The Subjectless Subject

I watched a video a few days ago on the subject of Ikigai. “Ikigai” is a Japanese word that, roughly translated, means “Reason to Live,” in the sense of having a Purpose with a capital “p.” A meaning for one’s life. The video discussed the four things that comprise Ikigai, or the four pillars upon which it stands: It must be something that you love, something that you’re good at, something that the world at large needs, and it must be something for which you can be paid. All four must be integrated, or your occupation is not Ikigai. Here’s a handy diagram I found online when further researching the subject.

Diagram of Japanese ikigai concept. Vector illustration

As I thought about Ikigai, and the fact that my life is utterly devoid of it, I began to ponder other aspects of Asian philosophy which I have absorbed over the years. The first thing I thought of was Wu Wei, or “effortless doing,” or even “doing without doing.” It is a concept in Taoism, and is the recommended way to live; naturally, without fighting against the Nature of Things. You could even say, it is following your own True Nature, walking through life, following The Way (Tao).

But before you can attain the art of “effortless doing,” no matter what the “doing” is, you must invest Time and Effort; also known as Gongfu. When you have devoted yourself to your own Way, and develop Gongfu, then, you can walk your Way without effort; Wu Wei. And then, I thought that if you can attain this, then you can find your own Ikigai.

When I studied martial arts, I studied both traditional Chinese martial arts, and traditional Okinawan martial arts. When studying the former, I studied in a Wuguan. In the latter, I studied in a Dojo. Reading the characters for each of those, Wuguan translates to “Martial Studio,” while Dojo translates to “Hall of the Way.”

I like the idea of a “Hall of the Way.” I understand that it refers to the way of the particular martial art being practiced there, but I like the implication that the “Way” to which Dojo refers, is a “Way of Life.” The students there are not merely studying a martial art, or method of fighting; they are practicing a way of life. It encompasses so much more than Wuguan.

What does this all mean? What is the sum of the matter?

I have no idea. I was just following a train of thought.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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