While I was living in Japan, I was flipping through the TV one day when I stumbled upon a news program. The reporter was interviewing parents at an elementary school entrance ceremony and asked one father about what he wanted for his child’s future. His reply was interesting and contrasted sharply with what a North American parent might say.
He replied, 迷惑をかけないように (“meiwaku wo kakenai yo ni”), which roughly translates as “not to cause trouble” or “not to make someone feel uncomfortable.”. Of course, no parent want’s his child to cause grief or trouble to anyone, but it was interesting that this was the first thing that came out of his mouth. Why?
His reply underscores the importance of maintaining harmony among people which is a notable characteristic of Japanese and Okinawa society. This ability to maintain relationships is fundamental to progressing in life and being part of society. In other words, he was hoping for his child’s success.
The concept of “meiwaku” is so pervasive in Japan that company CEOs will publicly apologize for something as small as raising the price of a product a few yen. In some cases, they may resign or in extreme cases commit suicide. To the western eye this may seem like weakness or a sign of culpability, but a person not taking responsibility means the person is callous and immature.
The dojo isn’t divorced from society – at least any healthy dojo isn’t – and it is a reflection of the larger society. So naturally the importance of harmony is also valued during practice; otherwise not a whole lot would get accomplished. As you strive in your training you should bear this phrase phrase in mind; ‘don’t cause trouble to anyone;’ especially with respect to your teacher, seniors, juniors, and the dojo itself. In other words, you are striving to maintain good relationships which furthers your teacher’s ability to instruct you and your fellow students’ ability to learn – something I ashamedly must admit that I haven’t always been successful at in the past, but endeavour to do.
What this phrase teaches me, is that the arts are not about you directly. I can’t emphasize this point enough. So many Karateka and Kobudoka behave that they are the ultimate authority of the respective tradition they follow. Well guess what, so does everyone else! And this attitude does nothing to help you or your dojo.
Indeed, what many budoka lack is another relevant characteristic when learning martial arts; the ability to listen! Many of my Karate and Kobudo seniors would never bring up a topic or ask a question of their teacher until they felt comfortable with their understanding of it. Even then, many would wait until their teacher broached the topic, but I digress….
Getting back to the topic of ‘meiwaku’, I find this ‘know-it-all’ attitude particularly pervasive on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or any other online medium where budoka facelessly express their opinions. The amount of spite – to put it mildly – that I read sometimes is shocking. Remember the crusades ended a long time ago and you shouting and insulting people at the top of your ‘online lungs’ does little to promote the arts or have a real conversation about them.
In closing, I wish more budoka would keep the idea of ‘meiwaku’ in mind not only as they train in their dojo, but also as they write and respond to comments. Maybe then, they might actually come to grasp a little of what they are actually practicing.