The Essence Lies in Rei


Rei   – Japanese – literal meaning salute, bow.

I am regularly involved in conversations relating to health and martial arts. I enjoy such discussions and hearing different peoples outlook on what is a diverse practical and academic subject.

One such conversation, with a practitioner of many years, left me a little saddened. They reflected on their practice in relation to one of their peers concluding they had been left well behind. Their words made me reflect on the essence of what I practice and why I practice.

The following day I was reading The 20 Guiding Principles of Karate, The Spiritual Legacy of the Master Gichin Funakoshi. The first principle underpinned my feelings.

“Do not forget that Karate Do begins and ends with Rei”.

In all martial and health arts as in life, without Rei and all it entails the fabric of society and human beings is eroded.

For those who believe their outlook lies purely in a Japanese or Chinese lineage it is worth remembering, as highlighted in this book, that before the name Karate Do (the way of the empty hand) was adopted it was referred to as Karate Jutsu (Chinese hand technique).  What’s more once you begin to read the principles their interpretation is clearly open to your understanding, context and art.

It is not always easy to recognise practitioners who have studied for many years and yet failed to grasp the concept of Rei, affording it little other than body and lip service. Humbly they move and speak as though they are all knowing, convinced by their own hype sure of their practical expertise, experienced based or otherwise they are, in their own opinions, experts. They can be so convincing that those around them believe them without assessing or questioning their behaviour.

“A persons deportment may be correct, without a sincere and reverent heart they do not possess true Rei” (P20)

The basic academic/linguistic assessment of the word Rei enables such individuals to tick a box. Believing that knowledge of techniques, forms or meridians somehow elevates them to a place where they can bypass the foundations to revel in what they consider to be the essence. Put more philosophically their lack of root and grounding feeds their belief that their expertise allows them to reside in amongst the blossom while their students and anyone else languish down below. The roots, trunk and branches analogy is relevant in all areas of practice.

If Rei does not relate to life and all that you do then you have not progressed in your art and your art will not progress. Amassing greater academic or physical knowledge does not reflect on an individuals ability to grasp, absorb and proliferate the real essence of an art, it is merely a reflection on their academic or physical ability.

There is no progress without Rei, no substance to practice, no nourishment of the art. Arts began with and evolve through Rei. Rei is the constant in all things and a true reflection of our nature and essence.

In our essence lies our Rei, in this we see a reflection of our progress in life.


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