Several people have reached out to me asking what the kanji at the centre of the ToshiKai ‘patch’ means. On a trip to Okinawa, Patrick McCarthy, Hanshi 10th Dan gifted me this calligraphy created by Tetsuhiro Hokama (外間哲弘) of GoJyu Fame. I was struck not only by the beauty of the work but also its layered meaning as it cut to what I believe, for me, was the essence of my karate journey.
In Japanese the proverb "率先垂範," (sossen suihan), when translated, conveys the idea of "Leading by Example" or "Setting a Good Example" - or as I like to think of it, “live a life worth emulating”. For those of you who know me, you know that karate was a way to calm a rather violent and self-destructive disposition - one which was inevitably going to lead me to a purposeless place. Thanks to luck, perseverance and a selection of solid people, my disposition has mellowed and these days is usually kept under wraps - where it belongs ;-). However, I daily reflect upon why I started this karate journey and all it has led me to - the proverb, as brushed by Hokama-sensei, sits in the tatami room of my house where I do my morning and afternoon training. I visit it daily.
More generally, this adage holds profound significance, mainly when applied to Japanese Budo, a collective term encompassing various martial arts disciplines such as Judo, Karate, Kendo, Aikido, and more.
In Budo (and Bujyutsu historically), the emphasis extends beyond mere physical techniques, delving into the moral and ethical dimensions of practice. For those who wish to claim Okinawan karate is solely about self-defence, then they need to read the works left to us by Matsumora (among others), where it is clearly stated karate must be for the betterment of your life and those around you. While several authors, usually they have never lived in Japan nor speak the language, assert that the notion of “do” only arrived with the Japanization of Okinawan karate - nothing could be further from the truth. Reflecting the region with its ties to Confucianism, Daoism and Animistic religions, Okinawa's budo DNA is impacted by the moral thoughts of these worldviews.
Within the context of Japanese Budo, "率先垂範" underscores the pivotal role of those with seniority or experience. It compels them to become exemplars by embodying the desired conduct, values, and principles. They serve as beacons of guidance, ensuring that the ethical and moral tenets of the art are not just spoken but lived. This principle, thus, fosters a culture of respect, discipline, and integrity.
The martial arts community is not confined solely to the dojo or training hall; it permeates everyday life. "Leading by example" in Budo extends beyond technical proficiency; it signifies adhering to the core ethics and values in all aspects of life. Practitioners are encouraged to apply the principles from Budo to their interactions with others and their conduct in society, thereby promoting a more harmonious and respectful way of living.
In summary, "率先垂範" is an invaluable proverb in the context of Japanese Budo, emphasising the imperative of setting a positive example, steadfastly upholding ethical principles, and nurturing a firm moral foundation within the martial arts community and the wider society.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan