Nintai – Perseverance (pt. 2)

Last time I wrote about the importance of showing up, or in other words regularely doing what you would like to excel at. You have to endure.

In Japanese this is known as nintai. Or nintai shinnen, “the concept of perseverance”.

I wanted to get the exact definition of the word nintai, so I looked it up in a Japanese dictionary. The result was: endurance; perseverance; patience.

This is then summed up in one Japanese sign, pronounced nin:

The history of this sign is interesting. It can be seen in some Karate/Kobudo-dojos in Japan and Okinawa, and it also makes the beginning of the word Ninja. We have this nintai-sign in the middle of our Karate-logo too, and on a big wooden board on our dojo wall as well.

So apparently it is an important sign.

But of course you already know this if you read Nintai – Perseverance (pt. 1)

Now, there is one simple thing we can do if we want to know more about the concept/philosophy of nintai. The Japanese signs are often made up of other signs. For example, if you take the sign for mouth and add the sign for tree above, you get apricot! Or if you take the sign for small, and add stone next to it, you get sand!

So we just do this backwards. We break down the sign into its parts, and analyze:

The sign nin is made up of two halves. A top half and a lower half. Let’s start with the top.

This part by itself is pronounced yaiba, and means blade. Like the blade, or edge, of a sword or knife. Hmm… okay. Let’s look at the lower half then:

This part is pronounced kokoro by itself, and means heart or spirit.

So, now that we know the separate meaning of the two parts, what do we get by combining them? A blade plus a heart… should mean patience/perseverance/endurance. How? What is the thought behind that?

The easiest way to find out is to ask the person who made the sign, but he is probably not alive today. So we will have to figure it out by ourselves. My guess is:

“You must endure, even if you should have a blade stuck in your heart.”

Well, this sounds very macho, doesn’t it? Go on until the end, don’t let even a blade stuck in your heart stop you! Your favourite TV-show is on? Shut it off and go to training. There is always a rerun. Your favourite song is playing on the radio? You can download it anyway. Shut it off and go to training. You are tired? Go anyway. You have a knife in your heart? Go.

This is basically what I believe the sign says.

Nintai is adherence to your decided course of action.

Sticking to your belief or chosen path, without giving way. Not stopping even though a shiny blade protrudes from you! But don’t confuse perseverance with stubbornness. Nintai is the power of enduring without complaint, without looking for quick results. Because, as you know, there are none.

Let me tell you a story:

In Okinawa there is a famous Karate teacher (who shall remain anonymous). He teaches Karate and Kobudo to children, teenagers and adults. If you have ever had a children’s class you know it’s not always fun and games. Sometimes you just want to stay home! What many people don’t know is that this famous Okinawan Karate teacher is human too, and sometimes he feels like we do. He just doesn’t want to have the children’s class tonight!

But… when he’s on his way down to the dojo, he always passes a big calligraphy that he once painted, hanging on the wall right in front of him.

It says “nintai”.

And then there is no return. His Karate spirit wakes up.

So, there are times when training becomes hard. Even for Okinawan masters. Times when training is physically demanding, like when you have injuries for example, or other obstacles in your way. And times when it becomes mentally frustrating. But don’t let that stop you. Nintai is the will for striving… and our will drives us to succeed.

Eventually this type of thinking becomes a habit that spills over into your daily life. You will notice it, and people around you will too. And that is the beauty of it.

Nintai is whip and carrot.

Or nunchaku and sushi, if you prefer it that way!

18 Comments

  • dira heavenly
    jesse,hye there. i love your posts. seriously. i've learn a lot of things from your posts. and most of them are related to me. especially this one, "Nintai - Perseverance".i sucked bad back then. and gain something valuable today. well, there's a story behind it. will tell you soon if there's a chance (???) understand? haha -.-'''urmmm... gosh i'm speechless. i love your posts! (i said that one, right..?)keep on posting jesse! :-D
  • Hi Dira!Thanks!!! I appreciate your comment!I'll keep posting if you keep reading!:D
  • Viking
    "Drops off water does not cave the rock due to its force but due to its persistent falling" (endurance).Keep up the good work you are a talented writer
  • anibal
    hola, soy anibal... corazón que persiste como el filo del sable... disculpe mi idioma. gracias, saludos, muy buena pagina!
  • Batman
    I appreciate the story about the teacher. I think perhaps I'll hang the character above my computer so on nights I don't feel like dragging my ass to class I can be reminded of what a little girl I am if I give in.
  • Thanks for the article.I have seen the following symbol for Nintai elsewhere on the internet: http://www.kushu.com/images/nintai.gifI'm guessing that the second part of it is the 'tai' of Nintai?Are you able to elaborate on what this part means . . . maybe a part 3?I know very little about kanji, so apologies if I'm completely off the mark - but I am very interested in the subject of Nintai!Thanks :-)
    • Yup, that second kanji means "withstand", "tolerate" or "resist". Usually the first kanji is used to represent them both... but you're right, that could be a part 3 :)
      • Thanks :-)
  • warrioress
    I used to be one of those idiots who think "other people are more talented than me and I'll never be as good as them!" But you've really changed my way of looking at things. So what if someone's faster than me? I'll train until I'm faster! Arigato, Jesse-san.
  • mario bonetta (sensei)
    It is related to the spirit of the blade (Japanese are animistic, at least they were) so they thought that the blade of the katana or tachi had a spirit of its own, and that spirit was the result of the perseverance required in making that blade (a lengthily process that could (and can)take months and required in its first phase the relentless heating up of the iron and the continuous hammering and bending of the material destined to become the sharpest of weapons. So through perseverance we forge our bodies and spirits in the fire of our will.
  • Keia B.
    Jesse, how do you always know how to speak to my heart? I have read Nintai part 1 & two dozens of times now. I read it whenever I start feeling blue about my training & progress, whenever I feel lazy, whenever I need inspiration. These articles are gems, thank you for writing them.
    • Keia-san, I want you to know that I really appreciate your comment. Keep keepin' it real!
  • Alicia
    Awesome! So...what abou the meaning of Tai? :S thanks!
  • April
    'The Book of 5 Rings' - Chapter of 'Void' - 'polish the twofold spirit, heart & mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze, perception and sight' Miyamoto Musashi - sword master.Seems to contain the idea of 'spirit' 'heart' and a 'blade' that is to be sharpened don't it? :)
  • James
    Hi Jesse-sanLove your work, love the site; my comments:Perhaps being the stoic I suspect you are, you think this way: "To persevere even with a blade stuck to the heart". Could it not be: "To have a heart that will slash through every obstacle"? Something like a "Heart like a blade"?Just a thought.Peace!
    • Cory
      I agree with this. I think it means something like, "With perseverance on your side, your heart is the blade that will cut down any obstacle in your path. Using what your heart tells you ("go train") to slash down any obstacle (tv, laziness, monotony, etc.) like it were an overgrown weed."
  • nintai Neville
    My first name is nintai,so grateful to know the depth of this name,especially in Japanese
  • Markus Kulic
    Thank you for your interesting and inspiring articles. I wish, I would have learned that topic of "just showing up" earlier. I wouldn't say that I fully internalized it yet, but what the heck, right?! I just have to "show up". Like the Japanese proverb says: work is done and then forgotten.

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