In our November Yamato Kokoro (大和心) class, I introduced the concept of “Tanren” for all of the students in Chiseikan Dojo.
To understand this concept and how to apply it, let’s first start with understanding the origin of this word. In the Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, it is written, "A thousand days of practice is forging, and ten thousand days of practice is kneading.” In the process of Japanese sword making, this word “Tanren” is often used to explain how a strong sword can be made. “Tanren” is the process of forging and kneading the steel to remove impurities and equalize the carbon content across the entire blade. When we use this term in martial arts practice, it means to train one's body, mind and technique through rigorous training.
I heard many stories from Kinefuchi Sensei about how Mochizuki Sensei applied this concept to his own training, even doing so when he was hospitalized during the later years of his life. Similarly, I have also witnessed Kinefuchi Sensei apply this concept of Tanren to his training and life.
For example, when he was teaching at the Aikido club at the International University of Japan in Niigata, the timetable for the shuttle bus from the station to the university would arrive at the front gates so that he could arrive just before the start of practice. Rather than take this bus, Sensei wanted to have a time to prepare himself physically and mentally before practice each week, so he decided to take an earlier train and make the 40-minute walk between the station and the university both before and after practices. We lived on campus at the time, and even though we offered to pick him up and drive him back to the station each time, he walked so that he wouldn’t be an inconvenience to us. He did this each and every week, even in heavy rain, snowstorms, and heat waves.
Because this was a university club activity, we could only pay him 10,000 yen a month for teaching, even during times that we had many students. This money barely covered his commuting fees and other related costs for teaching there each week, and other people around him advised him against continuing to teach for us. But Kinefuchi Sensei accepted our request because his teacher Minoru Mochizuki had passed away the exact same year he received our request to teach aikido, and Mochizuki Sensei had always taught him, "If even one person wants to learn, go and teach.” Kinefuchi Sensei kept walking round trip to the University each and every week for more than 6 years until we moved out of the university and could send him by car. Based on his actions and not just words, Sensei taught me the true meaning of "Tanren".
Whenever I’ve faced a difficult or painful experience, I always remember Kinefuchi Sensei walking in a snowstorm and Mochizuki Sensei training himself to move his own wheelchair with just the strength of his toes. Because of this, I could inspire myself to face these difficult situations saying, "I can't let this defeat me.”
So, this month's homework assignment for our Dojo students is to choose and practice this concept of “Tanren” either by (1) Doing something that they have been thinking of doing but have never done, or (2) Stop doing something that they have been wanting to stop but haven’t been able to do so. I am looking forward to seeing how well they can apply this lesson of Tanren to overcome their previous barriers.