About AD 1630

It was said of old: ‘The fighting man is an ill-omened instrument – the Way of Heaven has no love for him, yet has to make use of him, and this is the Way of Heaven.’ The bow and arrow, the swords short and long, are unblessed tools of fighting and of ill omen. Therefore as the Heavenly Way is a way of giving life to things, and these are the contrary, being means of killing, they are really instruments of ill omen. They can be said to take part in transgression of the Way of Heaven. And yet, when it is unavoidable, making use of them to kill people is also said to be the Way of Heaven. How can this be?

With the breeze of spring, flowers bloom and their colours vie with each other: with the frost of autumn, leaves fall and the trees are desolate. This is fulfilment and falling away in the Way of Heaven. When a thing is completely fulfilled, Heaven strikes it. Man too, on the tide of fortune, takes to evil; when that evil becomes full, Heaven strikes it. This is when Heaven uses fighting for its ends. Ten thousand people are oppressed by the wickedness of one man, and by killing that one man the other ten thousand are given new life. So there the sword which kills is indeed a blade which gives life. There is righteousness in using the arts of fighting in this way. Without righteousness, it is merely a question of killing other people and avoiding being killed by them. Consider carefully what the arts of fighting, Heiho, really are. [Translator’s note: Heiho includes strategy and tactics.]

There is a Heiho which is simply oneself confronting someone else, using two swords. One wins and the other loses, and this is petty Heiho – the winning or losing is of no real importance. The great Heiho is when in the victory of one man, Heaven is victorious, and in the defeat of the other, Heaven yields.

Leaving the training methods, yet not going against them.

When he has completed the training and has accumulated a great fund of practice experience, he moves hands and feet and body without the mind being involved $ this is leaving the training methods without going against them, and now there is freedom in using any technique (waza) at all. As to the mind at that time, the devil himself cannot guess its state. Training is the means to arrive at this. When he has mastered the training, the training ceases to exist for him. This is the supreme aim of all the Ways.

Forgetting the training, throwing away all minding about it so that I myself have no idea about it – to reach that state is the peak of the Way. This state is passing through training till it ceases to exist.

Know that the gate shows the way to the house.

Much learning is the gate for the beginner. What is meant is that you always go through the gate first, before entering the house, so the gate shows the way to reach the house. Passing through the gate and entering the house in the proper way, one meets the owner of the house. Learning is the gate to reach the Way, and through this gate one reaches it. But it is the gate and not the house. Do not see the gate and think it is the house. The house is something which is reached by passing through and going beyond the gate.

Falsehood becomes truth.

Outer-and-inner is the basis of strategy. The real outer-and-inner is where someone is wary of it, and yet when it begins to operate, cannot get out of it. When my strategy goes into effect, the enemy is taken in by it. So it is winning by taking him in. When I see he is not taken in, I have something further, so that his refusing the first trap takes him into a second.

In Buddhism there is what is called hoben (indirect means). Truth is concealed and a provisional view is put forward on the outside $ this does finally lead the pupil to the real truth, so ‘false becomes true’. In Shinto there is the secret truth of the gods, and knowing that there is this hidden truth increases the people’s faith. When there is faith, life has meaning. In the knightly arts, it is called strategy. Though this is a deceit, by that deceit society is preserved, and at the time of victory deceit finally becomes truth. Order is established by means of its opposite.

Action and Waiting

Action (ken) means with one single thought to go to strike him down ruthlessly, or to run him through. This feeling of ken is the same in his heart as in one’s own.

Waiting (tai) means not to move to strike at once, but to wait for him to take the initiative. It must be a state of utmost alertness. Ken-tai means the pair, action and waiting.

There are the principles ken and tai in both body and sword. When the body comes to close range, it is ken in the body while the sword is tai 5 by one’s body, legs and hands one moves to tempt the opponent to take the initiative, and this is winning by letting him have the lead. Here the body and its limbs are ken and the sword is tai. To use the body alone in ken is for the purpose of getting the opponent to attack.

There are the principles ken and tai in mind and body. The mind should wait while the body attacks. For if the mind attacks, it becomes over-excited. The mind should be held back in tai, with the body in ken, and victory thus is won by letting the enemy attack. If the mind attacks with the thought ‘Let me get him first’, it invites defeat.

But in another sense one can regard the mind as attacking and the body as waiting. For the mind is kept ever watching, with the ultimate attack in view, while the sword waits in inactivity, to get the opponent to take the initiative. When it is said that the body is waiting, this is to be taken as simply the hands holding the sword. When it is said that the mind is attacking and the body waiting, it comes in the end to the same thing as before – to win by getting the enemy to make the first attack.

There is a Zen saying, The great action is direct and knows no rules’. ‘Direct’ means that the action of a man of full inner awareness appears directly; and the fact that the action of a man of such awareness is not bound by any of the training principles he has learned, or by any established ways of doing a thing, is expressed by the words ‘knows no rules’. The ‘rules’ are the training, the ways of doing, the accepted methods. For everything there are instructions, there are ways and means which are usual. But the man who has attained gives them up altogether. He acts freely and spontaneously. He who is free, outside the rules, is called a man of great awareness and great action.

Awareness means never to lose inner clearness, to see in everything its real point. If this awareness congeals and grows hard by thinking and thinking, it becomes caught up in the things. This means it is not yet mature. But if practice is continued rightly, in time the awareness will become mature and fill the body, and he will work in freedom. This is called the great action.

There is a verse of Manorhita, the twenty-second Zen patriarch in India:

The mind turns in accordance with the ten thousand things;
The pivot on which it turns is verily hard to know.

This verse contains a secret of training. It embodies a central point of ways of attack and defence (Heiho) and so it is quoted here, but those who are not training in a tradition will find it hard to understand.

In attack-and-defence, it is the various moves of the opponent that are the ‘ten thousand things’. At each one of them, the mind turns. For instance, if he whirls his sword up, the mind turns to that sword movement; if he turns to the right, the mind turns to the right, and if to the left, the mind turns to the left. This is what is meant by ‘turns in accordance with the things’. Then ‘the pivot on which it turns is verily hard to know’ – to find this is the object of training. One must understand that this is a state where the mind leaves no track behind it, like a moving ship whose wake quickly disappears. If the mind keeps on turning and never stops at all, its track vanishes.

‘Hard to know’ means that it is not clear, that it is difficult to make out. The sense is that there the mind is not fixed.

If the mind does become set on one place, that means defeat; if in its moving it leaves something behind, that is still very poor. Mind has no colour or form and can never be seen by the eye; but when it sticks and becomes set, then it becomes visible. It is like white silk, which if it stays reflecting something red, becomes red itself; if it stays reflecting purple, it becomes as purple. The human mind too, when it reflects things, is seen in that particular appearance. If it reflects on beautiful youth, other people soon notice it. The thought is within but the aspect of it appears outwardly.

Heiho is in accord with Buddhism, and there are many points in common with Zen; one of them in particular is, not sticking to things, not setting the mind on a thing. Both of them cherish this not-setting the mind as a central point. In the No play Eguchi the courtesan makes a verse in answer to the wandering poet Saigyo, who has in his verse protested against her refusing him lodging on his journey:

It is only that I am thinking that a monk who has renounced home,
Should not set his mind on any lodging-place.

In attack-and-defence one must penetrate deeply into the meaning of this last line. Whatever secret tradition a man has trained in, if when he comes to use one of its techniques his mind becomes set on that technique, it means defeat for him. Neither on what the opponent is doing, nor on what one is doing oneself, nor on cutting, nor on thrusting – the main point is to practise not allowing the mind to be set on any of them.


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