What did masters of meditation in ancient Japan have to teach students of the sword? Plenty! Learn the historical connection between Zen and the samurai in this scholarly piece.
Those who appreciate the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts will love this online course featuring Black Belt Hall of Famer Fumio Demura. Learn the bo, nunchaku, sai, tonfa, kama and eku bo. Watch a video preview here.
If a cup containing water is knocked over, the water splashes out in random directions without conscious thought. This is similar to the natural instincts one has in a deadly situation. For the water, the cup being knocked over is the threat, and where the water splashes is the reaction. The addition of martial arts training is likened to having a funnel in hand while the cup is being knocked over. One hopes that with adequate readiness, he will be able to catch the water in the air and direct it in the proper way with the power of the funnel. The addition of the cultivation of mushin is likened to taping the funnel around the mouth of the cup, thus relieving the funnel of the need for conscious thought. The power of the funnel is given the same fluidity and rhythm as the situation itself. Without thought, the situation arises. Without thought, a reaction takes place. Without thought, the final destination is obtained. The emphasis on “moving with the rhythmic movement of the spirit” is essential when one raises the following question: How can a philosophy of Buddhist origin can be so closely associated with the military class? The training of Zen meditation, zazen, is said to return the mind to its original state, that of being in harmony with the cosmic order of things. Speaking of this in terms of God and consciousness, Deshimaru wrote: “It is satori consciousness. The self has dropped away and dissolved. It is the consciousness of God. It is God.” (1991, 66) For Westerners, this idea might cause problems. Our thought has always been of God as a transcendent figure. But in actuality, this is where Western thought has the most difficulty in religious philosophy: explaining how a transcendent God can be a key figure to humanity. Zen finds “god” right here and now. As Zen masters like to say, “The present moment is pregnant with god.” In this way, the actions of the samurai go beyond simple right and wrong. They are as bound to common morality as the wind, which may help pollination or spread wildfires. In the above-mentioned example of the cup of water, it would seem improper to ask, “Was the movement of the funnel good or bad (moral or immoral)?” It was neither good nor bad. It had no real reaction of its own. It only flowed with the movement of the situation. One cannot say that the actions of the cup were distinct from the situation, thereby requiring a moral judgment. Such is the mind of the samurai trained in Zen. A situation is neither moral nor immoral. The samurai, through the cultivation of mushin, acts without intent. Thus, the samurai’s mind is not distinct from the situation and is not subject to moral judgment. The nature of the samurai becomes the nature of everything. The weapon of the samurai, the katana, becomes transformed along with the person. In the hands of an unworthy warrior, the sword is subject to being an implement of destruction. In the hands of a samurai, the sword becomes subject to the will of heaven. When drawn, it is as the wind which blows with no regard for intent. Yet when the sword is in its scabbard by the side of the samurai, it is most precise in its cut.
Silat for the Street is the title of an online course from Black Belt Hall of Famer Burton Richardson and Black Belt mag. Now you can learn the most functional silat techniques whenever and wherever you want on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Get more info here!There is a Zen saying that the katana is at one time the “sword of life” and the “sword of death.” The focus of the blade is turned inward on whoever possesses it. It is a symbol by which the samurai is reminded to cut down his own imperfection and attachment to the impermanent world. It thereby gives true life to the one who wears it and death to the people or ideas that stand in the way of the will of heaven. The sword is part of the samurai. The samurai obeys the way. Therefore, the sword of life and the sword of death coexist. When we think of the Japanese warrior, we must remember the ideals of the Zen tradition if we wish understand the path of this unique historical fixture. As discussed above, the development of Zen in Japan coincided with the development of the samurai. Zen refined the characteristics that made the samurai a distinguished warrior. Zen reached into the depths of the Japanese warrior and created a person of such concentrated awareness, piety and determination that future generations will forever be fascinated and inspired. Andrew Abele is a freelance writer based in Metairie, Louisiana. He has studied shotokan karate for more than two decades. Read Part 1 of this post here.
BibliographyAllyn, John. 1998. The 47 Ronin Story. Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company. Bodhidharma. (translated by) Pine, Red. 1987. The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma. New York: North Point Press. Deshimaru, Taisen. 1991. Questions to a Zen Master. New York: Penguin Books. Deshimaru, Taisen. 1991. The Zen Way to the Martial Arts. New York: Arkana Books. Deshimaru, Taisen. 1996. Sit: Zen Teachings of Master Taisen Deshimaru. Arizona: Hohm Press. King, Winston L. 1993. Zen and the Way of the Sword. New York: Oxford University Press. Munenori, Yagyu. (translated by) Clearly, Thomas. 1993. Family Traditions on the Art of War. Massachusetts: Shambhala. Musashi, Miyamoto. (translated by) Cleary, Thomas. 1993. The Book of Five Rings. Massachusetts: Shambhala. Nitobe, Inazo. 1969. Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company. Reischauer, Edwin O.; Craig, Albert M. 1989. Japan: Tradition and Transformation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Soho, Takuan. 1986. The Unfettered Mind. Tokyo: Kodansha International. Suzuki, Daisetz T. 1959. Zen and Japanese Culture. New York: MJF Books.