Monday, 18 July 2016

My Interpretation of 忍

In this post I would like to share with you what the kanji 忍 Nin; Shinobu means to me. This is a very important kanji for me and it holds a special place in the Asian martial arts philosophies. It can be seen hung in many Dojo all over the world, but do you know why it is hung? If you could see this kanji the way I do, I believe it would become, not only clear why it is hung in dojo, but also very inspirational and looking at it while training may even help you to push yourself a little harder resulting in more positive results.

I would also like to share with you the explanation that my Sensei, Micheal S. Delaney, gave me regarding 忍 when I was still a young athlete training at the Atlantic karate Club (AKC) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. My Snesei gave me many gifts while I was training under him and him introducing me to this kanji profoundly changed the way I face the challenges in my life and deepened my understanding of the true purpose of my karate-do training.

(Nin written by the Author, 2015)

忍 (Nin; Shinobu) Part of Something Greater
This Kanji can be found in many places one such place is the Chito-Ryu Karate-do Showa; a motivational poem written by the First Generation Soke, one of the pioneers of Okinawan Te who contributed to the spread of Karate-do from Okinawa to mainland Japan and world-wide, and Founder of the Chito-Ryu style, Dr. Chitose Tsuyoshi. This poem is recited at the end of training in multiple languages all over the world. I wrote an in-depth, two part analytical post on this earlier. (for more information on the Chito-Ryu Showa, please see "Analysis of the Showa Part 1 and 2")

In this post I would just like to point out that both the kanji for Peace 和 Wa and this kanji 忍 Nin are found in the Showa and represent a much deeper dynamic that can be found in most, if not all, Asian philosophies; Namely that of the polarities of such things as hard and soft, young and old, good and evil, yin and yang which are all polar opposites to one another, but are actually just parts of the same thing. Although they are found at the opposite ends, they are connected to each other and in their connection they are part of the same whole, the 道; what the Chinese philosophies refer to as the Tao or Dao and the Japanese reading of this same kanji is Michi or Do; the Way of nature, put very simply. This concept can also be found in this one kanji. Although it is often translated as 'perseverance', I believe there is a deeper meaning which is much more profound than to simply persevere. Let me try to explain why I feel this way. I would like to start by sharing with you something I wrote in Japanese calligraphy a few years ago.
(Please see the photo below)

(Japanese Brush and Pen Calligraphy combination by the Author, 2010)

Translation of the above calligraphy
(Read from Right to left)
Japanese Romaji                               
Kibishi seikatsu demo yasashi kokoro
Tsurai toki demo kansha no kokoro
Me no mae no shiren ni tachimukau kokoro
Nanigoto nimo akiramenai kokoro

English Translation
Have a gentle heart even in a severe life
Have a thankful heart in times of pain
Face times of tribulation in front of you with your heart
In all you do, never abandon your heart

(Note, in Chinese and Japanese the kanji 心 is used to represent the heart as well as the mind or spirit, it is in this sense that I use the word 'heart'. Perhaps a more accurate translation would be heart/mind)

This is what Nin means to me, notice that the focus is on the heart or spirit of the subject. Next I would like to deconstruct the kanji for you so that you can better appreciate the importance of heart/mind in this character.
The Total character is made up of three parts 刀 Katana Knife, over 心 Kokoro Heart/Mind, and Ten Dot.

The best explanation I have ever heard about what each of these components represent was given to me in a conversation I had with my Sensei at the AKC. I was young, but I understood because it reflected my early life experiences so vividly. (I do not remember this conversation verbatim, but it went something like this)

He said that the katana represents all the things that are bad in our lives; the hardships, suffering, the pain, and the fear of pain. this evil is always out there waiting for us to make a mistake; like the blade of a guillotine hanging above our heads (or in this case, over our hearts) always present and always waiting to cut us down. But, there is one thing that can keep us safe, our heart; the strength of our hearts is what prevents us from being cut down where we stand. But, never forget, the moment our heart weakens and doubt and fear corrupt our hearts, that blade will cut us down without hesitation. So, make sure that your heart is strong and you are honest in your purpose. Never give up, when your heart is strong and pure, you will succeed. But, the blade will always be there waiting...
(The Author's Sensei, Micheal S. Delaney, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)

This resonated with me and I set to work on strengthening my heart as well as my body in my training and focused on being honest with myself and others whom I meet, and most of all, to do things 'with purpose and on purpose'. I feel strongly that now, perhaps more than ever, karate-ka need to lead by example. For some of us, our training gives our lives purpose and for many of us, our training enhances our life's purpose. Our actions and our words affect the people around us. We all have the potential to be either the blade or the heart. Both are inside each of us as they are both just pieces of the same whole. The true challenge, I believe, is to live each day with purpose and maintain a gentle strength.

1 comment:

  1. You wrote: "the kanji 心 is used to represent the heart as well as the mind or spirit"

    The heart is a body organ and in this context, we can discard that definition. Spirit might be deemed to be an attribute of a mind. IMO, the terms are not interchangeable. I think you should clearly define your terms to ensure clarity in your proposition.

    BTW, is Mike Delaney's interpretation of the kanji a generally held deconstruction? I could interpret the combination as the "katana" strengthening the "heart" in adversity.