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Simple Lessons:

Short, concise lessons and concepts helpful to students and teachers


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 karate.

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.

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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 on

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

giri, martial arts philosophy, Samurai philosophy, duty, obligation

Read more articles by Terry Bryan

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