Short, concise lessons and concepts helpful to students
By Terry Bryan
The Japanese word or concept of "Giri" contains elements from
words like loyalty, duty, responsibility and obligation. In America this
is a hard concept to explain because most of our citizens are brought
up very individualistic and not taught the concept of duty or obligation.
How does a person repay one's parents for bringing them into the world?
This precious gift that we call life, what is the true value? What method
of payment is considered adequate?
Well, these questions may seem silly, but in reality one does not simply
write a check for $10,000 when they turn 18 years of age and call it
even. If you recognize that you are born into this world with a debt
to pay, then we can begin to look at proper behaviors that are congruent
with the repayment of this debt. For example, bringing honor and respect
to the family name is one method. Anything we do that brings honor to
the family is seen as a credit and anything that we do that dishonors
the family does not go towards repayment of that debt. We have certain
responsibilities and obligations within the family, such as taking care
of siblings, respecting our parents, and doing the right thing for the
benefit of others that are all a part of being a member of the family.
In the martial arts, the concept is very similar. Most people understand
that training in the martial arts is a life changing experience, one
that has a tremendous value. In fact, no matter how much you try, you
will never totally repay your teachers for what you will learn from classical
Your school is an extended family. Those sempai (higher ranking students
that help you through the learning process) are seen as older brothers
and sisters, and take on the duty of helping you along the path as their
sempai did them.
In the dojo, the beginning of life is perceived as having begun when
you put on that while belt and began your training. The person who takes
you in and takes you to black belt is seen as a father and is given the
respect of that position.
Although we may never completely repay our debt to our teachers, or
their teachers, it is our duty to try. The method of repayment is by
what we do and what we say. In order to show respect to the art, we always
show respect to those above us and those below us. We strive to exemplify
the traits of a warrior by working hard, striving for excellence, and
by being compassionate.
Whenever faced with a decision, we always ask ourselves, "What
is the right thing to do that will bring honor to the school and my teacher?" We
teach the art to others, because it was taught to us. We bow to the dojo
and to our classmates because it shows that we understand respect and
duty. Black belt excellence is one element of giri, for yourself and
for your organization.
About the Author:
Terry Bryan is the former General Secretary for the USA-NKF (National
Karate Federation), the official governing body for the sport of karate
with the US Olympic Committee. He currently is the Executive Director
for the American Black Belt Academy, a 501c3 non-profit organization
located in Colorado Springs. His column, Simple Lessons, regularly appears