Steve Rowe talks with Doorman and Martial Artist Dennis Jones…
Giri: a debt of gratitude, duty, justice, obligation, a sense of honour
SR Dennis, we were discussing the concept of “Giri” within the book “Hagakure” by Yanamoto Tsunetomo and the following story…..
“Among Takeda Shingen’s retainers there were men of matchless courage, but when Katsuyori was killed in the fight at Tenmokuzan, they all fled. Tsuchiya Sozo, a warrior who had been in disfavour for many years , came out alone, however, and said, “I wonder where all the men are who spoke so bravely every day? I shall return the master’s favours to me” And he fell alone in battle.”
And you were relating it to Giri amongst Doorman, can you explain this to the readers?
DJ Well Steve, I’ve worked with many Doormen in my time, some of them were high grade Martial Artists, others Body Builders and so on, and in the “quiet time” on the door most talked a great fight. To listen to them you would assume that when “push came to shove” on the door, they’d be right there with you backing you up, or in front dealing with the problem.
But I found, as you’d expect, the best talkers just seem to disappear at the time that you need them most. But I’d like to talk about a guy we’ll call Robert, he was neither a Martial Artist or Body Builder, in fact he didn’t train at all, but he did say to me “Dennis I can’t fight like you but I’ll tell you one thing…” he put his hand on his heart… “I give you my word that when it “goes off’ and you’re surrounded, I may not be able to fight like you, but I’ll always watch your back and at least take one of them out, and if you’re getting a kicking; I’ll be on the floor tasting the leather boots with you.”
I looked in his eyes and could see that he was sincere. Many of the other Doormen would put him down and call him useless, but they were also the ones that talked a good fight and were not there when it really counted.
Well, one night it’s “gone off” with what seemed like everyone in the Nightclub fighting, bottles, and glasses being used as weapons and glass ashtrays (why do nightclubs still persist in using them when they are used so viciously as weapons?) and women screaming everywhere. I’m right in the middle of this melee, god knows where the other doormen had disappeared to and I’ve looked down to my right and there was Robert being true to his word.
He’d leaped on this guy from behind and dragged him down to the floor using a technique I call “the octopus” with both his legs wrapped around an attackers waist and his arms around his throat and he was choking him and biting his face! Bless him, he was true to his word – bound to me by obligation – he had taken one opponent out of the equation! The other Doormen with all the talk had run away….
When I read that story in Hagakure I think of Robert.
SR I can remember someone saying to me that when you choose your friends, imagine yourself in the trenches of the first world war and about to “go over the top” and think would I like this person next to me? When I was in the Fire Brigade many years ago your life did depend on the guys you were teamed up with and the trust and camaraderie was an important part of the job. The security world is very similar….
DJ You’re right! It’s important on the door, but you often just end up with people that someone else has employed and you never really know how someone’s going to react until it actually “goes off” bad.
SR “Giri” is an interesting Japanese term as in feudal Japan a Samurai owed his life to his Master and “obligation” meant something quite different. The term has been quoted many times to me asking for blind loyalty to a Japanese Sensei and yet I feel that it’s meaning for us in the Martial Arts that respect has to be earned in both directions between Instructor and student.
DJ Another passage from Hagakure reads:
“Lord Naoshige once said “There is nothing felt quite so deeply as giri. There are times when someone like a cousin dies and it is not a matter of shedding tears. But we may hear of someone who lived fifty or a hundred years ago, of whom we know nothing and who has no family ties with us whatsoever, and yet from a sense of giri shed tears.”
Funakoshi talks about taking his children to meet his Sensei Azato and Itosu and how they bought his children sweets that he couldn’t afford, and how: “… the two generations of us, have all benefited enormously from the teachings of these two Masters. Where shall I find the words to express my gratitude?” That story strangely bought a tear to my eye because I could understand that it’s more than just a Martial concept. You can even have “Giri” towards a respected enemy, the Chinese say that “if two tigers meet, one will surely be maimed and the other killed”. Often seasoned warriors have mutual respect for the effort they know each other have had to put in to develop their skill and character.
I felt “Giri” and respect for Robert because of his actions and eight years after this event I found out that he had died all by himself in a flat of a heroin overdose and when I looked back, he had given me his word and when faced with a really bad violent situation that made most of the other doormen “lose it” and run away, he did exactly what he had promised to do.
I don’t know why or how he got into drugs, but when I think of him dying on his own in that flat I feel sad and empathic towards him, because in his own way he was a real man. You remember in our first column when we talked about the guy who stole my pen at school dying of a drugs overdose and I felt nothing towards him? Strange isn’t it that the death of Robert can bring a tear to my eye….. I think in my world that is “Giri”….
SR One of my reasons for writing the EKGB column is a sense of Giri toward the people who started Karate in England. I feel that we never give credit to the people who were there from the start and put in so much work. New generations of Martial Artists are coming through and might never know the history and names of their Founding Fathers. In the Medway area it was people like yourself, Mick Gooch, Norman King, Roger Wilkes, Pauline Bindra and so on who made the Martial Arts known to the general public. There are so many people with extravagant claims around nowadays that are benefiting from all the work put in by others and not giving credit where it’s due.
DJ I’ve known Roger for 26 years – and yet I’ve probably only spoken to him 6 or 7 times, yet I have respect and “Giri” toward him because of what he is and for what he has done. Our paths have been linked all the way through that period of time.
SR Nothing gave me more pleasure than to get you all together teaching at my Medway Summer Course this year!
DJ I’d like to end this month’s column with a little poem that epitomises “Giri” to me. When I was a child my Father was in the S.A.S and he would come to me before going out on special operations and would give me a kiss and say “I’ll see you”… of course we both knew that maybe he wouldn’t… as luck would have it, he did, but some of his friends didn’t come back and I’d like to also dedicate this poem to them and Robert.
“The sound of the bell of Gionshoja echoes the impermanence of all things. The hue of the flowers of the teak tree declares that they that flourish must be brought low. Yea, the proud ones are but for a moment, like an evening dream in the springtime. The mighty are destroyed at the last, they are but as the dust before the wind.”
From The Samurai by S R Turnbull