Learning Japanese Through BJJ
While preparing for a competition, one of my coworkers said the above phrase to me in Japanese (むねをかりる, mune o kariru). The literal translation is “to borrow one’s chest” – which had me confused to say the least.
The phrase apparently originates from sumo and is said to a superior for having “the honor of training with them.” Further research revealed that it’s only said by a person of lower ranking to one of higher ranking, (後輩) kouhai to (先輩) sempai, and never the other way around. It’s also used in baseball (野球, yakyuu) and other sports.
To me, I think this phrase is quite appropriate in BJJ. After all, every BJJ practitioner knows that you can’t learn BJJ by yourself. We must always “borrow someone’s chest” in order to train.
Let’s look closer at the words in this phrase. Usually 胸 (むね, mune) is translated as “chest,” a physical source of power and pressure. But 胸 can also refer to one’s “heart” and “feelings.”
In this way, 胸 refers to both the physical and spiritual aspects of a person — those things that makes a person a person and not some piece of driftwood or any old inflatable training dummy. Your partner, whether they be kouhai or sempai, are physical beings and emotional beings, capable of great strength but also with the capability of becoming injured; full of passion and feelings just like you.
The most important part of this phrase, however, is the verb 借りる. It is usually translated as “to borrow,” which is a very different way of looking at sparring.
Despite what we may say to others, there’s always a part of us that is comparing ourselves to our partners. Often times, we fall into the trap of using our partners for our own ends, as goal posts for our own journey.
This phrase suggests a drastic alternative from this way of thinking. Instead of trying to pit your will, or your “chest” against your partner, this phrase instead recommends borrowing – using that other person’s “chest” with the intention of returning it.
Think of your gym as a library and each person you roll with a book in that library. In a good library, books are taken care of when they are checked out for a roll and rotate around to as many people as possible.
Because what’s unique about this BJJ library is that each book changes every time they are checked out and read, or rolled with. Ever reread a favorite book from childhood and discovered even more things to love about it since growing up? That’s the same thing that happens with each book, each person, as they learn more about BJJ.
This brings us back to how you learn BJJ. We’re on the mats to beat our chests to try and scare off our partners, nor are we trying to beat and crush our partners’ chests as we train. We are borrowing from each other, learning from each other, expanding the library that is BJJ.