What My Name Has Taught Me

By H.F. Ito with help from Tomi Nagai-Rothe and Lee Seaman

My full name is Haruyoshi Fugaku Ito. Since many people know me simply as Ito, you may not be familiar with the rest of my name. This is my reflection on what I have expressed through my name, and learned from it.

My parents gave me the name, HaruyoshiHaru means spring, and Yoshi means righteousness. I was told that Haruyoshi came from my great grandfather, who was the first generation town mayor of Hayama-cho*!


Hayama is located at the northern end of Miura Peninsula, facing Sagami Bay on the Pacific Ocean. The area has a temperate maritime climate with short cool winters, and hot humid summers.

Fugaku is the artistic name I received from Aoki-sensei during the Rakutenkai period. It was a great honor to receive a name from him in recognition of being his disciple. The Fu of Fugaku is like the im of im-possible (meaning, not), or the un of un-believable. Gaku means learning – studying intellectually or logically through language. Fugaku* means without intellectual study.

I must have been a very annoying student when I was young. I was always asking my sensei and sempai questions in order to understand the meaning of kata or any other number of things.

One day they told me to look for the answer by searching within my own body. This meant I had to study my own body wisdom, instead of expecting answers from others.

One of the things I learned was that a person who only collects knowledge may seem smart, but also can often be quite narrow-minded. If we want to really build our lives, we need to gather wisdom through personal experience by interacting humbly with other people and the world. That’s what I wanted for my life, so I started asking, “What is the message of Nature? What is Nature telling me?”

When I did that, and actually paid attention, I ran into a lot of contradictions: good is bad, bad is good. It was confusing — like the Chinese proverb about the horse.

A Chinese farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad news.” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg. “So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies. 

In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared. Good news, of course. And of course, the story doesn’t stop there.

I found so many situations like that when I started to pay attention.

Life is a kind of training, searching for the way, searching for the truth and for real meaning. All my life I’ve never had what most people would think of as a “real job” to make money. Whenever I had the chance to take a job I’d ask, “Is this job going to be good for me?” So I pursued my interests, and since money is very convenient, I ended up doing a lot of different things to make a living. All my life I have felt, “Life is good! I like what I do. I do what like.”

As a result, I’ve learned something from everything in my life.

I found that the more enthusiastically I taught, and the more eagerly I shared, the more I found out about the world and other people. One major life lesson for me has been, “The more you share, the more you learn.”

And over the years I have come to realize that my body knows the wisdom of the Japanese martial arts. It’s like the breath of Japanese culture flows through the kata into my body, and it makes a home there. Of course, that understanding takes a lot longer to reach my brain! But my body seems like a repository of treasures inherited from three great masters — a world-class living national museum.

Buddhists say that our life was given to each of us as an opportunity for Shugyo (training). We are supposed to keep developing our level of spirituality, no matter what we do and no matter what kind of circumstances we encounter.

World peace will never arrive through political statements or laws or military might. It always starts from within us. If you don’t have peace in your own body and your own heart, you can’t expect peace in your person-to-person relationships, and you can’t be in peaceful relationship with people or animals or anything in the world around you. Even if we want peace, we will end up creating conflict until we make peace within ourselves.

This is what Fugaku has come to mean for me: Do not depend simply on your intellectual understanding of the world. Find Truth by studying the Universe through the movement of your body.

I share it with you as a useful life principle.

*Note: Daisetsu T. Suzuki is the author of Zen and Japanese Culture. Dai means great or big and Setsu means clumsy, so his first name means Great Clumsiness. Even though his writing is not the least bit clumsy, it is a Zen tradition to give oneself a self-deprecating name.


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