Giri is a very typical and important rule for any person
among the traditional Japanese society. There is no equivalent word in
English for Giri. For a non-Japanese, to truly grasp its meaning, he has
to deeply understand the uniqueness of Japanese culture.
The pursuit of duty, justice and correct action, is called giri.
There is nothing that influences more Japanese acts, thoughts, fame, human
relationships, and even national confrontation as giri.
As a Budo teacher (martial arts and disciplines), I chose this
typical term within the traditional Japanese culture to show the beauty,
the educational values and the benefits of understanding and following
the rules of Giri.
No other Japanese tradition has attracted so much interest from the rest
of the world as Japanese Budo. I would dare estimate in millions
the number of enthusiasts all over the world interested in its varied
aspects from martial arts and self defense to a self improvement, physical,
mental, spiritual, artistical and even as a sport. But the more popular
it became, more and more beauty and important elements in it were forgotten
or neglected. One of the most important is the giri. I wonder
how many Budo students have heard of giri and how
few follow its meaning.
Joining a dojo or school of martial arts implies much more than
taking an ordinary course. A serious Budoka (martial art student
or practitioner) should know the tradition of martial arts, their history
and heritage, and especially, their goals and disciplines.
In classical Japan, learning a martial art was a sole privilege for the
warrior class (buke). Each martial art school not only kept its
techniques, strategy, and knowledge jealously secret, but was also strict
about accepting students. It was impossible for any student to be accepted
to a dojo unless he was strongly recommended as a serious and good-natured
person, worthy of becoming a member of that school. For example, my Aikido
school in Japan, The Korindo's System, continues with this costume
till now and until the middle of the ninety fifty's any new member of
Korindo had to sign with his blood loyalty and keeping the system's
knowledge secret. Now days, almost any school of martial arts over the
world is open to anybody. Many of them became very commercialized, concentrating
in the physical parts only, abandoning the tradition, neglecting the mental,
moral, and spiritual training and hardly dealing with the education of
the individual. I mostly blame the Budo teachers, product of the
present world, of the social and educational systems in which they have
almost lost all ideals and values. Even in Japan, only few classical schools
still keep that tradition and giri is slowly dying.
There are dojos which have their regulations written and hanged
on the wall of the dojo, or printed paper for newly arrived students
to receive upon joining the club. But there is nothing more important
than the instructor teaching and educating, and above all his personal
In most armies, any soldier must salute higher ranks, but they too salute
back in return, no matter what the difference in ranks is. A general will
salute back even the lowest rank soldier. A proper salute is done with
body erect and the two heels touching each other. The equivalent bowing
in Budo is the same, being taught in all katas. It is performed
with both heels joined together, and usually done with a 45° angle
bent forward. It should be done with true respect and in a proper amount.
I remember in my youth that among the most valued and respected profession
was the teacher. Now a days, to become a teacher is not a profession young
men desire. Very few idealists, good and dedicated teachers still continue
today, swimming against the current to fulfill the important mission of
teaching and educating. There is a lack of appreciaction and respect by
society which mostly bows to richness, but not to the true quality of
the person or the importance the teacher has in bringing up the new generations.
A real Budo teacher is not a lecturer that passes information to
his students. He teaches knowledge, passing long years of wisdom educating
his students, strengthening and polishing them to become not only warriors
but also better persons which can confront the difficulties of life not
only with strength but with wisdom which will enrich their life and also
contribute to society.
The Budo teacher gives himself and all his love to his students,
treating them as if they were his own sons, strictly, jealously, but also
with proudness and love. Do students understand what is expected from
them? In my opinion, very little.
A beautiful real story told by one of my friends, has touched me deeply.
This friend, while he was a young boy was treated very badly by his father
who wanted his son to become a practical educated person. But this friend,
preferred arts and poetry and suffered because of it many years of abuse,
sometimes even being whipped with a belt by his father. Years passed,
the son became a respected manager in some company and the father got
old and very sick. The son stayed with his father, taking care of him
as if the father himself was his son for a couple of years. The father
with tears in his eyes said to his son. I never expected you to treat
me with such love and care after how badly I treated you. But the
son answered. No matter how you treated me, nicely or badly, you are
my father and this is my duty, to take care of you with love when you
are in need. This is what I call Giri.
There is another story about a famous Karatedo master in the 19th century
in Okinawa named Ankoh Itosu who is considered to be the greatest master
of the art in all times. When he became greater known and more famous
than his teacher, also a very famous master of the art named the great
Matsumura, he shared his income with his teacher who at that time was
not financially well, and when his teacher turned 70 years old he returned
to get classes from his old teacher. This is Giri.
Another Judo master teacher I met in Japan named Kashiwazaki Sensei, was
very strict and tough with his students while training, but to my surprise,
I saw several students eating lunch in his house daily, probably students
that came from poor families with very limited budget to give their sons
sufficient money for daily expenses. And the teacher's wife told me secretly
that she also gave them pocket money without her husband knowing. Half
of their salary was spent on helping his needy students. I will also call
When I was a young Budo teacher in my thirties, I remember many
times when other Budo students came to visit and asked to join
my Dojo, I would always ask them whether their teacher knew they
had come and if they had permission to learn here. I remember that even
in one of my last visits to Japan, already in my fifties and a respectable
Budo teacher, one of the 8th Dan Aikido masters, asked another
of my teachers, also an 8th Dan, his permission for me to practice with
his group. Both were my teachers in the same organization. It is unquestionable
that a serious Budo student will not act without his teacher's
approval in any matters that concern Budo. This is an unwritten
rule which comes with the study of Budo and belongs to a serious
Dojo and is based on the two basic principles of Bushido,
(the ethical code of the Samurai), loyalty and honor.
I have never considered myself as an ideal person or perfect Budoka
and I have probably made all the mistakes that can be done and will surely
make more in the future. What I do know is that each time I have made
a mistake, not only could I not sleep several nights, but I still continue
to carry the shame. But the outcome of it was my growth, becoming a better
person and using my position as a Budo teacher to educate my students
and show them the right path. In many western countries, educating young
people is a rather difficult task. Each one is a small general, each one
thinks he is more clever and knows better than anybody else. Many of them
are rebels and not disciplined and working with them is almost a daily
fight. Many times I had tough clashes with my senior students. I guess
that for some of them it is just rebelling against a strong personality
teacher or father, or misunderstanding my way of teaching. But what is
more important? Gaining the respect of your teacher by showing fidelity
and doing the right thing, or rebelling and loosing the respect?
I remember another story while I was a young Budo student at the
Kodokan in Tokyo. In one of the exams I was participating for Judo black
belts, we showed our skills and knowledge in front of very respected high
grade teachers headed by Kotani Sensei 9th Dan and a few more 7th and
8th Dan teachers. One of the foreigners demonstrating Kata made several
mistakes. All of the 7th and 8th Dan examiners nodded their heads left
to right, showing their disapproval. But seeing Kotani Sensei moving his
head vertically with satisfaction of the Kata demonstration. Immediately
made the teachers change their head nod movement from horizontal to vertical,
showing their respect to the older and higher teacher. This is Giri.
In many occasions I received black belt Budoka visitors or new
joined black belt students, some of them, in my opinion, not in the black
belt level, but I never asked any of them to take it off and wear a white
or color belt. This would be a total disrespect to their teacher and a
humiliation to the student who believes he earned fairly his grade. The
decision of replacing a formal belt can only be taken by the student himself.
In this article I have shared with the reader some stories, all of them
real, and all of them showing simply and clearly the meaning of Giri.
Giri has universal importance not only among the traditional
Japanese, but also to any person that wants the world to become a better
place to live in, a healthier society, and to personally walk high, with
dignity and self respect with the knowledge of acting righteously. Acting
right and paying respect should be done in the right measurement. Too
little or too much is not respect. This is important for both sides to
understand, the one who gives and the one who receives. Respect is the
very fundamental basic rule in any martial art as well as in any kind
of relation in society. It is, maybe, the highest and the most important
principle in human life.
Today you are the child, but tomorrow you will be the father. Right now
you are a Budo student, but later on you will be the teacher. Respecting
others is respecting yourself. Doing the right thing is walking all your
life with proudness and not with shame, being a noble person with high
self esteem and admired by all.