San man nichi — Thirty Thousand Days 三万日

The treasure of our life is the days we have to live it. On average, that's about thirty thousand days in total, and how we spend those days determines not only our success, but also our satisfaction and happiness.

San man nichi 三万日 [pronounced “san mahn ni-chee”] means “thirty thousand days” — a very special number because it represents the average number of days in a human life (thirty thousand days equates to about 82 years).

This phrase has changed over time (in the past, it's been ni man nichi 二万日 or 20,000 days, equating to a lifespan of about 55 years), but the concept is still the same: there is a finite number of days in everyone’s timeline, and if we fail to acknowledge that, we risk ultimately wasting so many of those limited days in ways which we will not look kindly back upon at the end of our life's journey.

Take Advantage of Your Days

Typically, each thousand days represents about three years — imagine that. How many “groups of three years” have you lived already? Eight? Ten? Fifteen? If you’ve lived fifteen of those groups of three years, you literally have already lived half your life, and only fifteen thousand remain. That can be a scary thought, perhaps.

But it can also be an invigorating one. We can resolve to take maximum advantage of our thirty thousand days, and especially the quantity of days still remaining to us. We can even think forward, towards the end of those thirty thousand days, and then look backwards over the span of days and imagine what we would like to have happen during our journey.

In effect, we can “reverse-engineer” our lives, starting from the outcome we want, and working backwards.

Changing Direction

And as much as we “reverse-engineer”, we can also “re-engineer” our lives. No path of San man nichi is irreversible. The days that came before do not have to be the same as the days that come after.

In fact, ultimately the central, essential message of San man nichi is a call-to-action. We are urged to be the active architects of each and every one of those thirty thousand days. We are called to be the motive force in each moment of those days, and we are called to chart our days and live the days that we choose, rather than passively responding to the external events that shape our days.

And keep in mind that external events may not be the only thing shaping your thirty thousand days. With a variety of motives, messages bombard us constantly in all the media we consume: we are told what we should desire, we are told what we should think, and we are told what we should want to consume.

So it is not enough to simply not be passive. We must be actively on-guard against undue and sometimes subtle influence upon our internal thought process regarding how our thirty thousand days should be spent.

Shape the Days

In short, San man nichi urges us to be the shaper of those days, rather than to let our days be shaped by circumstances.

We are often told to strive for happiness. Or to endeavor to "have fun." These are platitudes and making a life out of happiness and fun is akin to eating a steady diet of bubble gum. It's entertaining, and if you have a sweet tooth, probably tastes good. But you won't be very satisfied at the end of the day.

Instead, focus on accomplishment and clear, palpable achievement. This attitude will give you plenty of happiness, but more importantly, will also fill you with a sense of balance and peaceful satisfaction.

With only thirty thousand days in total, and with much less than that number left, there is no time to waste in moving forward and taking active control of our life. In doing so, our thirty thousand days truly becomes… our thirty thousand days.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
three (san)
ten thousand (man) combined with 三, 30,000
day (hi/nichi)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei at the Goju Karate dojo in San Rafael, California on 14 May 2014 and at the Goju Karate dojo in New York City on 11 May 2022; this concept was presented again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 8 November 2023.