On the day I was promoted to eighth degree black belt I stood before friends, family and students – seekers all – awash in a complex mixture of emotions. As I accepted this great honor I referred to my guide, teacher, and martial friend, An Shu Stephen K. Hayes as a most essential “On Jin”(own Jeen) in my life. Since then I have been asked a number of times to elaborate on this term and it’s true meaning.
In short, an On Jin is a person who has fundamentally changed the direction of your life, and thereby your entire life experience. Often these people play a critical role during inflection points in a person’s life. An inflection point is a time of decision between two paths. Choosing one over the other forever changes the trajectory of your life. We have all, at one time or another found ourselves facing this type of difficult fork in our life journey. Having decided, life is changed forever.
The concept of an On Jin is clearly profound. On the surface, as with most things, this idea is apparently easy to understand, and thus, easily misunderstood. As I spoke on that day I wondered how many people really understood what I was saying, and how many might have thought beyond a basic and simple interpretation. It would be so comforting to embrace the idea of finding a delightfully enlightened and benevolent “wise one” who would clearly point out the way for you in no uncertain terms. Then, pat you approvingly on the head when you were on track, or gently tap your little bottom when you drifted astray. That is a wonderful fantasy. Life is full of them. For example, as a child I once believed that there was nothing that my father could not make right, and Batman was real, and the good guys wore white hat and the bad guys black. I would imagine most people have had a similar experience. Though it is said that truth can set us free, it is indeed uncomfortable to shatter the shells of life’s illusions.
Watching the crowd as I spoke I knew there was no way they could know of all the emotionally charged moments along the way. To be sure, there were brilliant moments of inspired excitement, the vital energy of worthy challenges, and the soul-comfort of having a clear path. All of these and more my friend and teacher Stephen Hayes provided. As a result my life was transformed in ways that would take volumes to express. What most people would like to avoid, discard, or deny are the all too intense counter points.
There was pain, there was frustration, and at times there was anger. Disagreements at times bordered on permanent impasse. Angry words, complicated situations, and the vagaries of individual perceptions, at times posed real and formidable threats. But here is the key. Through it all I never lost sight of what this On Jin had meant to the very fabric of my life’s experience. In spite of all the council from the ever-present, well meaning, and mostly unsolicited advisors, I understood the nature of this life debt.
In my view it is seriously unfortunate that many people feel this notion of a life debt to such an individual is unwarranted, outdated, or just plain stupid. Obviously I couldn’t disagree more. I would invite you to take a few moments to consider any On Jin in your own experience and how your life may look if your paths had not crossed. If you’re up to it, the next move would be to find the courage to reach out to that person and express your gratitude. Chances are it will do you both a lot of good. Most likely you more than them.