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Guest Post: Kansha

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.


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I'm sure that there must be many different ways that martial arts classes are ended in the various dojo around the world. But, in my experience, it is pretty much universal that one part of the ending ritual is a bow to one's teacher and fellow students.

This bow is, of course, a show of respect for the others who have taken part in the class. Recently, though, at the end of one of my jodo classes, I became very aware of what I think is another important aspect of the bow: kansha.

Kansha, which probably best translates as "gratitude," is a pretty big part of traditional Japanese culture. One should, ideally, have (and show) kansha for everybody in one's life who has given one sewa (help, support, favor, etc.). Thus, at least traditionally, a person feels kansha for the parents who feed and clothe him, the teachers who teach him, the boss who hires and supervises him, and even the older brother who looks out for him. In fact, just about everyone in one's life can, in one way or another, be the object of kansha.

So, getting back to my jodo class, one day, as I bowed to my fellow students and sensei at the end of the class, I very clearly felt how fortunate I was to be a part of the dojo. I was, of course, glad to be learning new techniques and skills, but it was something much more than that. I'm sure it had to do with the feelings of loneliness and isolation that I still sometimes experience living in this foreign country, but at that moment, I felt true kansha for all that I'd received from these people who were part of the class.

It's a little hard to express in words, but because of the other members of the dojo, I had a place to go where I could laugh (and sometimes almost cry) with others. A place where I could share my interests in the martial arts. A place where I was accepted and respected for who I was. A place where I felt that I truly belonged. A place where I experienced a sense of community.

Ever since the day that I had this realization, every time that I bow at the end of class to my sensei, sempai and kohai, I make a conscious attempt to remind myself of how grateful I am to them.

It may be a little more difficult to appreciate your own feelings of kansha at the dojo if you are living in your own country among the friends, family and culture you have always known, but you might want to give it a try. The next time you finish a class, you might want to think about how fortunate you are to be a part of your dojo.

Mark Tankosich