We will read a free translation of a few extracts from Tokusai’s teachings. You can expect a certain amount of technical instruction, in the field of Kendo. We need not explain that here. But then he speaks of something higher than correct technique. He will say, for instance, that when mind and vital energy are united in Emptiness, right action takes place of itself, independently. ‘It is,’ he says, ‘as if a God acted through you.’ Someone may object: ‘Oh, he can’t use words like that. It doesn’t mean anything. And he’s calls himself a Buddhist, so he’s not supposed to believe in gods.’
He uses such words because that is what it feels like.
One point is to get people to practise, and find out for themselves what it is like.
A second point is that such words may help a student to recognise something that has happened.
At first these things often happen just for a moment, and then the inspiration has passed. A wonder has happened, but it slips by almost unnoticed. The man thinks, ‘Oh that went well. He seemed to walk into it just as I moved; I wasn’t thinking of trying anything, I just moved and he got caught. Lucky I suppose.’
Here is a brief quote from a Song of the Ri:
When he strikes,
let him not think that he makes the stroke;
Let the stroke be no stroke,
the cut no cut.
To strike is to lose,
not to strike, is to win.
The distinction from the techniques of Kendo, done with a bamboo sword, is clear from this verse. Generally these days, the fashion is to practise Kendo techniques alone, without regard for posture, or for unification of mind and vital energy, and so on.
They prize only skill and speed in the action of the sword. Cleverness in these gets highly praised. But it is all a degeneration, which arises from constant practice with the bamboo sword, and it misses the central point of Kendo. These things are merely branches and leaves of Kendo, they are far away from its deep root. In such a case, though one may think one has sufficient to meet a crisis, in fact one has not.
Conscious actions, though practised repeatedly till they are expert, are not inspiration which is the innermost truth of Kendo.
What is meant by this inspiration.
There have been some who believed that it is simply what is called ‘conditioned reflexes’ They give the example of learning to drive a car. First of all you are intensely conscious of each separate action, as you learn them. And then gradually, the individual actions drop out of awareness. They become conditioned reflexes. And it is thought that as the driving becomes more and more a matter of reflexes, it becomes better. It is automatic, as they say.
But in fact, people do not become better and better at driving their car. Unless they consciously practice, they become more and more sloppy. People get worse and worse in their method, though they may get more skilful at a bad method.
In the same way, a golfer at the beginning takes lessons and reaches a certain standard. After that he no longer has lessons, but just plays. He develops a bad swing. It is a collection of bad habits. True, he may get more skilful at using this bad swing.
Sometimes you see rather good results from a very poor swing. But if that man has to play when he is a bit tired, or when he has a bad cold, often his swing falls completely to pieces. He cannot do anything at all. Whereas one who has continued to take lessons, and so has corrected bad habits before they became fixed, will still play reasonably well even when tired or ill.
This was taken from a talk on “Tokusai on Sword and Mind”
© Trevor Leggett