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January, 2003

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Keiko Hajime
by Leonard J. Pellman

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In Japan, Keiko Hajime may well be the single most important event of the year for martial artists. Keiko Hajime means "Training Commencement" and it is celebrated on the first training day of each new year, so in most dojo it occurs during the first week of January. In many dojo it is celebrated on New Year's Day, because it is the most important part of the New Year's festivities for a truly dedicated martial artist. As a general rule, Keiko Hajime involves a few simple ceremonial events:

      • Some opening remarks, or a prayer of consecration, by the sensei
      • Each member of the dojo performs a kata or other demonstration of skill
      • At the end of his or her performance, each member states his or her ichinen (more below) for the year
      • The sensei performs a kata or demonstration of skill
      • The sensei makes some closing remarks
      • Refreshments are served and everyone mingles

By American standards of celebration, this doesn't seem like much of a New Year's party. Perhaps that is because there is a balance of solemnity and celebration to Keiko Hajime. It is mostly a time of annual rededication to training and personal development. The individual performances are far more than students merely showing off their skills. Each performance is a visual statement -- an action to underscore the words that will follow. The performance says to the observers, "This is how serious I am about my training!"

So each performance become a demonstration of the performer's sincerity and determination to excel in the coming year. Martial artists often practice more rigorously for Keiko Hajime than for a tournament or public performance. Following their performance, each student makes a formal statement of his or her ichinen for the new year. Ichinen is often translated as "resolution" in English -- perhaps because ichinen are made at Keiko Hajime, like a New Year's Resolution.

However, there is a vast difference between ichinen and a New Year's Resolution. It has become almost axiomatic that New Year's Resolutions will be broken -- that they are little more than empty promises made to oneself. This is far from the case with ichinen. The word ichinen means "single-minded determination." It is the strongest of declarations -- the equivalent of saying, "I will either do this, or die trying!"

Another crucial difference between ichinen and New Year's Resolutions is in the numbers. At Keiko Hajime, each participant states only one ichinen, while most people make five to ten New Year's Resolutions. This is significant, because it means that the martial artist is devoted to improving one vital aspect of his or her character. A great deal of thought and contemplation therefore goes into deciding upon that one thing on which he or she will focus with single-minded determination for the coming year.

The final, and most important, difference between ichinen and a New Year's Resolution is found in its content. Most New Year's Resolutions are self-focused, like losing weight or making more money, or changing careers. When martial artists make ichinen it most often describes how they will make a personal sacrifice to benefit others, or a decision to improve something about their character that adversely affects others. Commonly heard ichinen are:

      • "I will be more respectful to my parents."
      • "I will be more supportive to my spouse."
      • "I will be more attentive to my children."
      • "I will be more compassionate to my employees."
      • "I will not postpone unpleasant duties."

The fact that all of this is done in front of fellow martial artists and visitors to the dojo is also important. By making a public statement, supported by a public performance of skill, the participants are creating a group of witnesses, so that they can be held accountable for achieving the goal they have stated. For martial artists, this is no laughing matter. A week later, no one asks them with a wink and a sly chuckle, "Have you broken all your New Year's Resolutions yet?" All who were present understand that what they witnessed was a solemn, almost sacred, vow of self-improvement for the year.

At the Seishin-Kan, we celebrate Keiko Hajime in this traditional way. And we encourage any martial artist who reads this to do the same. Don't bother with trivial New Year's Resolutions this year. Make 2003 a year of renewal in your life. Spend some time to understand the single most important change you could make about yourself or your life -- the thing that would benefit your family, friends, or community the most. Then dedicate yourself, with single-minded determination, to accomplish that one thing this year. Just one thing! One thing that will make a difference!

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2003   Leonard J. Pellman

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