Ansei Ueshiro’s Nin Tai
One day Ansei Ueshiro walked onto the training floor. This was the first time I had seen him there in my three years in the dojo. I had met him briefly several times over the years. Those of us who started in the 80s had never seen him do karate.
Mr. Ueshiro was an early Okinawan importer of Shorin Ryu to the US, arriving in the early 60s from Okinawa, as an emissary from the dojo of Shoshin Nagamine. Mr. Ueshiro developed a group in the New York area. Within a few years he was no longer associated with Shoshin Nagamine, but he retained an enthusiastic following in the USA.
One person asked him if he still trained. He said “24 hours a day.”
We had all heard about him. He was spoken of with reverence.
So, when he appeared in the dojo and walked through our group of black belts one day, this was in the mid 1980s, it was an unusual and exciting moment.
He said a few words and then, opening a large folder set against the wall, he handed three “shodo” pieces – hand-brushed kanji – to three people. Two of them were small, card sized pieces, which he gave to two of the long-time black belts. He gave the third one, a big framed piece, to me. I thought this was strange, and everyone agreed. People considered him inscrutable. This confirmed it.
It was strange partly because I did not know him. There were people in the room who knew him; some had been training in his group for years. I was a new black belt with no particular role or status in the group. But there it was, he handed me this expertly brushed, professionally framed calligraphy of the characters “Nin Tai.”
It looked beautiful to me. But I did not know what it said. He told me what it said in Japanese, which I did not understand.
Soon I found out a little bit about what it meant. It seemed to be an encouragement, a push in the right direction.
I was training at the dojo every day. The street atmosphere in the city at that time was perilous. Muggings were common. Stepping over dead or drugged or sleeping people on the sidewalk was part of everyday life. My work environment was high pressure. I was wound tight, and was training like crazy. I was volatile and competitive. Which may be why he gave me the Nin Tai. He appreciated my dedication. But he was telling me to direct it in a positive way.
In martial arts you may hear: “Nin means ‘endurance’ and Tai means’ to withstand and resist.’ Together they connote extreme perseverance under the harshest conditions.”
Traditionally the expression Nin Tai refers to the third of the Buddhist “Six Perfections”: the “Perfection of Patience.” 忍耐力の完璧さ – Nintai-ryoku no kanpeki-sa.
The “Perfection of Patience” is sometimes described simply as not getting angry. But it does not imply putting up with everything, or just being passive.
Nin Tai is described this way:
“1. Disregarding harm done to you, 2. Accepting the suffering arising in your mind stream, 3. Being certain about the teachings and firmly maintaining belief in them. There are three sets of factors incompatible with these: for the first, hostility; for the second, hostility and loss of courage; and for the third, disbelief and dislike. Perfecting patience (Nin Tai) means that you simply complete your conditioning to a state of mind wherein you have stopped your anger and the like…” (-Lam Rim Chen Mo, Tsong Kha Pa, Vol 2, Ch12, p1; published by Snow Lion)
In these Asian traditions the “Perfection of Patience” is generally coupled with the fourth perfection: the “Perfection of Enthusiastic Effort.” This union makes patient endurance active, not passive.
If that is what Ansei Ueshiro was saying with his gift then it was insightful and practical advice – much needed at the time. The fact that it took me years to grasp it’s meaning is no fault of his. My impression now, many years later, is that he was teaching me something, and at the same time, teaching everyone else present: that in a dojo, as in your own life, it is better to redirect excessive energy in a positive direction, than to tolerate it, obstruct it or stifle it.
One day, a few years after the Nin Tai incident, my phone rang. Ansei Ueshiro was on the other end. He had never called me before. But he said he wanted to offer me the use of one of his company’s delivery trucks, as I was moving away to set up my own dojo. This was generous of him.
I did not know him beyond our few brief meetings. I never saw his karate. But he did inspire many people to train Shorin Ryu, including, indirectly, me. I appreciate this initial spark – as well as his expert, timely advice – good for me and for everyone else who hears it – which may keep the fire of practice burning for a lifetime.
Post and photograph Copyright © 2019 Jeffrey M. Brooks and Mountain Karate, LLC