the same time. That list of words in Japanese above are all words having to do with the mind. The first 3, zanshin, mushin, and  fudoshin are fairly common in the budo world.

What you’ll notice is that all of them include the character kokoro 心, which is read shin (sheen) when used in combination with other characters. Zanshin, mushin and fudoshin are all mental states. Zanshin, as I’ve written, is about staying aware. Mushin, which is usually translated as “no mind” and “fudoshin” which is often translated as “immoveable mind” are two more traits and states of awareness that are essential to development as a martial artist.

I’ll be honest, when I first encountered these ideas, reading about them in English left me more confused than enlightened. “Mushin means no mind.” I read that sentence, or one very like it, in at least a dozen different books. Not one of them really succeeded in communicating what this term means in martial arts.  I have to admit as well, that the first several times I tried to read a translation of Takuan Soho’s Fudochi Shinmyo Ryoku, which is the major text on fudoshin, I read a lot of words but got nothing from them.

These are short words that describe sophisticated and subtle mental states that require a long time to develop and appreciate. The best I can do is try to explain how I understand them now.  I hope my current understanding is worth something to others.  At the same time I hope I can move further along the path of understanding these as I train. So if I come back in a year or 5 or 10 and say something different, don’t tell yell “But you said….”  Congratulate me on furthering my understanding.

Mushin and fudoshin get described with some of the most contradictory language around.  Mushin is written 無心, and literally translates as “no mind.” Fudoshin is written “不動心” which is probably best translated as “immovable mind,” but which Takuan describes by saying:

Although wisdom is described as immovable, this does not signify any insentient thing, like wood or stone. It moves as the mind is wont to move: forward or back, to the left, to the right, in the ten directions and to the eight points; and the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.
    Takuan Soho, The Unfettered Mind. William Scott Wilson translation

A mind that is no mind, and and immovable mind that does not stop at all. This kind of language makes no sense at all.  At least it didn’t for my first decade or two of budo training. Mushin and fudoshin are mental states that are developed through hours and hours of training. Like most things having to do with our minds, these are complicated.

One of the first complications is that character for mind used in both mushin 無心 and fudoshin 不動心 that I pointed out at the beginning. The character 心 (pronounced “coe-coe-roe” and written kokoro in romaji) contains characteristics that in the Western tradition have been split in two. In English we talk about the mind as the seat of logic and intellect, and we talk about the heart as the seat of the emotions.

The Japanese don’t make the mistake of trying to separate the intellect and the emotions. They recognize that these are not separate things, but two parts of a greater whole. Intellect informs emotions, and emotions affect intellect. This should be obvious, but our cultural inheritance obscures it. When we talk about mushin and fudoshin though, we are definitely talking about both the intellectual and the emotional parts of us. We just don’t have a word in English that encompasses all of this.

Mushin means “no mind.” That’s pretty unimaginable. No mind? Isn’t that like being in a coma? No, it’s not, and that’s the problem I have with the term mushin. It’s not about being mindless. It may be closer to the way people are using the term “mindful” lately, but that’s not a descriptor either. Mushin has several layers to it, but I think it can be understood, even when you still have thousands of hours of training to go before you can consistently achieve it.

Mushin starts, not with no mind, but with a calm, clear mind that doesn’t impose itself. That’s the first step. Let your mind be quiet so it’s not imposing assumptions on the situation, and not trying to force any particular course. If you are making assumptions about your opponent or if you insist on following a particular course in the middle of a fight, you’re in trouble long before you close the ma’ai. 

Photo Copyright 2014 Grigoris Miliaresis

Calm down, relax, breath (remember how I said that “All I teach is how to breathe and how to walk?). Be calm and let yourself see, hear and feel the entire situation. Instead of making a plan and figuring out what to do, just be there. When people talk about “no mind” the idea is to let the conscious, chattering, clutter of thoughts go and just be there. It’s not that you have no mind, but that you let go of the mile-a-minute constant chatter of unconsidered thought that modern life encourages and makes so difficult to escape. Mushin is impossible when you’re always on the smart phone and surfing the web and listening to the radio or watching television all at the same time. You have to loosen the grip of those things on your mind before you can quiet it.

If you have to have things from outside stimulating your mind all the time, it can never calm down enough to approach mushin. Once you let go of all that though, and your mind calms down, then you can work on mushin. It’s complicated though, because mushin in budo also demands a fairly high level of technical mastery. If you have to think about any aspect of your technique, then you’re not at mushin. This means that mushin in conflict can only be achieved after you acquire sufficient technical skill that you can act without thinking about any part of the action.

The good news is that you can work on the mental and the technical sides of the problem. Take some time to unplug and turn off the electronic chatter.  Get used to the sound of your own breathing and become comfortable with not chasing every thought and stimulus that you encounter. Lose the litany of what ifs.

Once you quiet your mind, you can start to get to mushin. For me, part of mushin is a deep layer of consciousness that isn’t influenced by all the little thoughts. This the layer of mind you want to be working with. It’s still and calm and smooth. It lets you reflect a situation accurately without imposing yourself on it. If you don’t impose your ideas and assumptions, you can act appropriately for the situation. A quiet mind can respond to what is really happening instead of to a preconceived assumption.

Calm and relaxed.  Photo Copyright 2014, Girgoris Miliaresis

When people write that mushin means “no mind” the immediate impression is that mushin is about not having an intellectual mind. It is just as much about not being emotionally active as it is about not being intellectually active. The intellectual mind has to quiet and relax, become calm and still. The emotions have to become calm as well. Until you can quiet the emotional side of your mind as well as the intellectual, you won’t have mushin.

Trash talk is common because many people never learn to let the emotional side of their heart/mind calm down and become still. Again, breathe and stop hanging on to your emotions. It’s not that you don’t have emotions. That’s not what mushin means. Your emotions don’t color the situation. Your ego can say you shouldn’t let this women push you around, or that that guy is a pipsqueak, or those folks deserve a comeuppance. All that just gets in the way of clear perception and can make you react to things that aren’t really there instead of responding to the situation, to the world, as it really is.

Our emotions and thoughts will run us ragged if we let them, with thoughts flittering from politics to friends to work to the lousy roads to the beautiful sunset to the song on the radio to the guy who just cut us off to the hot car going in the other direction to….

The heart/mind can go nonstop as long as you’re awake if you allow it. Letting it go takes practice.  I was going to say it takes effort, but that’s the wrong direction. You’re not fighting with yourself. You’re just not clinging to the surface chatter. It’s not easy, especially now that we have devices to entertain us 24 hours a day. The first step is to allow yourself to not be entertained all the time. If you’re always distracted by TV or radio or the internet or Facebook, you never have the opportunity to develop mushin.

Oddly, the more you let go of the chatter and the distractions, the less you want them. It was probably easy 150 years ago with no TV or radio or MP3 players or even record players. Everything was relatively quiet and distractions were exciting because they were so rare and added some spice to life rather than distracting us from living it.

Mushin isn’t the absence of a heart/mind. The intellect and the emotions are still there. They aren’t the big show though. Once the intellect and the emotions are quiet and calmed, your mind can smoothly see the world as it is and you can respond to reality rather than all the chatter going on. Mushin is the absence of your ideas and emotions being imposed on your perception of the world.

I'd planned on writing about fudoshin in this post too, but I ended up with more than I expected about mushin, so I guess that will wait for now.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Young Guy Judo Vs Old Fellow Judo

I wrote this about judo, but it applies just as well to every other budo I’ve seen.

I watched the young guns at judo going at it like they were hammering each other on an anvil. They were working hard fighting each other strong and fast, with all the strength and speed they have. Young guys really work at their judo. The referee called out “Hajime!” and they grabbed each other, started attacking, doing everything they could to throw each other. In no time they were panting from the effort. I was getting tired just from watching them. They were really working hard to throw each other.

It took a while, but eventually even the strength and stamina of youth wear out, and the guys on the mat needed break. Granted, they lasted at least twice as long as I would have trying to work that hard, but they still wore themselves out. After the young guys bowed off the mat and headed for a water break, the referee turned to Harold and I and invited us to take their places. Harold and I are a couple of middle-aged guys who’ve been doing judo for a while.

The referee yelled “Hajime!” Harold took a step forward, held out his hands in invitation, tilted his head and smiled at me. This was pure “old fellow judo.” Harold didn’t want to attack hard and give me any energy I could use against him. He also didn’t want to work like those young guys had been doing. Neither one of us has that kind of stamina anymore. Besides, one of the maxim’s of Judo is “Maximum efficiency, minimum effort” and Harold understands that.  I keep trying to get my ego to understand it too, so I stepped forward a little, held out my hands to make my sleeves easy to grab, and smiled back.

We stood there smiling at each other for a moment, then we gingerly reached out for each other without committing any energy that could be used against us. As we moved around the dojo it felt a lot more like a dance than a fight. As you become more skilled you become less eager to throw energy at your partner because he’s more than happy to accept it and do something with it.  We moved with a complete awareness of this, so instead of the fast, sudden movements of the young guys, we old fellows moved slowly and smoothly.

The young guys put a lot of effort into it out there, pushing and pulling on their partner, working to make a technique happen. Harold held my dogi lightly and we moved gently around the dojo looking for opportunities to work our partner’s movement.  I’ve learned from being thrown far too many times that if I push hard into someone, or pull on them, an experienced partner is just as likely to get out of the way of my push and toss me over onto the mats as not.

Harold and I were trying to feel what was happening and what the other was doing. Neither one of us was trying to make our partner do something. We were moving around the dojo. Our goal is to feel what our partner is doing and help them do more of it. We moved around the room, our feet sliding across the mats, never stepping.  A nice, big, John Wayne type step is an invitation to be thrown with everything from a simple and subtle foot sweep to a great big, literally over-the-top seioinage throw. Harold and I studied each other. He has a dropping seioinage that he likes, and I’m working on a interesting ouchigari. We’ll both take a nice footsweep though if it’s available.

So we moved around the mat, occasionally making little attacks, going after foot sweeps when our partner’s structure felt a little bit off or trying to add some energy to their movement to destabilize them and create an opportunity for some other technique. The young guys are constantly trying to do a technique to their partner. They are working hard to do some judo. Old fellows know better than to rush. We’re patient and we wait for it to happen.

Good judo techniques aren’t forced. You can’t make them happen.  If you’re making something happen, you’re not doing judo.  It’s that old “maximum efficiency minimum effort” thing. Don’t make something happen.  It’s more like letting something unfold naturally. If you’re trying to force your will on the situation, it’s not great judo. Oh, you might be able to force a technique to happen, but that’s not very high level judo. The best judoka don’t have an intention of what’s going to happen. They let their partner decide how they will be thrown. There are lots of ways of describing what is happening. You flow with partner’s energy or match their intent or blend with them.  The young guys try to do judo.  They push on uke and pull on him and try to make him react or just force their way to a place where a technique can be done. The old fellows just let it happen.

Old fellows don’t work too hard. The best techniques sneak up on the person being thrown and suddenly the floor is slapping them between the shoulders. A foot sweep happens when uke is moving and their partner adds some energy to their foot and changes its direction so that instead of settling on the ground and supporting his weight, uke’s foot ends up over on the other side of their body while their weight continues down to the ground in the original direction. There are lots of ways to get to this technique. When I was learning this, (yeah, I really was a young guy once) I would jerk on my partner’s arm trying to yank them forward to I could sweep their foot. Now I just wait for the weight shift and add a little energy to the foot and draw gently on their arm in the direction they are already moving. At least that’s what I try to do. Harold feels for a forward weight shift, draws on the arm that’s moving forward, drops and turns underneath the arm and does a neat drop seioinage. No fighting with your partner, no strength opposing strength.

To me, the finest judo techniques are de ashi harai and uki otoshi. Neither one can be forced. You have to use what your partner is already doing and just guide their inertia. This video is a beautiful example. Uke tries to drive in to do ouchigari. Instead of resisting the force, his partner works with it, slips out of the way and guides the energy from uke in a spiral so uke goes from standing upright to horizontal facing up and falling to the floor. This is not a technique where the person executing it adds a lot power or puts a lot of effort into what is happening. On the contrary, you have to get out of your own way. It’s pure old fellow judo.

It’s funny. Old fellows can keep at it in randori for quite a while. They don’t waste a lot of energy pushing and pulling at their partner. They are just there, quietly, calmly, patiently moving around the room with their partner, not fighting them, no trying to make anything happen.  The young guys keep pounding away at you, working hard at their judo expending incredible amounts of energy. The old fellows are there, relaxed and happy, gently moving around the dojo deflecting all that excess energy and throwing their partner from time to time when they are able to guide some of that exuberant energy in a way their partner doesn’t want but can’t prevent. It’s kind of amazing, but old fellows are so much more efficient than young guys that we can stay out and do a 5 minute randori session with people 25 or 30 years younger than we are, and not be any more out of breath than the young guys.  

It only looks like we’re keeping up with the young guys though. Old fellows aren’t really keeping up with them. Old fellows just flow along on the current of energy being thrown out by the young guys without resisting it, so the old fellows are using a fraction of the energy the young guys are expending. It can be interesting watching a someone more than 60 years old playing with a college student and realizing that while the college student has youth, speed, strength and stamina in their favor, the old fellpw is the one who going easy on his partner, as he smiles through the randori, and gently tosses the young guy to the ground.

It’s that old seiryoku zenyou, maximum efficiency minimum effort. Old fellows just don’t have as much energy as the young guys do, but what we have, we use a lot more efficiently.  Old fellows aren’t there for a short stint. They’ve been around a while and plan to to be around for a lot longer. They have to make what they’ve got last for the long haul. There are lots of people to do randori with, and we want to play with them all. Old fellows really enjoy practice. They aren’t working at, they are playing with it, in the best sense of the word. They are playing with the techniques and timing to see what works and what they can do. Old fellas have been thrown by everyone, so they don’t mind getting thrown when they make a mistake, and they are thrilled when a younger student figures out a lesson and applies it to them, even when that means taking a big fall. It’s fun to see others make progress. After a while, all that ego that used to scream that we have to throw everyone goes away and we can simply enjoy the randori, whether we are the ones doing the throwing, or the ones being thrown.

Young guys work at it and need to throw everyone. Old fellas play with whatever they get, and even when they are thrown, they’re smiling.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Budo Vices

Budo training is often lauded for promoting virtues like self-confidence, self-control, self-respect, determination,  and resolve. It helps people stand up to bullies and be better people and to get along better in society. Budo training is actively promoted as being good for developing these valuable traits in children and adults. It’s just an all around good thing, right? Unfortunately, where there are virtues, there are usually vices as well. There are all sorts of bad lessons and characteristics that can be learned in the dojo.

As wonderful as I believe budo training can be, it is not without pitfalls, dangers and tempting looking diversions that lead to dead ends. Just looking at the list of virtues makes me think of their closely related vices. How can self-confidence be a vice? I’ve known plenty of regular folks as well as martial artists who had such an over-abundance of self-confidence that they were arrogant. These people couldn’t imagine not being capable and correct. That’s bad enough in someone you have to deal with in a business or social setting. Now picture that in someone training in a martial art with other people.

When you train with other people, you need a relatively realistic estimate of your own ability. If you are arrogant, you’re not just socially painful to deal with, you can be physically dangerous to yourself and those around you. Arrogance gets people hurt. Even people who aren’t arrogant, but just over-confident are a danger to others and themselves. If you spend enough time around the dojo, it is inevitable that you’ll hear the fateful words “Oh, I can do that.” When overconfidence is in play, the words are almost always followed by someone crying out “Ow!”  Either a technique was attempted ineptly and hurt the person it was being attempted on, or the poor guy (why is it almost invariably a guy?) failed to defend himself from an attack he was sure he could deal with easily. Not to mention that arrogance is unpleasant to be around.

Ego is another thing that causes a lot of injuries, both to people whose ego’s are too big, and to the poor folks who have to deal with us. Ego is a special risk for martial artists, because we deal in physical power. The temptation to believe that because we can do these things makes us special is huge, and anything that denies that can trip us up. Every once in a while my ego gets out of the trunk I keep it locked in and causes me problems. It’s sure that I’m better than whoever I’m doing randori with, or that I can still keep up with that 19 year old guy, or any other fantasy that is just out of my reach.  My ego is happy to convince me, and when I go along, I usually end up slumped against a wall, holding a bottle of water and wondering who took all the oxygen out of the air, because as hard as I’m breathing, I don’t seem to be getting any. This side of ego can drive us to try things we really shouldn’t.  It’s different from arrogance. Arrogant folks often can’t imagine that they might not be able to do something.  With this particular ego problem, we are denying our own limitations. It’s fine to push your limits and to stretch them.  It’s not good to deny that those limits exist.

A different problem is getting too attached to a goal. I have seen people who were blindly determined to achieve a goal. I say “blindly” because they couldn’t see clearly the obstacles and pitfalls in front of them. Someone so attached to a goal that she can’t see what is required to get there is a scary thing to see, especially in a martial arts setting. It’s easy to damage yourself and others just from training too hard. If you keep training past the point where your body can maintain reasonable physical control, it’s inevitable that you or your training partner will get hurt, just because at that point you don’t have the fine control required to protect yourself and your partner. That’s a simple judgement problem.

Additionally, when a goal becomes all someone can see, they become blind to everything but that goal. A martial artist like this can be dangerous to themselves because they will try risky or even outright hazardous training practices. When the goal becomes that big in someone’s eyes, it can get in the way seeing your training partners as anything more than tools for achieving your goal. I’m not arguing against goals, I’m just saying goals need to be kept in perspective.

Respect is critical in a budo dojo. If someone doesn’t respect the people they are training with, they aren’t going to be considerate of them. Part of showing respect for your training partners is taking care of them, making sure they don’t get hurt. People who don’t respect you aren’t likely to care if you get hurt and can’t train anymore. Without respect for you, your training partner won’t take you into consideration. When you train together in something with as many potential dangers as budo, you want your partner to respect you so you don’t get hurt.

On top of that though, you also want their respect when it comes to your training. Whatever level you’re at, you need partners who will respect that and train with you so you get what you need out of the training. A partner who doesn’t respect you is not going to bother thinking about giving you the energy and intensity that is appropriate for your training. They will just toss off whatever they feel like. If they’re feeling sloppy, you’ll get a mushy, sloppy partner. If they are feeling annoyed or upset, you could get slammed around with more energy than you can handle. Plus you get to deal with the clear impression that this person doesn’t respect you and doesn’t think you are worthy of their time or attention. There is little that annoys me faster than someone who doesn’t respect their training partners.

One vice that I see all too often, especially on the internet, is budo tribalism. The attitude that “What I do is the real thing, and everything else is weak and corrupt and worthless to practice.” I have seen this from judoka talking about BJJ and I’ve heard it from BJJ guys talking about judo, and I hear it from from folks in Karate and Taekwondo talking about each other. I hear it from MMA people talking about everyone. The most vicious of these exchanges though are usually by people in one branch of an art talking about other branches of the same art. This true whether it’s Aikido or Karate or Tae Kwon Do or Tai Chi or just about any other art.

For too many people, whatever they are doing has to be the greatest in the world. I’m not sure why this is. There is no such thing as the ultimate martial art. Every art makes it’s own assumptions about what kind of attacks to train against and what is the best way to do so. What is it about budo that brings this sort of attitude out so strongly? So many people want to knock down the training of anyone who doesn’t train the way they do. It’s sad to see, because the people who adopt these tribal attitudes cut themselves off from one of the greatest sources for growth as budoka, outside perspectives.

I train in Kodokan Judo, Shinto Hatakage Ryu Iai, and Shinto Muso Ryu Jo. I love getting outside perspectives. They keep me from getting too full of myself. They also help me maintain a realistic perspective of what my arts’ strengths and weaknesses are. No art does everything, and any art that claims to do everything is unrealistic.  By talking with people in other arts, and occasionally training with them, I get the benefit of their experience and perspective.  My judo has grown immensely from interacting with Aikido and Aikijutsu practitioners. My understanding of iai has been expanded, and my appreciation for the limits of my training, through the experience I’ve gained meeting and training with people who do Hoki Ryu and Suio Ryu and many other sword arts. Jo is a wonderful weapon, but like all weapons it has limits. Those become clear when I train with folks whose background is different from mine. A little yari (spear) or naginata (glaive) practice will really open your eyes.  I don’t like to think about some of the chain weapons. They’re just brutal.

The folks who go tribal and declare that everything else is inferior cut themselves off from all the things they could learn from outside perspectives. Worse, they have to continually delude themselves that all those other guys have nothing to offer them. It’s must be tough to live like that. Every piece of evidence that someone else’s training might offer something theirs does not has to be discredited and destroyed. Nothing else can ever be truly worthy of praise. Us versus them just isn’t a good way to live, and it’s certainly not a good way to train.

The last vice I’m going to talk about in this post is jealousy. This one is pernicious and sneaky. It creeps up on you. I’ve seen people get jealous over lots of things in the dojo. Some people have natural talent (I’m not jealous of them. Really. I’m not...Well, maybe just a little). Some people have cool toys. Some people just have more time to train than the rest of us. What seems to cause the worst jealousy I’ve seen is success. Whether it is success as a student developing good technique, or success in competition, or success as a teacher, all of these things can generate jealousy. In the dojo, the worst things I’ve seen have been over success as a teacher.

Teachers are the leaders in the dojo. When one teacher starts to be jealous of another teacher, for whatever reason, the dojo is in trouble. This is one of those things I really don’t understand, even though I’ve seen it. One teacher becomes jealous because another teacher is more popular with students or is able to achieve better results developing students. Instead of doing the proper budo thing and trying to figure out how to improve their own teaching, they become jealous and upset at the other person, leading to arguments, fights and almost invariably, an irreparable fracture in the dojo. The jealousy leads to fights, arguments, accusations and end in two dojos that don’t like each other, not to mention all the students who just quit because they refuse to put up with the poisoned atmosphere before the split. I hate seeing this happen, but that green eyed monster is all too much a part of us as humans, and it happens far too often. Jealousy doesn’t just hurt the individuals involved, it hurts everyone around it, and can destroy the dojo.

Just as cultivating the budo virtues makes individuals better and improves the dojo environment for everyone, letting budo vices develop hurts you and it makes the whole dojo a less pleasant place to be. Arrogance, ego, disrespect, tribalism and jealousy can ruin individuals, groups and dojo. We all have to watch out for them within ourselves with the same sort of diligence we put into developing the budo virtues of 知 wisdom, 仁 benevolence, 義 righteousness, 信 trust, and 礼 rei.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

More On Rei

My friend and colleage, the Rogue Scholar, has posted an excellent follow-up on the subject of rei 礼. She looks at an vital aspect of it that I had not really touched on, the aspect of  rei  as a means of self-restraint. Her essay is well worth the time to read, and can be found at  Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Budo Virtues

I saw another list of budo virtues today. These lists always include things like strength, loyalty, righteousness, knowledge, honesty, and such.  In truth, these lists always seem to be little more than another version of the Boy Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. We can do better than just repeat some simple platitudes that everyone already agrees on and no one will argue with.

The five virtues that consistently show up on every list of samurai virtue are jin 仁 benevolence, gi 義 righteousness, chi 智 wisdom, shin 信 honesty, and rei 礼 etiquette.  Another that often makes the list is chu 忠 loyalty.  These are fine virtues, and certainly anyone who masters and exemplifies them will be an exceptionally fine person. The only problem with calling them budo virtues or samurai virtues or bushido virtues is that they aren’t. These virtues aren’t even really Japanese.

Calligraphy of chi, jin, gi, rei and shin by Kiyama Hirosi.Photo copyright Peter Boylan 2015

They are Chinese, and they were laid out in 6th and 5th centuries B.C.E., about 1900 years before the samurai class came into being. The person responsible for framing these particular virtues was Confucius. Confucius was a brilliant teacher and thinker, and even after 2600 years, it is difficult to find fault with the virtues he emphasized. So please, give poor Confucius the credit he deserves for these virtues. After all, he’s had to suffer from centuries of truly horrible jokes by Westerners. At least give him the credit and respect he deserves.

Japan was heavily influenced by Chinese art, religion, culture, and philosophy. Everyone recognizes that Japan adopted writing from China, and imported Buddhism, starting with the 6 sects of Nara (now nearly forgotten), but gaining widespread popularity with the coming of Shingon and Tendai Buddhism in the Heian Era, Pure Land Buddhism early in the Kamakura Era, and Zen entering later in the Kamakura Era.

Confucian teachings entered sometime in the 600s, and proved to be exceptionally influential. During the Tokugawa Period (1600-1868) Neo-Confucianism actually became officially recognized by the Tokugawa government. The primary virtues though have not changed in more than 2600 years. They are jin, gi, rei, chi, and shin.

Known as The Five Constants, after 2600 years of philosophical development, simply boiling them down to benevolence, righteousness, etiquette, wisdom, and trust doesn’t begin to explain the complex philosophical, social and ethical concepts represented by the kanji characters 仁義礼智信. So if they aren’t special for the samurai and budo, and they can represent a lot more than just simple concepts, what are they?

These are values viewed as optimal in making a member of society. Confucius wasn’t interested in just an exemplary individual, but an individual who fulfilled vital roles in every level of society, from the family to the top levels of government. The samurai of Tokugawa Era Japan were looking for the same things. It might be more accurate though to say that Japanese society was looking for these things from the samurai.

The values are not unique to budo or the martial world.  They are great social values.  In fact the only one that strikes me as being particularly useful in combat is 智 chi, or wisdom. Wisdom in a fight is great. On the other hand, and emphasis on things like benevolence, righteousness, honesty and etiquette seem like good ways to get killed in combat.  These aren’t the values a warrior prizes. They are the values society prizes in all good citizens. Think about things that  might make a good warrior. Benevolence, honesty and etiquette probably don’t make the list.

If these aren’t particular warrior values, why try to tie them closely to budo? Perhaps because budo is a way of developing human beings who happen to be warriors, rather than being a way of developing warriors.  If a society wants to develop great human beings, teachings have to focus on things like benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, honesty and appropriate behavior.

There are two values that are often placed above the others.  One is jin. It encompasses not just benevolence, but also the sense of humanity. People who embody jin care about others and act from that spirit.  Thus they are not selfish or hurtful. They don’t act out to display their power or strength. They act to build up others and to make society benevolent and caring. People who display a great deal of jin are the sort of people you want to be around They are  warm, caring, and empathetic.

Oddly enough, the other value that is held high is rei. Americans in particular can’t imagine how etiquette and bowing could possibly be so important. Originally Confucius was talking about particular rituals being performed. By the time the Japanese got hold of his ideas though, rei encompassed etiquette and social norms.People from cultures where formal social behavior and customs are limited have trouble understanding their value.

I wrote about one aspect of rei in my last blog. In this context it’s a much bigger concept than the limited aspect I addressed last time. Etiquette is not just about the formal, easy to write down aspects like who to bow to and how low the bow should be. It’s about all aspects of social encounters and doing what is right and appropriate all the time. We all know people who seem to move through both casual and formal situations without effort, smoothly dealing with each different person so the everyone feels comfortable with them and no one is slighted or insulted. These people are masters of rei.

Jin and rei together make for pretty great person to be around, and these two virtues make each other warmer and more pleasant for everyone. Wisdom without humanity and benevolence is a lobbyist for sale to the highest bidder. Someone who has mastered socializing and handling people but who lacks jin and shin (honesty) is a dangerous manipulator to be avoided. Honesty might be the best policy, but by itself it won’t go very far by itself. Righteousness, right behaviour is great, unless it is unleavened by wisdom and benevolence. Without those it can quickly turn into stiff necked insistence on one way of doing things without consideration for effects.

Together jin, gi, chi, shin, and rei make for a wonderful human being. Look at any warrior, be it soldier, police officer, prison guard or bouncer. They spend a startlingly small amount of time fighting. They live in society. They need these virtues much more each day than they need any of the virtues I’ve seen held up as unique to the warrior. Things like courage, honor, fidelity, discipline, self-reliance. These are great things, but they really focus on just the individual, not the individual in society.

For the longest time I couldn’t see the point or value of the classical virtues. The stuff in modern movies and fiction about warriors and heroes was much more appealing. When I tried living by those modern values though I was a stiff-necked, arrogant, prideful, jerk. Yes, I worked hard and was loyal, but by emphasizing courage above wisdom I became reckless. By focusing on honor over appropriateness I was an ass, by focusing on discipline above humanity I could be cold and brutal, and by insisting on self-reliance I was a fool refusing perfectly good assistance.

Jin and chi teach when fighting is a bad idea, even if seems like it might be important. A little humanity and empathy can go a long way towards understanding why someone behaves in a way that invites a fight. A little wisdom and appropriate manners can de-escalate things before it becomes a fight. Even better, good rei can help you navigate situations so they don’t get heated to begin with. Honesty and righteousness can get you into a fight, but there are fights that need to be fought. With jin and chi you can figure out which fights need to be fought and which ones won’t be fights unless you do something stupid. Rei helps you avoid doing stupid stuff.

The so-called budo values are really great social values for everyone, not just martial artists. Benevolence, kindness and empathy are all things the world could use a lot more of.  A little more empathy and there would be far fewer fights. People who really understand rei behave well but don’t cause offense. Righteousness means behaving in a morally upstanding way rather than being stiff necked and inflexible.  Wisdom, well, I shouldn’t have to explain that one, so I won’t. The value of honesty too should not need elaboration.

Martial artists need these classic virtues even more than those who don’t study budo. Budo skills are form of power, and understanding and embodying these virtues can help us avoid misusing that power.  It’s easy to be a bully if you lack jin. A little rei will go a long way towards teaching us when not to put our skill on display. And wisdom. You can never have too much of that.