Monday, January 18, 2010

Wisdom of the Ages

Happy New Year!

I pray everyone is well. It's great to see folks back in the training hall - new faces and old. We've been extremely busy with new projects, which we'll talk about upon successful completion (G-d Willing!) In the meantime, here's some pearls of Wisdom from an ancient Japanese 'narrative' on Swordsmanship and Martial Arts:

"Swordsmanship is the art used at the border between life and death. It is easy to throw away your life and proceed toward death, but it is difficult not to make life and death two. The man who does not make life and death two should be easily able to act with complete freedom"

"Nowadays, people are shallow and their resolution is not in earnest. They dislike the strenuous and love the easy from the time they are young. When they see something vaguely clever, they want to learn it right away; but if taught in the manner of the old ways, they think it's not worth learning. Nowadays, the way is revealed by the instructor, the deepest principles are taught even to beginners, the end result is set right out front, and the student is led along by the hand.

"Even with methods like these, students become bored and many of them quit. In this way, talking about principles takes the high seat, the men of old are considered inadequate, mastery becomes watered down.


How could anyone in the world be so stupid? A man will learn some skill, and after making doubly sure he's got it down, will use it over and over again in vain, never understanding that the skill has now become his enemy, and that he is inviting disaster.

He [the martial artist] must perceive any situation with total concentration, and act as a mirror spontaneously reflects what passes in front of it. He can harbour no thoughts of prepared action, for they will only come between himself and the external circumstances. In the same way, any premeditated action will not truly reflect or respond to the reality of the situation.

“When you use strength to control your pull of the bowstring, you run counter to the character of the bow, you and the bow are in opposition and become two. When your spirit does not pass back and forth between you and the bow, you will actually obstruct the strength of the bow, and strip away its force. Thus you will be unable to send the arrow far or to penetrate the target with force. . .Everyday human affairs are just like this. If your intention is not true and you conduct yourself incorrectly, you will lack diligence in the affairs of your lord and be disloyal, you will dither around with the affairs of your parents and show no filial piety, and not be sincere to your relatives and friends. People will despise you, society will detest you, and you will be unable to cope with things. When your ch'i does not fill your entire body, inwardly you will be prone to sickness and your mind will be hard up; in your affairs you will be preoccupied and anxious, and you will be unable to undertake any noble enterprise. When you obstruct the character of things, you run counter to human nature, distance yourself from matters, and are out of harmony; and when this happens, you end up in conflict. When your spirit is unsettled, you have many doubts and your affairs are unending. When your thoughts are moving, you have no tranquility and make a multitude of mistakes.”

“Man's mind, too, is not without the good. When you follow your own true character and are not a slave to your passions and desires, your spirit will not be troubled, you will be in touch with the phenomena of this world, and practical application will have no obstacles. For this reason, the 'Way of the Great Learning is in making clear your adamantine character,' and in the Doctrine of the Mean it says that 'Complying with your character is called following the Way.' In explaining principle from the top, scholars express its standard. Nevertheless, the mediocrity and confusion of some people are deep, and such people are unable to change the substance of their ch'i and directly return to the spirit of their true character. For this reason, scholars preach about 'the extension of knowledge' and 'making one's will and heart sincere.' They also expound self-examination and being watchful over ourselves when we are alone, and would have us step over the true ground of self-discipline.

“Swordsmanship is also like this. Facing your opponent, you forget about life, forget about death, forget about your opponent, and forget about yourself. Your thoughts do not move and you create no intentions. When you are in a state of No-Mind and leave everything to your natural perceptions, metamorphosis and change will be conducted with absolute freedom, and practical application will have no obstacles. When in the midst of a great number of opponents, you will cut and thrust before and behind, and to the left and right. And even if your body is smashed to bits, our ch'i will be under control and your spirit settled, you will suffer no changes at all, and you will be as correct and peerless as Tzu Lu.

“If you will be like this, how could you fail or be without result? This is the deepest principle of swordsmanship. Nevertheless, it is not a Way you can climb up directly without incurring traveling expenses. If you do not try out your techniques, temper your ch'i, train your mind, or make intense and diligent efforts without fail, you will never reach the Way.”