What are Tatsujin and Meijin? 達人と名人とは何ぞや?
The kanji for tatsujin consists of two letters; 達 and 人. Let’s look at the meaning of each letter. Tatsu (達) means to reach or achieve. Jin (人) means a person. Together, in general this represents a Japanese concept of a fully self-actualized human being. It is a higher state of consciousness, that is uninhibited by the weaknesses in our personality that make us inherently human. It is a mind that is free from the desires of the ego, and able to see life through the “Eyes and Mind of God”.
Tatsujin, more frequently, refers to a person who has achieved an extremely high level of a certain skill. It is typically associated with the martial arts and other Japanese cultural activities with Do (道) such as sado (茶道 tea ceremony), kado (華道 flower arrangement) and shodo (書道 a form of calligraphy). It also includes some crafts (carpentry, gardening, scissor work, etc.), sports, crafts, work skills such as cooking and hobbies like fishing, and even in some games (explained towards the end of this article). If one is a real expert in any of these arts or crafts, we call him or her a tatsujin.
How can one reach a Tatsujin level in martial arts?
Of course, to reach a tatsujin level in any of the martial arts, the practitioners must love their art and practice long hours for many years. At the same time, we tend to look at the physical part alone because it is obvious and visible. We must not forget the other important requirement. Here is an extremely difficult requirement; a tatsujin must demonstrate heijoshin (平常心) or peaceful mind at all times. Heijoshin is a popular word in martial arts but is also a difficult term to understand, therefore, it is much more difficult to achieve it.
Let’s look at heijoshin closer. There are two parts in Kanji; “Heijo 平常” and “shin 心”. Heijo means ordinary, usual or normal. Shin, as you may already know, means “mind” or “heart”. The first kanji “heijo” can be broken into two kanji; “hei 平” and “jo常”. “hei” means “flat” and “jo ” means “always” or “constant”. So, together it means the state of one’s mind that is flat or peaceful at all times.
What does it mean? Shin or kokoro (mind) can be disturbed often. Often, you get surprised or you become afraid. Sometimes, you may panic and lose your concentration. Whenever your mind is disturbed like that, your mind is not peaceful, and not flat. Thus, heijoshin means “in any situation, one must keep the state of one’s mind as flat or as peaceful as possible so that one can think clearly and make the correct and appropriate decisions”.
As you can easily imagine, it is extremely difficult to keep the mind peaceful or flat all the time, thus if an expert can demonstrate that ability then he or she is a tatsujin.
In martial arts, I believe there is one more requirement. A tatsujin’s skill level must not deteriorate or decline as one gets older. In other words, he or she must be able to maintain and even improve his physical and mental skill level even when he/she gets into the age of the 70’s or 80’s. The good examples are Sagawa Yukiyoshi (佐川幸義 1902 – 1998 photo above) of Daito ryu Aiki jutsu and Uehara Seikichi (上原清吉 1904 – 2004 photo right) of Motobu ryu Okinawa karate. Sagawa lived to be 96 years old and Uehara got to be 100. It is known that both of them trained almost till their last day and their martial art skills were kept incredibly high. These masters did not show any decline of their skill level due to their age. I also consider Asai Tetsuhiko (浅井哲彦 photo below) to have been another karate tatsujin. Though he died when he was only 71 years old, his karate in his late sixties seemed to be better than when he was in his fifties. In other words his karate was advancing as he got older. He practiced two to three hours every morning to improve and his karate seemed to be at a perfect level. If he did not fall to cancer in 2006, Asai’s karate might have improved to an even higher level.
We have another term to describe a person of extraordinary expert skills, meijin (名人). Then what is meijin and what is the difference between meijin and tatsujin?
Meijin (名人), literally translated, means “Well known person”. Its original meaning is “master” or “expert” or “virtuoso” of any field. Meijin is also a title that can be found in martial arts such as kenjtsu, kyudo, judo and karate. This title is used in the other arts as well, including cooking, painting and interestingly, the Japanese games such as Go (碁 or Igo 囲碁), Shogi (将棋 Japanese chess) or Mahjong (麻雀). Some claim that tatsuji is above meijin and the other claim the opposite. One thing that is clear is that meijin typically describes an expert who is widely known or famous. Other than this difference, I do not consider it important to determine which title is higher. What is most important, as far as I am concerned, is that we train daily and make an earnest effort to reach to tatsujin level. Though I may never reach that level in my life time but at least I am making the honest effort by training daily. How about you?