One of my favourite Japanese proverbs is “Seven times down, Eight times up” or “Fall (Get Knocked Down) Seven times, stand up (Get back Up) Eight”. Personally, I feel that this saying not only epitomises the teachings of Karate and Budo but life too, because at times of struggle and hardship no matter how difficult things are a more positive way of thinking is crucially important for coming back from adversity. This being the case, whilst in Okinawa, Japan during the Autumn of 2013 the renowned Karate Sensei and calligrapher Tetsuhiro Hokama Sensei when he asked me what I wished for him to brush scroll for me. These words were chosen not cheaply or randomly, but for very good reason and with deep meaning so that they could hang at the front of my Dojo wall for all who enter to be constantly reminded of their value. This saying also acts as a reminder of words that my father would often say to me. He used to say “Where there is a will, there is a way” and also “Anyone can do the easy things in life son”.
Many within Karate may simply just interpret “Seven times down, Eight times up” in a way that if someone knocks you down in a fight, you get back up and you keep coming back, you just don’t give in. I can go along with that as in many ways this is valid and has certainly helped me out a few times, but it also takes the meaning literally and to its most basic and primitive too. I believe that in extremely serious situations ones natural animal instincts and survival mode tends to naturally kick in, one would hope so anyway. Not giving in and keep going is a winner that is for sure. But, not backing down, seeing reason through compromise, or not letting things go just to save face can also be a loser too, which is a vast subject in itself so I will leave things there… Personally as I say, I feel that the true meaning of this proverb is much deeper than the more obvious, and one that many Karate Ka can at times often fail to see, possibly leading to their eventual demise.
“Never Give Up, Never Give In”! Sensei Cyril Cummins my first Karate Teacher.
As far as its origin goes I have heard various explanations over the years from babies learning to walk their first steps, where by 1 is when they begin to try and walk and then fall, 2 is when they get back up again, they try again to walk at 3 they get up again which is 4… 7 times down and 8 is up. Thus, they don’t give in and keep trying until they succeed. Another interpretation I have heard is that the horizontal stroke in the character of the Japanese number seven 七 is cut through by the vertical bar representing defeat. Regardless of the derivation English equivalents can be likened too “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” and maybe “Give up or fight like hell”.
The one thing that I do believe is that what defines us as individuals in life is how we rise after falling, together with how we cope with and push to overcome very difficult, challenging, and testing situations in our lives. That is why in most cases the better mentors or those that we should look up to for advice and guidance is healthier coming from those who have been there before, as in those who have the past experiences and determination and human spirit to overcome such obstacles. Not just those who think that they have, all talk as though they have! Yes! Just as the true meaning of the word Sensei derived.
Anyone and everyone can practise Karate when everything is going well and fitting nicely in to place alongside our busy life styles. The dojo and Sensei of our choosing is very close by, the training is motivational to suit ones needs, the evenings or days of training are our most suited, we are feeling refreshed, the weather is nice, our job is going and paying well, all of our loved ones and family are in good spirits and health.
“Seven times down, Eight times up” I believe that the true meaning and understanding of this proverb comes to life and is fully understood by the Karate Ka / Budo Ka, when any of the last paragraph are reversed: Yes, training is becoming more difficult even a little tedious, or one is struggling to juggle practise around life style and work commitments, maybe even having nowhere to train, or no one to train with, or a Sensei that is hours away by travel or only seen by the student irregularly, or maybe we no longer have a Sensei at all, or one that does not teach us as we want, or see fit. Perhaps the Dojo day of training is so un suiting, we are feeling low and tired, the weather is cold, dark or wet, our job is making us feel stressed, we are carrying an injury, we are witness to family problems or ill health….
Our true character as a person will be discovered and presented at such times as adversity; of which all of us will waver at times over the years, as is to be expected. But, there can be no real excuses except admitting defeat, failure or accepting less than we deserve. The eight times up is about digging in deep with determination, spirit and dignity, thus persevering and pushing through with the true spirit of life and Budo.