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Simple Lessons:

Short, concise lessons and concepts helpful to students and teachers

Tamashii – Indomitable Spirit

Submitted by Terry Bryan

One of the major benefits of training under a good instructor in a classical art is the development of what martial artist call Tamashii or indomitable spirit. Some people talk about it as having a “can do” attitude, but in classical martial arts training it means much more.

Until World War II, the phrase Yamato-Damashii (also spelled Tamashii) was used to identify spiritual qualities supposedly unique to the Japanese people. These qualities included moral fortitude, courage, sincerity, devotion and unswerving success oriented attitude. Originally, taken from the Chinese school of thought, the concept was based on unquestionable loyalty to emperor and nation. With a military mindset, the Japanese people later took this concept to define the spirit in which a warrior held when obtaining and objective.

Today, martial artists use the concept to define the spirit of a warrior when he or she trains, develops strategy and tactics or engages in conflict situations. Knowing that our most severe enemy is ourselves and our tendency to not show discipline and persistence in achieving our objectives, many modern teachers now use the concept of Tamashii to identify those traits needed to become successful in any endeavor not just combat.

When discussing Tamashii, one must understand the concept on “One Encounter, One Chance”. In a world where our youth have grown up in a video game culture, it is easy to fall into the mindset of “If I fail, I will just ask to try again and start over”. Well, in life and death situations there is no reset or start over button. If someone has a knife thrusting at your heart, you can afford one mistake per lifetime, that’s it!

The value of first impressions and giving it everything you’ve got each and every time becomes crystal clear when it comes to personal self defense but equally important in everything you do. That’s why business people know they must deliver great customer service each and every time, or that could be the final time that customer ever spends a dime with them, or the marketing persona spends so much time testing headlines, response rate and media success rates because one failed campaign could put them out of business.

Another aspect of Tamashii, is the art of persistence. There is a saying in Japan: nana-korobi, ya-oki, which means fall down seven times, get up eight times. Life has its ups and downs; more ups than downs, so persevere when things are tough and you will surely get through them. This is one of the core principles of bushido and the concept of Tamashii.

To look into the eyes of an opponent who has a razor sharp sword and intent on killing you, and not only being able to show no fear, but in being able to project an attitude of total confidence that the opponent has no chance of success is what Tamashii is all about.

When facing any challenge grasp and hold onto the concept of Tamashii and press forward with all actions and deed with a renewed sense of confidence. Of course make sure you back that up with constant training and education, and you will increase your chances of success greatly!


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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 FightingArts.com.


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martial arts philosophy, spirit, martial arts concepts


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