Every so once and awhile, our life in the world outside the Dojo teaches us lessons that can be applied equally well to our martial art training. For example, in my “day job” as an employee of a major coffee house company, we are continually encouraged to be passionate about our product, our job and our contact with the general public and not be hesitant to let that passion show. In such a setting, it is very easy to tell who has this kind of passion for their work and who does not. Those who do not have this passion tend to regard their job as, well …just a job, and it is very easy to see in their attitude and performance. However, those who are sincerely passionate about what they do and strive to use that passion to inspire their co-workers and customers are the ones who will progress, succeed and eventually become the company’s future leaders.
Nesshin is the word used by the Japanese to express the idea of passion, enthusiasm or zeal for what one does. The word is a combination of two Kanji, or Chinese characters: Netsu, which means “heat” and Shin (which is also read as Kokoro), the word for “heart”, “mind”, or “spirit”. It is a word that I have often heard used by Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu 15th Headmaster Tsumaki Kazuo (Genwa) Sensei when he observes the performance of someone he believes is sincerely devoted to their study and practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu. Given this premise, I would like to pose the following question: anytime we enter the Dojo for any reason, to attend a class for training, to attend a seminar about Japanese traditional culture, to clean the facility, to show our friends where it is that we do what it is we do, do we have Nesshin?
To have true Nesshin as a Deshi of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu is not as easy as it sounds, whether we are American or Japanese. As the word itself implies, to have Nesshin means to have a fire in your heart, an enthusiasm for what you do that is almost overwhelming…to the point of bursting into flame. Especially for us who live in the West and are unaccustomed to the cyclical nature of traditional Japanese martial art training, to have Nesshin can be quite problematic. As Westerners, we are generally taught from our youth that everything has a distinct beginning, middle and end, and that to engage in a pursuit that has no end in sight is just an exercise in futility. Not so in the traditional Japanese cultural arts, where the words of the great Tea Master, Sen-no-Rikyu echo as truly today as they did in his time:
With regard to practice, Begin learning from one, Until you know ten. Then return from ten To the original one From which you began.
The possession of Nesshin with regard to our study and practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu is something that we cannot afford to be without, for it is what continually drives us on to improve our technique, our school, and ultimately ourselves. Without it, our study and practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu becomes empty and hollow and we can become easily frustrated when we encounter obstacles or plateaus in our training. Without Nesshin, our martial art training becomes more of a chore than a challenge and when the time comes that we ARE challenged by our Instructors, we may entertain the thought of simply giving up and try to find an activity where such passion is not required or necessary.
On the other hand, those who do possess Nesshin rise to meet such challenges and see them as opportunities to fan the spark in their heart into a full-blown flame, whose radiance and warmth have a tangible affect on those around them. Any of us who have spent any time at all around Soshi Sensei and have been challenged by him will understand what I am saying here. To be in Soshi Sensei’s company is to be drawn in by his fervor and zeal for Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu…so much so that instead of entertaining thoughts of giving up one’s martial art studies, one feels much more inclined to give up their connections to the “outside world” and devote themselves totally to the study and practice of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu.
In today’s world, though, such a path is not the most practical or economically feasible one to take. But we can keep our Nesshin very much alive both in the Dojo and in the outside world by maintaining the spirit of Shoshin, or Beginner’s Mind, each time we enter the Dojo to train, or do whatever task is required of us. Think back to when you first began your martial art studies. Everything was quite new and very challenging and there was a distinct passion to learn everything and be immersed in it to the highest degree…but as the days became months, and the months became years, that passion, that Nesshin, may have cooled to the point where it is now just a flicker of its past flame.
So what are we to do? Sometimes, it may require us to spend time before our training period to get into the proper spirit of Shoshin so that when we step through the door of the Dojo, our passion to train and learn is so great that we cannot contain it and we absorb all that is taught like more wood being place on a fire to make it burn even hotter. Sometimes, if one feels that they have really lost touch with their Nesshin, it may even be necessary to take a sabbatical from training in order to have the time to look deep within and re-discover where that spark of Nesshin is so that it can be rekindled into its former brilliance.
Whatever the case may be, Nesshin is a quality that all of us, Instructor and Deshi alike, MUST possess, and it is our duty to keep that flame burning strong within each of our hearts, no matter what life throws at us. It is not easy…no one said that it would be…but it is perhaps the greatest of challenges for the modern martial artist and one that I strongly encourage all of you to meet head-on and strive to come out victorious!
Michael Alexanian (Gennan)
General Manager (Sokatsu Shibucho) and Head Instructor (Shihan)
United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu
Michigan Honbu Dojo