Mu to Yu

by Sensei Mike Pepe

Congratulations! You’re now wearing karate’s white belt, proudly displaying that you have entered the gates of martial arts training. You’ve learned a few words too! You know you must “rei” when entering and exiting the dojo. You can count from “ichi” to “ju” and you know the teachers name is “sensei”. But who are you? Universally, white is the color of purity or newness, something that is unsoiled. Your belt along with your beginner’s mind is full of nothing, in Japanese the term is “mu”. A “mudansha” then, is someone who knows “nothing”. Well, isn’t that a slap in the face!   

   However, upon closer inspection of the word we see the first syllable, “mu”. It means nothing or emptiness. The second syllable is “dan”. Hey, I’ve seen that before! It means rank or level. Last in this one word sentence is “sha”, and that means person. Therefore, a mudansha is a “person who has no dan rank”.

So this word isn’t the same one you’ve seen or heard of before? There is another word more often used. “nyumonsha”. The “sha”, now known to us is again, a person. The middle syllable, “mon” is a crest as a family coat of arms, the kanji drawn differently refers to a gate, and closer inspection of Beisho’s Nyumonsha book shows kanji that looks like a double swinging door of the old west. A double gate! To finish off deciphering the word we see the “Nyu” which means, “to enter”. You are a nyumonsha. One who has now “entered the gate of martial arts to begin training. Simply put…A beginner.

But don’t fret! One day you may become a blackbelt. Then you can call yourself a “yudansha”. Yup, “to have-- rank-- person!” Congratulations! You are now a person who has rank!


A warrior rambling

Sensei Mike





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