Neko ni Koban — Gold Coins to a Cat 猫 に 小判

Spending our resources wisely is one of the keys to a fulfilling life.

Neko ni koban [pronounced “neck-o knee ko-bahn”] literally means “gold coins to a cat” — and reminds us to carefully focus our energies and resources while cautioning us that we must pick and choose where to place those finite energies and resources.

Just like a cat has no real use for gold coins (小判 “koban” were literally a form of currency in Edo-era Japan), we may deploy our resources such that they can’t possibly be utilized in a productive way.

Wishful Thinking isn’t Fulfilling

For instance, as much as we might want to mentor and train an employee to become an advanced, high-performing worker, it might be possible that given the temperament, education, and skills that they possess, a particular person cannot rise to the expectations that we might have.

In such an instance, our gold coins are wasted, and would be better spent elsewhere.

In addition to making sure we place our resources in a position to actually be utilized, an inherent message of Neko ni koban is that we must make decisions about how to use our resources wisely, even when they would result in some sort of measurable successful performance.

In other words, it is not enough to simply use our resources in places where we know they have an effect. Our resources are finite, and therefore we cannot possibly “fund” all of the projects and activities that we might possibly wish — we just don’t have enough resources to do that.

This means that we have to perform a “resource allocation” evaluation of our time, money, physical energy, focus, etc. And we must constantly update that allocation based on our shifting needs and our changing priorities. What was yesterday a top goal might shift today to being a secondary one; and if that happens, we must make sure that our resource allocation shifts accordingly.

The Coins in Our Treasury

Our most precious resources — our time, focus, and spirit — are much more valuable than any gold coin ever was. Spending those particular resources wisely is the most important thing we can do, and yet because these resources aren’t material ones, we sometimes spend our time, focus, and our spirit in less than optimum ways.

Neko ni koban reminds us to constantly check and make sure that our most precious of gold coins are in fact treated as the treasures they truly are.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
cat (neko)
小判 gold coin (koban) archaic type of coin
to (ni)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei in San Rafael, California on 1 October 2014, and then again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 19 October 2022, and then once more at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo and via Livestream on 21 October 2022.