Deeply ingrained in collective consciousness is the association between heart and truth. To follow your heart is to be true to yourself. To speak from the heart is to speak truthfully. A gift that comes from the heart is valued because it expresses true feelings. This association is fittingly expressed in the Japanese concept of magokoro, or “true heart”. Rooted in Shinto belief as the divine bestowal of a pure heart that has been steadfastly earned, magokoro is typically invoked to express sincerity.
To conduct ourselves with sincerity, we must honour the values and guidance of our hearts in our thoughts and actions. This is not always easy to do; hurt and hardship accumulate with life experience and our hearts may become jaded, estranging us from their truths. When this happens, we often put up barriers to guard against rejection or disappointment and concoct malleable narratives that can be finessed to cushion the blows of failure or regret when things don’t turn out as we would like. There may be times when our hearts are so thoroughly fortified with these defenses that we convince ourselves our pretensions are sincere.
To be sincere is to strip away pretense and agenda, embracing honesty and vulnerability instead. There are many obstacles we face in our every-day lives that undermine our efforts to do this. All too often we work jobs that we don’t care for, that wear us down and drive us to convenient but insubstantial means of distraction. We often maintain shallow relations with others, keeping distance to ensure we will not become the victims of ill intent. There are times when we must raise our defenses just to get by. When sincerity is absent from much of what we do, we start to lose our way in the noise of life. Finding something that breaks through the din helps to steady our inner compass. This is why it is important for us to sustain practice that cultivates magokoro.
As budoka, this means training regularly and bringing integrity to the dojo. Magokoro shows in the effort we put into our training. It can be seen in attentiveness, as when actively listening to what we hear and contemplating what we are shown, or it can come out in determination and our willingness to fail many times, breaking and bruising ourselves in the process, before we succeed. It may be found in words of support offered to a buyu in need, or in pushing them beyond their comfort zone when we recognize something in them that they can’t yet see or refuse to acknowledge. Sincere effort requires trust: in our bodies, in the techniques we learn, in our instructors and in our peers. It involves humility and the ability to learn from one another regardless of experience or rank.
The rewards of sincere training are progress and inspiration. Dedicated effort yields improvement and an attitude of devotion fosters an atmosphere of the same; a strong example of uprightness helps others to realize and follow their own goals. Sincerity among students is disarming because it forces us to recognize the unique needs of every individual, to check our usual approaches and to carefully consider how we can best support each other’s growth. Just as every person is different, so is every situation and the knowledge we gain from disarming ourselves in this manner helps arm us in turn for the challenges we inevitably confront outside of the dojo.
Every fight we undertake in life requires us to know ourselves - to be honest about our capabilities and how we can adapt to the circumstances so that we can overcome them. To nurture magokoro brings to light our deepest needs and desires, our weaknesses and fragility, but it also reveals our greatest strengths, refocusing our values and showing us what we really need to survive. When someone fights with everything they have, we say they’ve got heart. Always strive to uphold this truth and to fight with magokoro.