Reflections on the term “giri” (義理)

by: Yushuu Shihan Willy Iglesia
Translation: Nahir Muratore

We have recently noticed a proliferation of the term “giri” among members of Bujinkan, which as it has become usual for many years now, it does not take long to be transformed because of some comment that was heard from Soke in a class, changing as if it were a fashion into a pathetic degeneration that is fed by the addition of personal terms, without doing the effort of knowing how is it that these terms are made in a traditional language as well as in a martial environment, as a result of a noticeable lack of knowledge, showing the lack of contact with the common method in a Dojo, so far away as it can be imagined from the Japanese culture itself, and even, from the whole unity of the East and Far East thinking.

Soke Hatsumi and Shihan Willy IglesiaFor western practitioners, adjusting the knowledge carried out along with what is heard in the presence of Soke, has become standard practice. The effort of understanding and knowing has been pushed into the imperative need of sharing or spreading the scoop in social media, showing a desperation to be the winner of that virtual popularity which seems to be the final purpose of certain groups which give non-requested lessons, and that repeat like parrots without having any idea of what they are saying (even the birds to which its nature does not understand reason), they issue personal opinions and apperceptions sifted by unhealthy individualities, which are so far away from the core idea that is usually completely opposite to what was expressed by the Master, which are not adjusted even with the most basic requirements that Soke Hatsumi has expressed for so many years in his classes: the need of reflection for at least 5 years of any topic that is exposed in class to then being able to express it when teaching.

It seems that the whirl in which they are immersed to sell a product, disguised of barely beautiful words that paraphrase anything that has been read recently, and that sounds cool within their deficient fundaments, ends up wasting Soke’s request, forgetting that the right place to transmit our Art is necessarily a Dojo.

Why is it that none of the old Japanese Shihans, just like Soke himself, do not stop warning about the risks implied by the incorrect use of technology?

None of them uses Internet, they do not have Facebook profiles, only the youngest barely use this kind of technological services as mean of personal communication, without knowing any case within the group of Japanese practitioners where virtual lessons are watched or there is any need to shed light on anything or anyone.

In the popular world of social media it is believed that a martial tradition can be transmitted through posters that are represented with random images of masters, when it is not a lotus flower or some image more “Hollywood-like” that contains a sentence highlighted between inverted comas showing something that is not even close to what is transmitted by traditional teachings; that deformed, capricious interpretation results in thousands of students incorporating the most distorted concepts.

Soke Hatsumi and Shihan Willy IglesiaEven though beginners, and not so much, arrive to these destinies with the best honest attitude, and daily continue to gather everything that can be read or added to what they believe contributes to their training, they end up throwing black ink in a clean sheet, paraphrasing what a Master said about bad habits, which are like black stains on a clean paper, the surface can be scratched and overwritten in the same place but the stain will always be noticeable…

Many students with good intentions end up acting as if they were a magnet attracting all kind of metals, managing to gather a great variety and quantity of these resources easily, however, just as in the case of a compass, they are only good to completely disorient it.

Let’s go now to the main topic of these reflections, by making reference to the Japanese term “giri”[1],  which is translated as “duties”, “obligations”, “honor”, as its main meanings. It also derives into “giriyou” (ぎりょう/技量): “skills”, “talents”, “abilities”.

To this point, we appreciate the simple, literal translation from a dictionary, from which the first question that comes to mind is: How many have assimilated the concept of Dharma stated in the rules of Bujinkan?

We ask ourselves this as point of departure, as without the context from which it begins, just as in any traditional teachings, everything else could not be more than some literary digress of those who try to disguise a misunderstood point of view, the one from Law and Justice from which the rules* also make a reference, that we all have accepted to comply with when we first enter in Bujinkan Dojo.

Is it the first great obstacle to forget that Bujinkan means “The House[2] (or building) of the Divine Warrior”, being the body that place in which we work since the first moment to begin to tame our mind, searching to purify it through sacrifice and thus allowing, one day, to be the Providence (Jin) the one that guides the Heart of the Warrior (Bu).

There is a commonly and colloquial used expression that we hear all the time among Japanese people “giri giri”[3] which is usually translated as “just in time”, similar to a slang used by people from Buenos Aires “zafaste” [you avoided it], of course it can be interpreted from so many points of view as from the different points of departure.

Having performed an action in time that is our duty is “zafar” [to avoid] not doing it, it is taking into account a sacred point of view, to have had a flash on time to be able to do whatever it was necessary to act accordingly to what our nature dictates, always to stay aligned to the plan of the Providence, just as it is highlighted in the very popular books published by Soke Hatsumi in his plays: “Ninjutsu: History and Tradition” and “Essence of Ninjutsu”, among others.

Soke Hatsumi con Shihan Guillermo IglesiaNevertheless, nowadays “zafar” or a “just in time” is celebrated in the opposite way, it is to celebrate the “not doing”, to dodge the natural obligations or duties, instead of what we pray in the “Po” of all our schools of thought (Ninpo, Juppo, Happo, etc), of course it is the Po which etymology is translated as “doctrine”, “principle”, “act”, “law”, “method”, “manner”, “Dharma”; all those are possible translations for the character “法” (po).

In conclusion, far, very far is the term “giri” from referring to moral issues, but even if it were of great use for those who are still in their first steps, then it can be of great use. But it is different for those who are in front of a class, those who definitely should deepen seriously about the “the minimum of 5 years” that Soke has established before being able to freely diffuse what they have not even made the effort to understand. BANPEN FUGYO.


[2] The character 館 stands for “house” or “building”