Today’s article is a short translation piece from the venerable Ogawa Chutaro sensei (1901-1992). Not only was Ogawa sensei kendo hanshi kyudan (teaching posts at Kokushikan and Keishicho) and an Itto-ryu and Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman, he was also one of the few distinguished kenshi known to have a truly deep involvement in buddhism. I think only Yamaoka Tesshu and Omori Sogen top him in this regard. His ideas about the purpose of kendo as well as his rationale for practising budo, was influenced heavily by this, and can be seen in The Concept of Kendo, which he helped write.
I’m not sure if you will be interested in the translation, but it spoke to me on a private level. I hope you enjoy it.
Getting rid of “The Self”
In the end, the worst evil that can infect your kendo shugyo is, from start to end, is “the self.”
In buddhism there is a saying that “worldly desires cannot be extinguished” (煩悩無尽), which means that no matter how you try you can never rid yourself completely of “the self.” The discipline and training required to (even attempt to) remove “the self” is a not an easy one.
All humans have this “self,” that is to say, everyone has “worldly desires.” Living daily life in accordance with these desires leads to a disordered lifestyle with no aim.
If “the self” looks at something beautiful and thinks “it’s beautiful” and leaves it at that, then it’s fine. But if it looks at something that is beautiful and thinks “I want to poesses that,” or looks at something unclean and seeks to avoid it, then that thought becomes part of “the self.”
So, someone who seeks to rid themselves of “the self” should aim to – when seeing something beautiful – think “it’s beautiful” then not give it another thought. The initial thought itself is fine, so it should be left as is. But if someone can’t leave it and thinks “I want it,” then that thought will lead to another thought and yet another… if this happens then the person will be distracted by their thoughts (desires), and their heart and mind trapped by them.
Thus, in our daily lifes we should seek to live in the moment. For example when we are working on a job we should work on it purposefully without being distracted. If you start thinking that the job is silly or useless, then idle thoughts will arise in your mind and become a part of “the self.”
When it comes to kendo you must simply aim to win (see below). Only that. If you think “everyone is watching so I should do my best kendo,” or “I should try and execute a cool technique,” or “I’ll be so embarrassed if I lose to this guy,” or other such thoughts, then you will become lost. These fixations will lead to mistakes (openings), and in those openings you will be struck.
To lose “the self” you need not use power. All you need do is not allow your thoughts to be transfixed by something and lose control of them. Take things one at a time, and do so always. This is called “ichinen-fusho” (一念不生), a state where no obstructive thoughts, feelings, or ideas enters the mind or heart.
An inexperienced or immature person reading the above (I fall in to both of these categories!) might think that aiming to win in shiai is the be-all of kendo according to Ogawa Chutaro. This is not exactly what Ogawa sensei is saying, rather, he is implying that whatever it is you do, be it kendo or cooking, you should try to focus at the task at hand, and only that. By doing so you can free yourself up to complete it without distraction.
If you read Ogawa sensei’s writing it is obvious that, for him, kendo (budo) was simply a means of getting closer to the state of being free of worldy thoughts and desires, and nothing else. Sounds great to me!