The other day I randomly listened to an episode of the Joe Rogan1 podcast, featuring Chuck Liddell and Enson Inoue. In truth I chose it because of Chuck, but he only played a bit-part and I wound up gripped by the intensity of Enson.
Inoue was a pioneering mixed martial artist, with a reputation in Japan for exceptional bravery — so much so, that they gave him the nickname yamato damashii.
This is a peculiarly Japanese term, and the wikipedia page describes a lot more connotations than I was aware of during my own time in Japan (the only time it was applied to me was a joking gee-up when I hesitated at the top of a hairy ski run!). It is typically translated as “Japanese Spirit”, with strong Samurai and martial overtones, and it was quite unusual for it to be applied to a foreigner. Much of the intensity from the podcast was his description of how he felt obliged to live up to this honour, and the mental preparation he went through: literally prepared to die in the ring.
One discussion in particular stood out for me though, as he was discussing the subtlies in meaning of the term, and his own interpretation (paraphrased):
People compare it to bravery, but it’s different from that. A brave man will feel no fear… a man with yamato damashii spirit feels fear, but accepts it and moves forward anyway. A strong man is one who doesn’t feel pain, but one with yamato damashii feels pain but persists in what he knows he must do.
A lot of the discussion in general was around mental attitude and how that affects your choices and actions. I think that one will stay with me for a while.
Update: Right on cue, Ross Enamait just published a post on the same themes of confronting doubts and fears by first accepting them, using quotes from MMA and boxing (Mike Tyson’s trainer). Less of Enson’s acceptance of death itself, meaning he has nothing to lose by not stopping in the ring, but the same message I personally took away!
Joe is a stand-up comic and former host of Fear Factor, but more pertinently here he is a long-time martial artist and the expert commentator on the UFC. His podcast, broadcasting near-daily and for several hours at a time, frequently has interesting guests (but usually not from MMA or the UFC). ↩︎