Equanimity. From the Latin aequus (level, equal, even) + animus (soul, mind).

“For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it. Provoked by the sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, you will discover within you the contrary power of self-restraint. Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.”


As it is every year, March and April have been a very busy time for me. Three shiai in March, one in April, some renshujiai, the start of the new academic year, ramadan (I do what I call an “almost ramadan” every year), my daughter entering a new school, and on and on. Often I find myself stumbling from one thing to the next, usually with very little preparation and often not much thought. It is often difficult to keep balance (mentally and physically) between all these opposing forces, and sometimes I find myself slipping: I skip an asageiko session, maybe have a beer (I generally stop alcohol – and some years coffee – from January -> Kyoto Taikai), or might catch myself overly-absorbed in YouTube or instagram from time to time.

This year, during a momentary weakness, a friend messaged me and said one of my articles was being debated a bit online. “Good or bad” I asked, “mixed” came the reply.  In my weakened state I took the bait and looked at the comments. People were debating my article (great!), some in support and some against, which is fine, but instead of reading it calmly and noting that there was more positive comments than negative ones, I was immediately taken aback by someone calling me “pretentious.” In another thread on the same site discussing a different article someone called me “disingenuous.” Hmmm. 

Now, I usually don’t bother with comments posted on other sites but this time, as they were criticising me as a person rather than the content of my articles per-se,  for a moment I felt defensive. But only for a moment. The first persons comment was just opinion (and as such has as much “true” as mine), and the second person had, based on there comment, not actually read the article properly (or more accurately, watched the included video) or/and didn’t understand what I was trying to convey. Perhaps my writing/thinking might not have been clear enough, which is my fault. Both people commented anonymously of course, which is important to note.

Anyway, after pausing and thinking about it I realised that their comments just aren’t important to me. However, they are of value, as I will attempt to explain below. 

“Yes, says Marcus (Aurelius), others can impede our intentions and our attitudes. Our mind is adaptable. If things seems to turn against us, we can adapt and see great opportunity for growth. We can convert obstacles into opportunities.”

– interpretation of Marcus Aurelius words by Jonas Salzgeber

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer that you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”

– Marcus Aurelius 

As I’ve said on and off over the years, a lot of kendo books here in Japan are the same. It doesn’t really matter whether the book was published in the 30s (well, minus the overt nationalism), the 60s, or the 00s, they generally follow the following types (in order of frequency, the first two covering the great percentage of books): 

- purely technical (generally aimed at school students)
- mostly technical with a bit of general info (historical or descriptive)
- personal experience (usually with descriptive elements and personal anecdotes)
- historical
- purely descriptive

By “descriptive” I mean sections on things like (for example) “What is kendo?” , “What is kendo for?” , “What does fudoshin mean?” , “What are the four sickness of kendo?”, and so on and so forth. It also includes biographies of sensei and other historical or experiential things of that sort. It is here that I will briefly chat about today. 

Over time, when you read the same thing over and over again, and when you practice day in and day out, sometimes you start to see a connection between the written experiences of others and your own experience. There are a few things I could write about regarding this, but today I want to pick up on the term I am sure you have heard before: Heijoshin

A relatively simple concept, heijoshin just refers to keeping calm whatever happens. There is nothing mysterious about the term, and it’s not some sort of Japan-only concept or anything. I don’t think I need to go into detail why keeping calm is desired in kendo. What I do want to comment on is that some people (myself included) suggest that the final goal of kendo, its purpose if you will, is the attainment of heijoshin in your life.

Oh no, here I go with the pretentious stuff again!

“Disease is an impediment to the body, but not to the will, unless the will itself chooses.”

During jigeiko, and more so in shiai perhaps, your partner is constantly probing and trying to strike you. It might be at well timed moments, or it may be a barrage of strikes. Losing your calm at any point here can cause disaster:

ITSUKU – to get stuck (in place) | 居つく (いつく)

A very common term used in kendo it refers to the times in keiko where you – for whatever reason – freeze. This is often the fault of your opponents seme and sometimes due to your own indecision. “What’s happening?” you might ask yourself when the opponents drives in… but by asking yourself the question you have already lost the initiative and are in danger of being struck.

“What should I do?” is also another question you probably should not be thinking too deeply about in a jigeiko or shiai situation. In normal kihon or waza practise it is of-course important that you carefully watch your partner and carefully consider what it is you are doing = deliberate practice. But in a free sparring or competition situation, this is potentially a recipe for disaster.

You of course know the kendo term 驚懼疑惑 (きょうくぎわく) – fear, surprise, doubt, and confusion. The manifestation of any of these is leads to itsuku.

- From Kendo iroha
Calligraphy by Saimura Goro

Saimura Goro, hanshi judan, was nicknamed “Thunder Goro” in his youth because of his fierce temper. He was so quick to start a fight that Naito Takaharu sensei actually kicked him out of the Bujutsu Yoseijo (he would later come back and work there). A few years later, after eventually leaving his teaching post in Kyoto and moving to Tokyo, he went through a relatively tough year of life trying to establish himself (and the Busen style) in Tokyo. He already had a few kids by this point, and his wife was a poorly. He wrote (later in life) that at the time he (I’m paraphrasing) often struggled to keep his equilibrium. They had little money and he struggled finding work. Often he would find himself frustrated with his children and wife for no particular reason. On reflection he wondered why he could remain calm and unperturbed by anything in dojo yet find himself feeling annoyed at home. He wondered “what use is kendo if I cannot apply it to my life outside of the dojo?” Thus, began his lifelong pursuit of heijoshin.

(Note the calligraphy above – by Saimura and hanging on my wall – reads “Heijoshin”)

I might be putting words into his mouth, but this is my interpretation of how he felt. Indeed, this interpretation is not really a unique one: it is something said time and time again by kenshi in the books I have read, and is something I have seen in some of the sensei I have had deep respect for over the years. Achieving “inner peace” in life is something that is acquired through (=helped by) years of keiko and, for some people at least, might be what is actually being sought after (the realisation of which might only come later). 

When someone disparages you, “legitimately” or not, it becomes at opportunity to grow. Sure, it is natural to feel defensive in that moment, but let it only be that moment, then forget about it. It sounds easy enough but in actual fact it is very difficult: we need to train to overcome our natural reactions.

One way of training for this is via kendo: by facing our fears in the dojo, by staring down the pointy end of a shinai (actually, it’s not as sharp as we think), we can learn that our imagination conjures far more danger than actually exists. In this way, as Saimura Goro did, we will be able to tie our dojo-life with our life-life and, mellowing out, let things be.

I hummed and hawed over publishing this article because, well, not even mentioning the comments would have been the more Stoic way of dealing with them. This would have also been the easiest thing to do. But, rather than the episode being solely a benefit to myself, I thought I could use/share it here. Of course, by doing so I am opening myself up to more criticism but, as I am sure you can guess, I’m not really bothered. Agree or disagree, discussion is fine (and welcomed!) of course, but anonymous disparaging is, well, nothing.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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10 replies on “Equanimity”

Verbal or written attacks by someone who cannot face you are the work of a scoundrel

I like your articles more and more.
Lately I have been having talks about this with my ‘sensei’ about things like this after training (if he finds out I called him sensei he’ll kill me).
I would take him to the Edinburgh course for a chat but he doesn’t speak a word of English.
I have sometimes sent him one of your translated posts because it was about things we had just talked about.
Let’s see the next article if it also matches. What an expectation!

Wonderful post that describes exactly what I’ve been feeling recently. This will be a great article to return to pre-keiko to remind myself of the ‘bigger picture’ of kendo. As always, thanks for all of the great content!

Jose! Thanks for the great comment. The next article will be about the Kyoto Taikai I think.

Mathew – cheers! I re-read my own articles just to re-centre/reset myself sometimes when I wander off the path.

You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius
The line from Monty Python, “what did the Romans ever do for us” always make me smile.

Reading this, I am inspired to try attain heijoshin in my life, to always return to my ‘core’ when I’m hit with external influences that’s trying to disrupt my way of living. These days it seems that there are so much noise to tune out, but I am reminded from reading this that I should keep pressing on the effort to return to my true self everytime something tries to pull me away. Thank you for the article 🙂

I discovered your site from searching for shugyo. Wonderful writings!

Early in my professional career I learned that feeling attacked largely comes from ego or putting too much importance on oneself. Similary during keiko, ego is a hindrance when it comes to learning and improving.

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