One of my favourite sensei is also an artist. He not only paints but has amazingly beautiful writing as well. Being 85 I guess he’s had lots of practise!! One of the things he does every year is paint something for hanging in the dojo, themed by whatever the current years (Chinese) zodiac is. Along with the animal (sometimes wearing bogu or holding shinai) he writes something inspiring in the picture. Some are his own thoughts, others are inspired by kendo’s traditional pedagogy. For the whole year we practise in the dojo the painting hangs there silently reminding us of its teachings.
Every year I am excited to see what my sensei will create, and every year I am never disappointed. Quite a few times i’ve thought about introducing his paintings on kenshi247.net but somehow never got around to it. This years painting, however, really struck me. I thinks its a combination of the haunting snake and the beautiful kanji. I sat down with my teacher and chatted to him about it. He said that when painting a snake you have to be bold. He also told me more about the words written on the side and where they came from. Here I would like to introduce to you not only the painting, but the words written.
The explanation of the term KEN-MI-FU-I is taken from the Itto-ryu gokui, a large collection of itto-ryu material produced by Sasamori Junzo, the 17th soke of Ono-ha Itto-ryu, the kenjutsu style that had the largest impact on the development of modern kendo.
When you take a sword in your hand and face the enemy there can be no disconnection between your sword and body. Your sword and body should become one: your body must become full of your sword (ken-chu-no-tai), and your sword full of your body (tai-chu-no-ken). Cutting something is not done only by the workings of your hands – moving your body filled with the spirit of your sword, utilising your sword in possession of your body, then with your body as the principal factor and your sword in the center (chushin), you will finally be able to start cutting properly with your sword. If your body and sword act in one like this at all times then there will be no opening (suki) for the enemy to attack. This is whats meant by KEN-MI-FU-I.
The heart/spirit of someone with this body is the instrument that controls the sword. This heart controls the body which governs the sword. This secret teaching is called KEN-SHIN-FU-I.
After many many years of practising, your sword, body, and spirit become one, and if you continue in this oneness towards a state of nothingness you will naturally shine with the brilliance of a treasured sword, and you will be invincible.
This is the revelation Ittosai had, and that he passed down in the teachings of itto-ryu through his students as KEN-MI-FU-I.
In other words: your sword and your body must become as one, a familiar teaching for all kendo practitioners nowadays, usually taught as kikentai-no-ichi.
Check out a handful of my teachers other kendo-inspired paintings here: