The soft overcomes the hard

In modern Japan, the phrase "Jyu yoku go wo sessu" or “The soft overcomes the hard” is often used in the martial arts to mean that techniques (which are soft, or “jyu”) can be applied to power (which is hard, or “go”) to control it.


In modern Japan, the phrase "Jyu yoku go wo sessu" or “The soft overcomes the hard” is often used in the martial arts to mean that techniques (which are soft, or “jyu”) can be applied to power (which is hard, or “go”) to control it. But this saying actually doesn’t end there, and continues to say “Go yoku jyu wo tatsu” or “The hard eradicates the soft.” What? Well, if that’s what comes next then the first part doesn’t make sense….


It seems that the saying "The soft overcomes the hard " is based on the ancient Chinese military law book "Three Strategies". According to this way of thinking, Jyu (softness) is a virtue that nurtures others and Go (hardness) is an evil that hurts others. Other people will try to help weak people, while other people will try to attack those who are strong. There are appropriate times and places to use each of these elements of softness, hardness, weakness, and strength. It is important to integrate these four aspects and use them freely according to the situation. In other words, this saying seems to be teaching us to "Adapt yourself to the situation!"


It’s actually really hard to respond flexibly to a situation while maintaining your own purpose or intention. When I explain this idea of remaining flexible in challenging situations to my students, I often use bamboo as an example. Bamboo is strong, but flexible. And the roots hidden under the soil firmly support the bamboo trees around them. I often talk about becoming the type of person who can respond flexibly to any situation, remain centered and grounded while also supporting those around us.


Perhaps many people reading this believe that "I am exactly like that. I am already that type of person." Unfortunately, that's the problem. The reason for this is that many people think that they are firmly holding onto their center, but it’s incredible difficult not to get stuck with these beliefs. Because everyone wants to believe that they are right. It’s a good thing to have self-confidence, but if it is too high, you won’t be able to listen to other people's opinions. But on the other hand, if your center is weak, you will easily be swept away by everything happening around you.


I think that softness is an attitude that allows you to look at yourself from the outside. It is an ability to understand your own center well and control it. This is actually very difficult, because it's quite painful to face yourself and say, "Maybe my thoughts and views are wrong." The longer our experiences, the more confidence we accumulate. Because of this, it's easy to say that we are re-examining our thoughts and beliefs but actually very hard to do. In the television drama about Eiichi Shibusawa on Sunday, there was a scene where he completely changed his thinking about “​​Sonnojoi” or a movement to “revere the Emperor; expel the western barbarians” that he had strongly believed for many years. I think changing opinions about long-held beliefs like this is very difficult to do.


Kinefuchi Shihan changes techniques and kata (forms) without hesitation. He regularly innovates new techniques and kata by asking, "Isn't this way better? Isn't it easier for everyone to do?" The founders and ancient masters of the martial arts also said that technique should be innovated and changed. It would be nice if we could be able to have "the soft overcomes the hard, and the hard eradicates the soft" for our own way of thinking. And from this, that we can create a good balance between softness, rigidity, weakness, and strength.


This is a translation of the original blog post that can be found HERE

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