Using Giri for Awareness

By Scott Campsall

Giri (義理) is a Japanese value that translates as “duty”, or “obligation”. Emotions are put aside to fulfill obligations; usually to superiors.

One of the most intensive ways to train in Japanese martial arts is by being an Uchi-deshi (内弟子, lit. “inside student”).  It is like an apprenticeship type of program that is usually paid for by the student to allow them to immerse themself in the training of the teacher.  An Uchi deshi is expected to train in all the classes offered by the teacher. Often, they are used as an uke (receiver of technique) during the teacher’s demonstrations. They must also fulfill any needs of the teacher and the dojo (cleaning, meal preparation, carrying the teacher’s luggage, etc.).  It is the obligation of the student to do everything they can so that the sensei only needs to teach and nothing else.  This is so the uchi deshi gets the most possible instruction from the teacher, but it also allows for the student to repay the debt to the teacher for being given the honour of being chosen among any other applicants. 

Being an uchi deshi is demanding work, but most people not only finish the program with a heightened ability in their chosen martial art; they also have an increased sense of awareness of others and the environment that surrounds them at any given time. It is due to these benefits that a significant percentage of uchi deshi renew their training for multiple terms after their first contract ends.

Being aware of others is not a personality trait that most of us are born with.  It takes practice.  It also takes humility to put aside our needs for someone else’s. Even if we are sensitive enough to want to make another person’s life easier, we can always achieve a higher level of awareness that will help to make our relationships and connections with others stronger.

I challenge you to look for ways that you can leave places or people better than you found them.  It could mean picking up a piece of garbage.  It could mean offering to drive someone somewhere or offering to carry their bag if they’re leaving the dojo.  Can you see something in the dojo or gym that needs attention so others can enjoy their classes more?

An uchi deshi program forces students to practice Giri towards their teachers, but wouldn’t it be great if we held that same sense of duty towards anyone?  Imagine how much our sensitivity to the world and our own personal harmony could be increased. 


Skip to content