There's a phrase commonly used in Japanese martial arts, particularly swordsmanship/the samurai arts, which I specialize in, that I think IId like o talk about. We have many in all the different styles we do at our school, passed down to us from our masters and their masters and hence forth, and they vary a bit from region to region, but there is one found in swordsmanship we think embodies the most universal truth of our practices above all others. The discussion surrounding topics like compassion fatigue and problematic faves and callout culture around here the past few days tells me you are all in sore need of this.
It's a simple one, too.
七転び八起き - Nana korobi ya oki - Seven falls and eight risings - "Fall down seven times but stand up eight times."
You can see it in my tumblr profile. You've probably seen it written somewhere in Japanese media. You've probably heard it and its variations countless times, but this is the version I like best. It means a lot to me.
Things like "Don't give up, don't encourage failing or teach it well as part of a learning process, be it learning for a skill or trade or even just how to be human. It's an innate part of our existence, and without it, there would be nothing to strive for or against. Nobody is perfect, nor can we ever hope to attain true perfect mastery of anything, even ourselves, but we can still be the best we are today, and better than that tomorrow, if we allow ourselves, and others, room to fall, but also room to get back up. Perhaps even lend a hand.
It is the most essential soul of the samurai, amongst others, regardless of what misconceptions you hear about us being death-obsessed and death-seeking nihilists who just want to be killed. Forever wipe that notion from your brain. We only meant our death had equal weight to our worth of our lives, but we can only give worth to our lives if we do.
Star Wars gave us "Do or do not, there is no try" and it's the same for us in martial arts. You either do or don't. If you don't, stand back up. If you do, keep it up. Hesitance kills and wounds, and you may not get to rise or fall again after that.
I remember one day, when I was undergoing a months-long course to achieve trainee instructor rank out of a chosen few who were granted the ability to attend this course, my sensei took me aside. It was just him and I in the school that day, and I made up one of the lessons I missed, and this was so dear to me that I was more than willing to change my scheduling even to eat and sleep to attend this. One missed lesson in this course was an immediate fail.
He tells me, "[Atma], do you know one of the reasons I chose you for this? I know you know it's because you show a genuine interest in the culture and history behind this, which is rare now, but that's not the reason I'm thinking of."
"You made it back here. No matter how many times you have to call in sick or busy, you come back. You immediately scheduled to make up for this, an optional course, to show what it means to you. Most never make it back here. Most never see black belt or beyond. They take too much time off due to illness or they feel they've plateaued or business and never realize that this isn't a race. There's no specific amount of time to do this. You will always have something to do, even decades from now, no matter how much you swing a sword, it will never be perfect, but it can be great, and the only way to be great is consistency. You show that more than anyone else I've trained in a long time. You know that you'll eventually get past here, because you made it back here now."
"Your dedication and consistency, no matter what tries to interrupt it, will be what gets you to the beyond black belt that so many seek to attain, easily so. You help others, new or higher ranking than you, without hesitance or judging them. You are persistence. You are perseverance. And that's all anyone really needs. I hope you stay around here as long as you possibly can in your life so you can show others this."
I thanked him. It remains one of the coolest and nicest things anyone has ever said about me. A week after that, I was named a trainee instructor. Of that group, the only one still trained through this course, I am one of the only ones left, no matter how awful this past year has been for my personal life, I still try to make time for this.
Because I kept standing back up. And now starting in a couple weeks, I am a main assistant for our swordsmanship and samurai arts for a year. From there, I can be evaluated as a possible head of it.
What does this mean to you? It means give people space. Give them chances. Be persistent no matter how embarrassing your struggles or failures are. They're there to teach you something, even if it's through someone else's experience. Don't judge; you've been there yourself, after all. We all have. Let the deeds and actions of the person standing before you now and not yesterday or tomorrow be what gives them value.
It took us a long time to get here, after all. I wasn't just given a sword and thrown in front of a class day one. But day two? By then I could help those on day one. And so forth.
You'll make it, too. Just keep standing up. For our sake, and for yours.