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Personal mottos and Ishi: Signposts on the road to development

Personal mottos and Ishi: Signposts on the road to development

photo by JMC Photos

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In the Japanese martial arts, an ishi is a motto or saying a student selects to inspire them, to remind them of their goals in training, and generally to keep them on the road of development they wish to pursue.

Often these personal mottos are taken from the words of a particular teacher or philosopher connected to their discipline.  The saying may be connected to a specific goal or skill a student wishes to develop, may related to a philosophical concept the student wants to govern their practice, or can simply be a note of self-encouragement.

danceintherainThe idea of a personal motto certainly isn’t strange to Westerners.  Businesses and corporations have their own mottos and tags lines meant to encourage employees.  Leaders in business and politics, the rich and famous, sports personalities;  people of all stripes have publicly talked of personal sayings that help guide their activities and mindset.   Certainly in the areas of personal development and physical training, many trainers recommend adopting an inspirational saying to encourage you when you feel down, to keep you going when difficulties are encountered, and to keep you pointed towards your main goal.

What does this have to do with training as a practitioner of the art of cutting?  Like studying any other art, it must be remembered that tameshigiri (in all its forms) is and art.  As such, while you may study the same movements and techniques as all other students,  how you absorb the information, how you interpret it, how apply and practice it, will very much be a reflection of who and what you are.  Your cutting technique will be unique to your personality, at least in small ways.

While on this very personal road, some students will advance faster than others;  some students will find themselves stuck on trying to learn certain movements or concepts, seemingly unable to progress past a certain point… definitely a time of great discouragement.  Some students will start to become lost in the wealth of detail to be learned, movements to be memorized,  in momentary distractions, or the need for gratification.

In this respect, like any other human endevour, an ishi or personal motto can act as easily remembered signpost to remind you of your own personals aims and goals, so you can discard those elements or paths which aren’t moving you towards your chosen end.  A motto can be selected to help you focus on just one short-term goal, to be discarded once the objective is achieved.  Or it can last for a lifetime of training… it’s up to you.

So, how to you select an ishi / motto?  This is both easy and, at the same time, very difficult.  Easy in that all you need do is choose a saying from your art, from a teacher, from a philosopher, author or lecturer, from a movie or story,  which speaks directly to you.  An ishi always has a deeper meaning to the person selecting it than might be apparent to others, in both emotional and intellectual terms.

The difficulty comes is knowing what your goals and objectives really are, so you can choose the best ishi for your purposes.   Personal reflection and self-knowledge are required if you wish to choose a long-lasting ishi.  Think, consider, and don’t be concerned about switching your mottos frequently until you find one that works for you, or if you find they’re no longer helping you achieve you intended end.

The purpose of a signpost is to help you find your way to your chosen destination, not to demand you follow a path even if it does nothing for you.


Some ishi from various Japanese arts:

Masa katsu agatsu –  “True victory is victory over self”

Hyaku shaku kanto ho ippo sumei o – “Climb to the top of a 100 foot tree, then take one step more”.  Go beyond your limits.

Ichi go ichi ei – Literally “One moment, one chance”;  this saying is actually taken from a master of the Tea Ceremony, and suggests that, in every action, a person has only one chance to be perfect

Jiki shin kore dojo – “When the mind is right, everywhere is the dojo”.


Some well known sports or gym mottos:

Just do it!

Defend to the end

Pain is weakness leaving the body

Respect all.  Fear none.


My own ishi, with — as I mentioned above — more levels of meaning to me personally than will be immediately apparent to readers:

風 水 の 音 を 聞 く
Fusui no oto o kiku
Listen to the sound of the wind and the waves

If you’d like to share your personal training motto, or just a saying you’ve found inspirational, please add it in the Comments area below.


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