Sensei Chip Quimby recently unveiled a new Japanese name for the dojo – the meaning of which is a symbol of the dojo’s growth over the last five years. This interview, conducted by Melissa Bach Palladino, explores Sensei Quimby’s thoughts about the background and significance of the dojo’s new Japanese name.
MBP: Sensei, what inspired you to create new kanji to represent our dojo?
SENSEI QUIMBY: The dojo itself inspired me— the people. I think the energy became so pronounced and unique over the course of five years of training that I wanted to acknowledge how special I thought it had become.
When I first named the dojo Authentic Karate Training Center it accurately reflected my vision, which was a place where people could train karate authentically, and at the time I hoped I could find a group of students to share authentic karate with. After five years of doing karate the way I enjoy doing it and sharing it with my students, I discovered that the energy, the school, this body of people, and all that they represent had become something so much greater than my initial vision— I wanted to find a way to capture that, to honor what it had become. Because now it was no longer reflective of just my initial vision… it’s grown to be more. It’s because of you [the students], and everything you do, everything we’ve done together, and how much we love our karate that we’ve really birthed this new thing, and I wanted a new Japanese name to celebrate it. So the kanji is a tribute to the passion, the commitment to excellence, the hard work, and the fullness of sincerity that the students here practice with.
It’s hard to put into words sometimes when you’re training and you’re sweating and you’re giving a hundred percent, and sometimes you’re working with another person who’s challenging you in a way that’s really on the border of what you can handle. But that’s where you really discover who you are – and in a way that’s truly something to cherish.
Training on the edge is really a special thing…it’s a rare place…sometimes an uncomfortable place— it’s a revealing place. Sometimes the truth is a tough thing to see, or hear, or manage. But we’re always trying to be fuller and more whole, or holistic. At the very least be here mentally, physically, and spiritually; just be fully present, that’s a tough thing to do. Never mind that you’re outside your comfort zone and you’re learning something new.
This new Japanese name is essentially a symbol of dojo pride. This is not going to bring in new students. This is not going to improve the speed of our Sanchin arm thrusts. It’s just about celebrating who we are. I’m proud of our dojo family and this is a tribute to you guys, and without everyone it wouldn’t happen. When we’re doing things the way we know how to do them…it creates this extraordinary feeling; it’s pretty special, and it’s something that I’m pretty excited about.
MBP: Could you speak about the selection process that you went through when you were looking at kanji characters and trying to decide how they go together to make a dojo name?
SENSEI QUIMBY: Sure. I worked with family members that speak Chinese, and my tutor who is Japanese, to help me find the right characters that had as their primary meaning the feelings and sentiments that I was trying to capture. At first I wanted the new Japanese name to be a symbol of the importance of being flexible, both physically and in thought. I always want to welcome new, progressive, better, and more effective methods, and I never want to have an attitude where I’m too inflexible to improve. I always want to have that student mindset of maybe there’s a better way. I love the saying “hardness and softness are at the hand”. Openness, truthfulness, sincerity, commitment, flexibility, being both hard and soft—these ideas are important to me.
When I shared those thoughts with my family who were trying to capture my sentiments in a few kanji characters, they were a bit unsure what I wanted. They then began to educate me and explained how there’s no way all those ideas can be conveyed through only three kanji characters. That’s when I realized how tough it was going to be; there was no simple way to encapsulate those things. Kanji are really profound in their meaning—they all have a primary and secondary meaning, and some have up to ten meanings. Sometimes the word in English didn’t necessarily correspond with the kanji, and if it did you couldn’t use it in the name of a school—it didn’t make sense grammatically or the energy “didn’t feel right”.
Here’s a funny story: early on I was looking at the lyrics for one of the Rocky movies, a Survivor song… the lyrics were something like, “though his body says stop, the spirit cries, ‘Never!’” I brought these lyrics to my family and asked them to translate it. They thought it was a Japanese maxim, so they expected there to be a translation already existing, and when they found out they were just lyrics to a song, they just gave them back to me and were like, “you can’t just translate stuff like this; that’s not how it works.” I didn’t get that at all, I thought these lyrics had a great meaning and message behind them and would make for an insightful phrase in kanji. Apparently it was all much more complex than I initially believed.
MBP: What did you finally boil it down to, after this long search?
SENSEI QUIMBY: Ultimately, I wanted to find a character to express the fullness of a person’s effort. The word “sincerity” just kept coming back to me. I didn’t know another word in English that spoke to one’s ability to use all of themselves…to bring all of themselves to their practice. The Japanese use the proverb “shin gi tai” (that comes close to this idea)—that’s translated literally as “mind, technique, body” but most people consider it to mean “mind, body and spirit”. It means taking your mental capacities, your body and its physical abilities, and your spirit that allows you to achieve extraordinary feats, and then harmonizing those to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. “Sincerity” was the only word, after searching for over a year, that honestly reflected how I feel. It’s a powerful word.
MBP: All right. Time for the big reveal. Would you explain what the new kanji is, and what it signifies?
SENSEI QUIMBY: Sure. The new Japanese name has seven characters. In English, it’s written Shiseikan Karate Dojo, (pronounced “shee say kahn”). “Shi” means “very”; “sei” has a number of meanings, but it means “sincere”, “truth”, and “openness”; “kan” means “house” or home; “karate” obviously means “empty hand”, and “dojo” means “way place”.
When you put the word “shi” in front of the word “sei”, you’re pretty much saying: this is the most of that character—you’re amplifying it. You’re saying it’s “an extreme version” of it, or “the highest”, or “very”, or “perfect”. I don’t want to use the word “perfect”, but you could say, “a perfect example of that sincerity”. When you put these two characters together what you’re saying is “this is the most intense version of genuine intent”.
A literal translation of the characters would be “very sincere house empty-hand way place” but that really doesn’t capture the essence of it, so I think if you translated it as “the karate school of the genuinely sincere” or “the karate house of the most fervently committed” that would be more reflective of the energy and spirit that I identify the dojo with.
This name captures for me the feeling that I often have when the class is working hard and everyone’s cooperating and everyone’s giving all that they have. We’re all charging up these mountains that represent ourselves, learning more about ourselves, overcoming our limitations and accepting who we are, all while trying to improve ourselves together in our own unique way—that was what I felt was extraordinary and warranted a special name, because not all dojos have that and we’ve created something really unique.
MBP: Let’s talk a little bit about where the new kanji will be used.
SENSEI QUIMBY: The new kanji will be used on the right sleeve of our karate uniforms, and will replace the kanji that currently says half hard-soft, which is the translation for Paingainoon, the original name of the style of Chinese Boxing that Master Uechi learned in southern China. The front of our uniform on the left chest has the organization we belong to which is called the Okinawan Karate Association along with the symbol on top. So on our gis we’ll have our organizational crest on the front and our dojo name in kanji on the right sleeve. Of course we’ll still continue to use our original name of Authentic Karate Training Center, but now we’ll also have another name for the students and families inside the dojo who helped create what it is today.
We’ll also have a wooden sign that we’re making that will hang in the dojo. But unlike our uniforms, on the sign the kanji will run horizontally rather than vertically.
MP: And that sign is called a kanban?
SENSEI QUIMBY: Yes. Pronounced kan-bahnm. It’s a dojo placard or sign, often made from an ornate piece of wood; for ours I’ve chosen a rustic hickory. The kanji that will be carved on it was created by Sensei Eri Takasai from New York. She’s a calligraphy master and she and I worked together to create the style of calligraphy for the name. Then I was able to pass it on to the kanban artisan who said he could capture some of that with his carving. This sign will hang in the dojo for teachers, students and families to see.
MBP: What else will you be doing to roll this out?
SENSEI QUIMBY: We’ll have a chart or poster board to illustrate with very simple visual images what each character means and how they come together. I think only the people who have been on the floor and have built something special, with both their classmates and myself, will find deeper meaning in this name.
I think we have some extraordinary people endeavoring to make extraordinary effort to be the best they can. None of us are perfect but we’re all working hard to be the best we can. We’re turning it all on, and we’re giving it everything we’ve got, and I think that makes something really special. That’s something I love being a part of.
Melissa Bach Palladino is a second-degree black belt and an assistant instructor at Authentic Karate Training Center (Shiseikan Karate Dojo).