Monday, May 02, 2005

The Life-Giving Sword by Yagyu Munenori

Secret Teachings of the House of the Shogun

Yagyu Munenori, translated by William Scott Wilson

As I was browsing a shelf of cookbooks in an Asian grocery in Denver, you can imagine my surprise when I found a title called the Life-Giving Sword. How ironic and contradictory, and appropriate. Having trouble starting my study of Asian empathy, I greedily starting absorbing many contradictory concepts of Zen and suddenly realized that I, myself, as a child had practiced the core technique of the author's school, the art of no-sword during the endless race riots that permeated my youth. In its simplest form, no-sword means fighting an armed enemy without a weapon of your own, where the weapon is really a distraction to its bearer. When the opponent tries to kill, you preempt his strike with a planned maneuver which places you inside the swing path of the sword, enabling you to disarm the enemy with killing him. Saving his life thus is empathy of the greatest degree. Not the facilitation of healing in groups seeking peace as Carl Rogers practiced, but the true practice of healing learned and proved on the battlefield. Both self survival and the karmic joys of healing are derived from the concept of letting-go. The author, his friends and mentors, and successors cannot seem stress the need for emptiness and fluidity enough. Poems, anecdotes, mysterious and contradictory advice all seek to bring the disciple to.. nothingness. The goal is the moon in the water, a perception of something that doesn't exist, yet is such a beautiful metaphor and image.

Buddhism is of course the religion of life and respect for all in your environment, a rebellion from Hinduism which brought much more practical meaning to spirituality. But the practice of no-sword tempers the need for peace with a need for creating peace out of disorder, there are definitely times when killing is appropriate, when killing is necessary to preserve life, especially in governmental conflict. The life giving sword is sometimes the killing sword, but only when absolutely necessary. In one incident, the author himself deposed an unstable leader who, in the 1600s, was planning an invasion of Korea and China. Had the author been alive and influential prior to the second world war, Japan would never have bombed Perl Harbor in Hawaii. Knowing Asian history, the endless conquests, up to the cruelty and corruption of the present Chinese government predisposes one to think Asian psychology would be ineffectual and childish but thinkers like the author cut through that life giving principles and make you wonder why Asia consistently ignores its teachers.

Growth of Martial Arts in Japan

(p 8 - 36)
During the early Edo period in the early 1600s martial arts took many steps forward, three important texts were written by contemporary samurai and priests. Takuan Soho had written The Mysterious Record of Unmoving Wisdom which philosophical piece looking at swordsmanship from the perspective of Zen Buddhism. The mind must be kept free from attachment and fixation, stopping the mind, abiding, meant certain death from the opponent's sword. Takuan had been banished by the hated Toyotomi government for disagreement with its policies on religious leadership.

Swordsman/artist Miyamoto Mausashi had written The Book of the Five Rings with a practical approach to swordsmanship, on how to use the sword, where to stand and use the sun or shadows. The point of battle was not showmanship it was winning, but he stressed all the same philosophies that Takuan had where stopping and fixation were certain death, to the point where historians can assume that they had met and compared thoughts.

The continually moving mind is philosophically symbolized by the avatar Fudo Myo-o, the Unmoving Brightness King, often depected holding a sword in one hand for cutting through ignorance, and a rope in the other for tying up passions. The philosophical Takuan had dedicated his work to this to Fudo and the artist Musashi sculpted a statue of this Buddhist that still inspires awe.

The final text of this triad is this book written around 1632. Munenori found the middle ground between technique and spirituality and especially applied them to everyday life as well as national crisis.

Munenori had inherited the ideals of no-sword from a long line of ancestor priests and samurai. The martial arts school his family ran had won over a very important student, the third shogun of the Tokugawa government and Munenori as his teacher became amazingly influential in the stability of Japan. Munenori saw in the sword a way to forge his students into humans aware of the Buddhist way, the sword was a medium for life rather than death.

The samurai and priests of the time where wanderers as well as scholars, teachers and soldiers. They created a huge matrix of friends and mentors that went far into China, their devotion to the Chinese psychology is woven into their texts where Chinese characters are more important than their own Japanese. Their poems are adapted from the Chinese style. This contrasts much of what I have read about animosity between those nations. Travels to China involved sea voyages, the motions and rhythms of the ocean give more depth to the concepts of fluidity and emptiness.

The Zen networks also amalgamated resistance to the corrupt and psychologically unstable Toyotomi government, Munenori's family had suffered loss of their lands and subsequent poverty at their hands. The Toyotomi were planning a disaster reminiscent of the second world war, an invasion of Korea and Ming China.

Munenori's family was from a mountainous area only barely accessible via obscure paths and virtually isolated during winters. These Krakatoa's regions were perfect refuge for vanquished samauri who were unable to return to their cities and fiefs. These hidden communities where famous for their samurai and were often drawn into conflicts despite their isolation. Munenori's family had the added reputation of talent in covert action, his mother was descendant of the foremost Ningas. Political winds forced his village of Yagyu to excel in every aspect of life, not just military. Through many services to the various controlling forces, Munenori had been invited with his father to instruct an important leader, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu was very impressed with their Buddhist principles of peaceful swordsmanship and brought them close in his circle.

Under the corrupt control of the present shogunate, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it became clear that vast armies would eventually face each other and it was Ieyasu who would challenge the control of the Toyotomi. In the battles that ensued Munenori's family vanquished many of the Toyotomi forces and their bravery was well documented. Undocumented where their covert actions and persuasive powers over the many Japanese lords. As sword instructors, the clan members were installed in virtually every regional army and worked as a unified force to defeat the Toyotomi. Munenori thus had power in the shogunate government far beyond the dojo of a sword instructor. Tokugawa Ieyasu pressed Munenori well into his old age for knowledge, he admonished him for not teaching him enough.

** Sickness

** Emptiness

** Takuan Soho – polymath, pickle

if you follow the world you turn your back on the Way

Takuan Soho, No-Mind

(p 43)

Cast away all attachment, become enlightened and establish yourself in No-Mind.


The Heiho Kadensho

Shoe Presenting Bridge

The Death Dealing Sword – one meets an opponent head on, bringing death to his sword.

The Life Giving Sword – one gives life to the opponents sword, leading the opponent to a place where he gives up the sword, hence giving life. An opponent should be subdued without killing him. In some cases, an especially evil swordsman may be killed to save countless others in the future.

(p 44)

The mind is the foundation and the mind is initial. The very first thought is the initial act. It initiates the initiative.

(p 45)

Training in technique is done to transcend training itself, by taking training to the ultimate the swordsman goes beyond the fetters of technique. Swordsmanship can be executed with interference from the mind.

At this point you don't know where your mind is, daemons and heresies will not be able to find it

Fixation is Sickness

(p 46)

To think only of winning is sickness, to think only of martial arts is sickness, to think of making an attack or waiting for one is sickness, to fixate on eliminating sickness is sickness.

Emptiness is a concept that transcends conceptual thinking. With Emptiness a swordsman is able to see the inside and the outside, the active and the pre-active. To be able to judge an opponent's actions before they are manifested. This is achieved through tremendous meditation.

Emptiness is the mind of your opponent, the mind has no form and no color and is a void. Buddhism teaches you that the mind is Emptiness.

(p 49)

Having no conflicts in association with friends from beginning to end is a matter of seeing into the principles of a relationship, this too is a martial art of the mind.

(p 65)

Victory is determined a thousand miles away

(p 68)

Weapons are instruments of ill omen, because the way of heaven brings life. But killing when it cannot be avoided is also the way of Heaven. There is a time when ten thousand will suffer because of the evil of one man. Therefore killing this one brings ten thousand lives. The death-dealing sword may be the life-giving sword for many others.

(p 70)

Armies oppose each other in vast battlefields but a general opposes an army in the few square inches of his mind. He models how he will lead his army into battle.

It is essential to understand the inner workings of a society to prevent chaos, to observe the personal agendas of officials so that they do not throw a society into chaos.

(p 71)

A man who is close to a lord, may plunder far away.

(p 72)

Arranging things in your home is a matter of finding what is right for each place, this is a matter of seeing into the principles of places, not unlike the heart of martial arts. The arena may change but the principles are the same, even in national affairs.

It is missing the point to think that martial arts is about cutting people down, it is about killing evil. The stratagem is about killing one to give life to ten thousand.

What is written here is not to leave this school, but it is not about making secret of the Buddhist way. To keep it secret is the way to make it known. Not making it known would be the same as not writing it down.

Do not read and think “this is the Way”, reading books brings you to the gate of the Way. Reading may make you as knowledgeable as an ancient but it will not help you make the Way your own. It will be difficult to approach the way with out reading but then there are many who have achieved natural harmony without studying at all.

(p 74)

In the Great Learning it says to extend your knowledge to all things, to know people of the world to and understand the principles of all existing things. If you do not understand the principles of things then nothing will come of your actions. If you lack knowledge, you harbor doubts and these doubts will never leave your mind.

Studying is a way of making a clean sweep of your mind. What you don't understand obstructs your mind and everything becomes difficult. When questions are cleared up they become nothing, you will achieve an emptiness and your actions will be in harmony with what you have learned without your being aware of it.

When you have run the length of various practices, those practices will no longer remain in your mind and that lack of mind is at the heart of all things. By then forgetting your training and casting off your mind, you can become more aware of yourself and your environment. You enter through training and arrive at absence.

(p 76-78)

The mind that takes a stance and intently considers is called the will, it is internal but when it manifests itself it is called the Ch'i. Will is the master and Ch'i is the servant, if the Ch'i overruns its bounds it stumbles, the will reins in the ch'i and makes it take its time.

It is essential to remain calm so that the Ch'i is reigned in by the will and the will is not dragged by the Ch'i.

Deception is strategy, from false the truth is arrived at. Deception is such that, even with his knowledge, the opponent is taken in by it. If your opponent it not taken in, the devise another deception. The truth is hidden within the deception and through the deception the opponent is drawn down the path of truth. In Buddhism this is the expedient way, in Shinto it is the mystery. In military terms it is through deception that victory can be obtained without hurting others, by putting things in order by applying the contrary.

Once surprised, your opponent's mind will be taken, his skill undone. Tossing aside your sword is a martial deception, if you have adopted the skill of no-sword, what use is a sword to you? It is your opponent's sword that is your weapon.

Grasping the opportunity is always grasping the moving power from your opponent, this is kizen. Ki refers to Ch'i concentrated in the mind. Observing the opponent's ch'i before it can function is grasping the opportunity. Ki is manifested Ch'i and is hidden within.


(p 89-90)

To think of only winning is sickness. To think only of martial arts is sickness, to think only of expelling sickness is sickness. What remains stationary in the mind is sickness, as these sickness manifest in the mind, you must expel them.

Expelling Sickness

Use thought to arrive at No-Thought, use attachment to become un-attached. Thinking of expelling sickness is a thought, the thought of expelling a thought is using a thought, though it is sickness to be consumed by this thought.

If you can expel the sickness of any remaining thoughts with thought you arrive at No-Mind. It is like using wedges to fell a tree, one wedge can be used to release another to be used again, and when the tree is felled, no wedges remain in the tree.

Sickness is expelled by abandoning your mind to it and carrying on in its midst.

(p 91)

What is called sickness is fixation, the monk who as left fixation behind can mingle with dirt of worldly affairs without becoming stained. He is free in whatever he does and abides in no single place. A monk asked an ancient “what is the way?”, the ancient replied “the way is your ordinary mind.” Expelling all sickness from the mind, living in the ordinary mind, abiding midst sickness, that is the state of being without sickness.

When you have made great efforts to attain skill without really noticing, you have put aside thoughts of doing things well and have attained the realm of no-thought / no-mind. You will not be self conscious and your mind will not be occupied with your actions. You will make no mistakes, but if your mind slips, you will miss your aim. If you maintain no-mind you will always hit the mark.

(p 95)

The mind that releases the mind. If the mind is released yet always brought back, it will not be free. The mind that releases the mind is one that is let go and does not stop moving. If you keep a released mind, your movements will always be free. Even pets are better raised unleashed. Confucians become fixated on reverence, placing this concept above all others, and live their lives by it alone and their mind resembles a pet on a leash.

(p 99)

When the hand lies flat, existence is hidden, when the hand is held open, non-existence is manifested. When there is existence, you should see it and strike at it, when there is non-existence you should strike at it, existence and non-existence are not two,

(p 100)

you should strike at the moon in the water

If there is a distance between you and your opponents sword, stealing inside without your opponent knowing is like piercing the reflection of the moon on the water

(p 101)

Shinmyo, Two Chinese Characters (self-actualization)

Shin exists within Myo without. This is Shinmyo the mysterious. Because Shin exists in the trees the leaves turn green and the flowers bloom, they are Myo. Split the tree and look within, you will not be able to see this Shin, yet without it the flowers will not bloom.

Shin is placed at the center of the Mysterious sword, Myo is manifested in the hands and feet, and flowers are made to bloom in the midst of battle.

(p 102)

The middle ground is the balance between going to fast and too slow, going fast is the result of fright, going slow results from being overwhelmed.

(p 103)

Do not lose the ordinary state of mind, if you think “I won't move”, you have already moved. Moving is in itself the principle of not being moved. If a man blinks normally, that is natural, if he stops blinking, his mind has moved.

(p 110)

Returning the mind after striking a blow means you have not left your mind where you have struck. If your mind stops where you have struck, a second blow from you opponent will defeat you.

If you strike your opponent he will rally and become cautious, you will not be able to strike him with the same mind, you must pull back forcibly to yourself and observe your opponent's countenance.

In the ultimate state of mind, the return is so quick there is not the space to slip a single hair between blows to your opponent. You hit, hit and hit again.

This ultimate state of mind is the clarity of victory and defeat. It is the mental state of one expulsion, of emptiness, and the firmly held mind.

One expulsion is ridding the mind of obsessive sicknesses, attachments, the stopping of the mind to a single event. Emptiness allows you to see the mind of your opponent, it has no color, no form, it is a void. The firmly held mind is also empty and cannot be seen, it strikes at the point where the hand has not yet moved.

The wonderful moves of the hands, the steps of the feet are the manifestations of the emptiness of the mind.

(p 115)

The Right Mind is the Original Mind, also called the Mind of the Way. A twisted and strained mind is deluded, it is the human mind. A successful man is in his Original Mind and conforms to it. Movements that don't conform to the Way will not be successful. When you can consciously translate the Way to all the movements of your life you will become accomplished in the Principle of things. Skills can applied to only a single art or ability but it is difficult to become accomplished in the Principle.

It is the very mind itself

That leads the mind astray,

Of that mind, do not be unmindful

The deluded mind is the impetuous mind, it is self-interested. Impetuousness is the flow of the blood which changes your complexion and shows anger.

If something you love is detested by someone else, you grow resentful and angry. If what you detest is detested by another you will enjoin and twist what is wrong and convert it into a deluded version of the Principle of things. If someone gives you money, your face will broaden into a smile and wells with the complexion of an impetuous mind, only bad things can come from this.

(p 119)

The significance of No-Sword is not necessarily taking the sword from an opponent, No-Sword means not being cut by another although you have no sword. If your opponent does not want his sword taken, you should not insist on taking it. When he has this attitude, you should not insist on taking it, when your opponent is thinking only of having his sword taken, he will have difficulty cutting you.

(p 125-126)

Potential is Ch'i, Ch'i is the entrance to the mind. Because of Ch'i, the mind can play outside. Good or evil of the mind is understood only by this potential coming to good or evil after having left the mind. Ch'i guards the entrance to the mind and is called potential.

Good or evil or even supernatural acts depend on thought given before the door is even opened, the potential acts and goes outside and a great function is manifested. You can think of it as Ch'i and not be wrong, the different names depend on location.

The mind follows the ten thousand circumstances and shifts accordingly,

It is the shifting mind that is truly undefined.

“Ten thousand circumstances”, means the moves of your opponents, your mind will shift with each of them.

If your opponent lifts his sword, you mind shifts with the sword, if it moves to the left or right, your mind shifts accordingly. The shifting that is undefined is the core of martial arts. “Undefined” means vague and unseen, the mind is absolutely undetained. If your mind stops you will be defeated in the martial arts, if it remains in the place where it has shifted, the results will be merciless.

(p 128)

Having heard you were the one

who rejected the world,

My thought was only this,

Do not stop your mind

in this temporary stay.

(p 129)

You should toss away the Law,

And so much more the false Law

The law of reality is the true law, even so it should not stop in your mind once you have become enlightened, if you keep it in your mind, it becomes rubbish.

It is sickness if you do not leave the mind of the martial arts behind, use only your ordinary mind.

Confucians do not understand the ordinary mind, they are carried away with “reverence”, it is not the highest principle, only the first rung in the ladder.

(p 132)

In a chaotic society many people are killed for no reason, the death-dealing sword is using to bring chaos under control. Once this is done the same sword can be a life-giving sword.

Emptiness, wind, fire, water and earth.

(p 172)

The Hidden Flower

Knowing the Hidden Flower. If it is hidden, it becomes a flower. If it is not hidden, it will likely not become a flower. Knowing one's self is the essential flower. IN all things, in all Ways, the reason for keeping things secret within the hereditary line is that great performance depends on this secret.

The methods used in the Way of War are an example of this. The schemes, plans, and unexpected methods of a great general will defeat even a strong enemy. This is because the losing side will be confused by rare principles and be destroyed.

(p 178)

The Ordinary Mind is the way, you cannot track it down, as soon as you look for it, it departs. It is not bound to knowing or knowledge, knowing is confusion, not knowing is being blindsided. If you arrive at the Way of no doubt is like a void or a vast vacuity. How can it be confirmed ??

The Way does not use practice. Simply have no blots or stains. If you have the mind of life and death, if you are planning something, your mind is all blots and stains. The everyday mind encounters the Way directly. The everyday mind does not distinguish plus or minus, does not grasp or throw away, finds nothing regular or irregular and sees no holy or secular.


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