The truth behind swordsmanship

When we talk about the correct transmission of swordsmanship, the essential/secret techniques etc, there are actually no real special or mysterious methods; winning in a duel is simply a matter of attacking the enemy when they attack their preferred area. By “attack their preferred area” I mean that when two people come together and fight with swords, the feeling of striking a particular area will arise in your opponent. At that time, you should give your entire body over to your opponent. At the exact moment when they see their chance and attempt to strike you should strike them and win…. this is real victory.

For example, if you have a box and you want to discover whats inside, you simply open the top and have a look inside, then you will know whats in there. We can call this a natural “victory.” There are no secret methods to this, and other methods of doing the same thing is inconceivable.

If you think this way is easy, then you can say its very easy; if you think this way to be hard, then in actual fact it is very hard. For someone who studies The Way, arbitrarily choosing what you think to be the easiest way is not good.

Looking at people who study other swordsmanship styles (Yamaoka received menkyo from two different branches of itto-ryu before creating his own style: Itto-shoden muto-ryu. He also studied various other styles) I would say that many people mistake this point. When they face an enemy they suddenly attempt to strike and win first, simply advancing forward and relying on their vigour and excited feeling to achieve victory. This type of swordsmanship is evil (邪法).

If you study swordsmanship like that mentioned in the above paragraph then – even if you make progress and improve your skill when young and full of vigour and energy – when you get older and/or perhaps become ill, then you will find that your ability to move freely and rely on power will wane, and you will lose. There may even come a time where you lose to people who have never formally studied swordsmanship. That is to say, relying on power and vigour alone is, in the end, futile. This happens because people follow an evil path without knowing they are on it. Followers of The Way must ponder this point deeply and forge themselves via hard training and discipline.

If I add something to this it would be that this is not only about the swordsmanship methods but, rather, applies to all aspects of living life as a human, and you must approach all things with this thinking. If you are in the situation (i.e. where you have deep understanding) where you have an army command, participate in government, are a diplomat, follow the teachings of a faith, follow the rules of commerce and industry etc etc then there is nothing that you can’t do nor understand.

The reason I advocate that “discovery of the real truth in swordsmanship comes with understanding of the real truth behind all things” is because of the reasons I state above.

Yamaoka Tetsutaro (Tesshu)
January 15th, Meiji 15 (1882)

山岡鉄舟:剣禅話 。徳間書店.高野 澄(翻訳)

By George

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5 replies on “The truth behind swordsmanship”

Have you ever noticed when you do things the “right” way in life, you generally get clobbered or beaten by those who take the shortcuts and the easy way out? For example; leaving a safe distance while following another vehicle in your car (being patient & correct) only to have some moron jump in between you and the car in front, pushing you back even further, this can happen over and over in one trip and in actuality you would save more time by tailgating. I guess it depends on what you perceive “winning” to be…

This is the part of shugyo that truly builds patience, humility and understanding I believe, but it is such a hard path to follow, or is it only as hard as you make it?

Even if I come last in this life, I would like to think I did it the “right” way and helped others. Some of those who received the gratification of success may have spent a lifetime being propped up and taking shortcuts or relying solely on their strengths. Again, it comes down to your perception of what is “right”. Thanks George, another thought provoking article. Sorry about the long winded reply.

And just to expand on that…sometimes the “right” thing to do is “win”. No point, for some, to fight when there is no reason to fight or to win. Being last or losing isn’t always the most constructive thing to do, but winning simply for the sake of winning can also be counter-productive in the spirit of the above article.

I have a headache now…

@Fudoshin — sound good to me mate!!! It took me a long time to learn to “lose” but now that I can I feel better for it… even if the other person doesn’t realise what I’ve done. I learned this from my sensei of course: those that “lose” the most are not only often the best teachers, but sometimes the strongest kenshi.

I like to think that even if I am not strong at kendo nor rich/successful in my life (as perceived by most) that I am a good person (or at least learning how to be one). Learning to be struck and to lose in kendo is a method of achieving this “goodness” … maybe!

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