Ren ma — Constant Polishing 錬磨

One of the fundamental goals of training in karatedo is to continually improve ourselves.

Ren ma 錬磨 (pronounced "wren ma") is one of the fundamental concepts in karatedō and is one of the main reasons that we train.

Literally, it means "constant polishing" but as most karateka know, it refers to the striving for continual improvement that is at the heart of martial arts.

Improving Oneself Through Training

Ultimately, karate is about improving oneself – constantly striving to better our skills, attitude, balance, inner peace, and the very essence of our spirit. The physical parts of karate – strikes, blocks, kumite, kata, all of it – are simply the tools we use to push ourselves, to develop our skills, and to hone, and sometimes, heal, our spirit.

There is no end to the – the path – of karate because there is no ultimate, final, perfected version of ourselves. We are constantly improving the person we are, in all the various dimensions that make up our self. The underlying philosophy of karate is that there is a constant traveling along this path of self-improvement.

Improving ourselves is also a constant exercise in deep, hard, and sometimes frustrating effort. Still, we continue. We persevere. Ren ma dictates that we never give up in this constant struggle to become a better person tomorrow than we were today.

Whether a karateka is in class, sweating one more pushup today than yesterday, or in a meeting at work, exercising more patience with a frustrating co-worker today than yesterday, or at home, being a better husband or wife today than yesterday – he or she is practicing ren ma.

And in this practicing of constant improvement, that person shows that they are truly a karateka.

A Giant Leap Forward via Small Steps

The power of ren ma is almost magical. We can take small incremental improvements and repeat them over and over until one day, we find we have arrived at a monumental change.

Most professionals know this: the outside world sees their amazing feats in business, politics, athletics, and marvels at their accomplishments. But what they don't see is the thousands of hours of tiny, small, hard-to-see incremental improvements being made.

It is the accumulation of those improvements that ultimately lead to big leaps forward. In this, the magic of ren ma truly exists.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
training or practicing a skill over and over (ren)
to “polish” or to cultivate (ma)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei in Mill Valley, California on 16 January 2012, and then again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 30 November 2022, and then once more at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo and via Livestream on 2 December 2022.