誠 Makoto (Truth/Honesty)
Very few of us are as good as we'd like to be at the things that we find important. There are two very distinct approaches to coping with this: 1) Wait passively for long enough, spending time with someone we believe to be a good instructor, attending classes, doing the minimum to progress, believing all the while that skill will strike; like lightning. Magical, magical lightning. Or, 2) Work- struggle with failure and mixed success; to, through practice, slowly erode impediments and build-in means to understand and express the principles of our art(s)*. If one opts for the first, nothing more is required- good luck and Godspeed; for those who take the second, there are few traits that enrich the process as deeply as Makoto.
It would be easy to leave Makoto (often translated as 'honesty' or 'truth') open to interpretation, but in this is meant to address a specific type. It is not what we often think of, that is, being a 'pretty stand-up person who tries to do the right thing and sticks to his/her word.' Makoto in training is only very rarely about what is said aloud; it is about actions and one's relationship to objective reality; the willingness to work from wherever we find ourselves and to train as we are without pretense**. Training in that way plunks us down nakaima 中今(literally, 'in the middle of now,' fully experiencing and inhabiting the present) and suggests, strongly, that we exist 'in the moment' rather than envisioning another present, longing for the past, or anticipating the future.
Training with makoto makes feeling insulted by reality seem a bit silly (e.g. gravity isn't a referendum on whether you're a saint or a jerk; being off-spine, out of structure and/or balance are fixable***, but only if experienced honestly- the same is true for any making a good cut, strong strike, etc.). Through prolonged exposure, we find opportunities to be more aware (and to then act upon that information). We can actively foster Makoto by receiving feedback, with an eye to developing the capacity to feel for ourselves where we need to make adjustments. This presents us opportunities to pare away unhelpful and unnecessary habits with each repetition, aggregating over time into more physically robust and powerful practitioners. Beyond that though, Makoto in training offers insight into long-standing patterns of mind. By coming to grips, often in a visceral and unmistakable way, with how individual choices and reactions are a microcosm, we can start to look inward, not with anger, impatience or expectation, but with genuine curiosity.
Projecting who we think we are (or are trying to be) is personally dangerous in the early stages of training, both on and off 'the mat'. At no point does that benefit society nearly as much as perpetuating a willingness to experience and interact with the world honestly.
Now, lest that start to sound inviting, it should be stated unequivocally that developing an honest practice can be unpleasant: boring, irritating, terrifying, and harsh, by turns (or sometimes, all at once, and it a given that you will discover things that you don't want to). If the opening statement is true though, that very few of us are as good as we'd like to be, then makoto is one arrow in the quiver of improving. Not by magic, but through an active, mindful and rigorous application. Ultimately, you may even find makoto leaking into other parts of life- even when not wearing pajamas/shorts/sweatpants and punching, throwing or attacking people with sharp tools or blunt instruments. For those of us drawn to 'martial' culture, we just happen to do that one punch, breath, throw, kick or cut at a time.
Yours in striving for Makoto,
Jigme Chobang Daniels, instructor
Aoi Koyamakan Dojo
*One of these approaches is fruitful, the other is consistently unreliable... The chief issue with 'waiting' is that proficiency isn't binary (nor is it osmotic) even for those with 'talent.' Yes, it may be possible to make some progress initially, just receiving pointers and corrections from a mentor at early stages, but sustained growth doesn't happen without sustained effort. Taking agency as individual practitioners for our own development and, if inclined, the survival of the arts or ways that we practice is a necessary step (it's nobody's fault nor is it anyone's responsibility outside of ourselves). Pretending that it is, fundamentally lacks makoto.
**Pretenses include things like failing to accept mistakes and/or take responsibility for oneself and one's improvement.
*** As you can imagine, the more minor or subtle the fu antei 不安定(instability), the more honed one's perception and instantaneous the fixes need to be, particularly when interacting with other bodies that might not be interested falling down or being struck without... coaxing.