Songs of the Way of the Spear

Hozoin School (about AD 1600)

By what I did yesterday, I win today;
This is the virtue of practice.

Remember the old saying, The plan for a day is a cock’s crow,
The plan for a life is something serious.

In the knightly arts, first see that you yourself are right,
And after that think of defeating an opponent.

The unskilled man does not know his own faults.
And yet dreams vainly of defeating another.

The Way is first of all about one’s own defects;
After that, you can defeat others.

Without knowing the stains and faults in one’s own self,
How empty to dream of victory over others!

In the knightly arts, if a man’s will is right
There is no doubt of his ultimate victory.

Don’t think to win just by force;
There is hard in the soft, soft in the hard.

‘Softness is just weakness’, some say;
But know there is a difference between softness and weakness.

When making an attack, do not be careless;
There is a waiting in action, an action in waiting.

In all the turns of the combat, never must one get controlled by the enemy –
This is what is always to be remembered.

In a contest, you must be aware of the distances and the timing;
But do not lose sight of the awareness which is beyond them (zan-shin).

When you penetrate deep to the simple awareness (zan-shin)
You will experience the state of being and non-being.

It is like a stream, which when flowing is pure;
If it stands still, it becomes putrid.

Against a strong opponent, though you lose still you get something out of it;
Do not think always in one straight line.

In a contest, first control your own mind;
Only after that think about technique.

If you have control of your mind, be careful not to lose it;
Hold the mind firm, and then make the thrust.

The hands waiting, the feet active without flagging;
Let the heart be that of a waterbird swimming.

When the short body and the long spear are a unity,
The enemy finds no opening to strike.

Saburi School (Seventeenth Century)

There is no village where the moon does not shine,
But it is clear in the hearts of the men of poetry.

Though one think, ‘I have thrown away the world, my body is naught’,
till when the snow falls, the night is cold.

The samurai who is gentle in his benevolence and in his duty and in his bravery,
He is not burnt up in fire nor drowned in water.

Though a man is well equipped and strong and great,
If he does not know the Way of the knight, he is as a stick or stone.

The beach pine has no voice;
When the wind blows, it sings.

The water does not think of giving it lodging
Nor the moon of lodging there
How clear the reflection!

The heart which can hear the frost forming on a cold night,
When confronted with an enemy, will snatch the victory.

Kagoshima School

In blind darkness (mu-myo, the technical Buddhist term for ignorance),
The rising and setting of the moon
No man knows.

On the surface of Sarusawa Lake the mist is thick.
What is floating and what sinking
No man knows


Study the natural state of the heart;
Study it well to the limit of the two characters A and UM.
The two characters A UM are killing and saving in the palm of the hand;
At the instant of being and non-being, life and death, you rise
To the peak of three thousand lives and deaths.
One glance, and you attain freedom.

If the transparent (white) dewdrop of the self
Is put on a red maple leaf,
It is a ruby.

Tento School

It is vulgar to despise the other traditions.
The Buddha in every temple is to be revered.

In the shade of the evening, do not walk talking loudly and carelessly.
Is there someone lying in wait?

Don’t argue about who does wrell and who badly;
Seek where you yourself fall short.

Itto School

(late sixteenth century)

A verse of a master of our school:

Unaware of the wind blowing in high heaven,
The sheltered clover flowers yet know of autumn
From the rattling of the shutters.

Question:    What is the basis of our school?

Answer by the Master: As handed down traditionally, the basis of our school of swordsmanship is the Hidden Sword (In-ken5 the In is the same word as Yin of Yin-Yang).

This Hidden means that which has no visible form: it means the secret heart. Our school teaches manifestation of the freedom which lies hidden in heaven and earth, and is called In-ken, the Hidden Sword. In-ken does not mean cleverly hiding something which has a visible form. Heaven and earth do not think, do not calculate. Yet spring, summer, autumn, winter follow in due order, and all the transformations take place – it is like that.

The In-ken is concealed in the heart, yet when occasion calls, it manifests as the Wonderful Sword (Myo-ken).

Question: Are In-ken and Myo-ken both simply the heart, or is it that Myo-ken comes out of Inken?

Master: The word ‘myo’ does not mean some subtle stratagem of words or actions. In Buddhism it is said. ‘The all-embracing wisdom of the three worlds, the Buddha-consciousness, is one with my own essence.’

Now here in fencing (ken-jutsu), what has no form at all cannot be called Myo-ken. The basis of our school is the Hidden Sword, and the Wonderful Sword is then not to be seen; only when it comes out of concealment is it truly to be called Wonderful. In everything there is always the body of the thing and also its application or function. The body for instance can be compared to a lamp, and its function to the light – in a certain sense they are one and the same thing. In our school, the body of it is the heart-essence, and since that essence has no form, it does not appear as techniques and actions. So these are called the Wonderful Sword.

The ideas of attacking and defending are ‘two’, until the peak is reached. But when there is no discriminating or calculating at all, no idea of withdrawing, no idea of attacking, moving freely from the Gedan posture (the sword held low) to either striking or parrying, then there is victory. It is the Wonderful function when from that which has no form these manifestations of form appear in their perfection.
Do not take technique to be primary.

Hard, Soft Strong, Weak Instant, Fast Leisurely, Late

Hard, means rigid like iron, soft means pliable like the tongue and so on.
Strong is like a rock, weak is like a rotted cord.
Instant is like lightning, or as a spark from a flint, fast is like a man running.
Leisurely is at an easy pace, late is to get there behind time.

Master Jukyo speaks of soft (ju) and hard (go), strong and weak in this verse:

Strong in their softness are the sprays of the wisteria creeper;
The pine in its hardness is broken by the weak snow.

and of fast and slow in this verse:

We see no limbs on the rising sun, moving fast or slow,
Yet it never fails to reach the west.

There are songs of other traditions:

Don’t try for victory by your strength alone:
There is softness (ju) in the hard (go), hardness in the soft.

Some say that softness is simply weakness.
Know that there is a difference between softness and weakness.

These pairs of words (hard, soft; strong, weak; instant, fast; leisurely, late) are all about the same thing.
When it is time for strength, apply strength; when it is time for softness, be soft; to adapt to the enemy’s changing moves is the way to mastery.

Waiting in Going-into-action: Going-into-action in Waiting

Master Jukyo has a verse on these:

The difference between going-into-action and waiting is for an enemy.
For myself, there is neither going-into-action nor waiting.

Master Chokai says: If you try to use going-into-action and waiting with the idea that they are two distinct things which you can do, then you cannot attain to what is meant by not making technique primary. How could you win? Even at the moment of going-into- action, let not your mind waver (from its poise); there is waiting in action, there is action in waiting.

The ancient (Chinese) classic says:

If you know him and know yourself, then in a hundred battles you will always win;
If you do not know him but know yourself, you will win half the time and lose half the time;
If you know neither him nor yourself, you will always lose.

The old tradition says that your fencing posture is determined by yin and yang (in-yo in Japanese). [Posture includes way of standing, of holding the sword, direction of gaze and so on. There were many ‘secret’ postures to surprise opponents, and it was widely supposed that the best fencers all specialized in one or two of them.]

Now a yin posture is defensive, but it has yang (counter-attack) in it; a yang posture is attacking but it has yin (defence) in it. So there is no posture which is specially advantageous or disadvantageous, and the old traditions do not recommend one. The posture should be one which gives play to the techniques one knows and which also conforms to how one feels.

Taking up or discarding any particular posture is inner freedom. The man who studies a special posture in order to get an advantage from it seems to be an expert on the outside, but there is always a hollowness within. His mind has been captured by the posture. In our school it is recommended to have the ‘posture of no posture’, so that there is no difference between the external and internal. One must practise to be independent of any posture. If a man makes the mistake of letting himself get caught up with some particular posture, he will win if things go as expected, but if something goes unexpectedly, he suddenly loses.

The way to win is not by (tricks of) posture, but by rightly realizing the spiritual principle (ri) and rightly expressing it through technique (ji). There are a thousand different postures, with their strong points and their weak points, advantages and disadvantages. That is why one must practise the posture of no posture. ‘No posture’ does not mean not to stand up at all – it means that when in a defensive posture one is not defensive, when in an attacking posture one is not (committed to) attacking. There is a posture, but when the mind is not fixed in it, that is called the posture of no posture. When posture and mind are one, that is perfection of posture. The posture then adapts to the thousand changes and ten thousand shifts and moves of technique, and this is perfection of no-posture.

A disease of technique is (to think that) the principle (ri) comes first and then the technique (ji), that the body moves first and then the sword. This comes about because one looks for ri and ji as external things. Technique must adapt perfectly to the changing circumstances, and it is not a question of first thinking and then making the move. When the ri-inspiration is spontaneous, one will change without thinking about it, will adapt without calculating.

Respect the changes which inspiration makes in oneself, without analysing them or calculating (their results). Success will always come when the heart is without disturbance.

One must recognize clearly the truth of what one really is. This is the aspiration of those who study this Way. Looking upward, with heart undisturbed by any concepts in it, he reveres the one’ undifferentiated Principle.

Let him practise his techniques devotedly without the idea of gaining something from them. As the calm water holds the moon perfectly, so let him not create disturbances in his life-currents (ki); and then all changes come from this one-ness. This one is altogether without form, like water which also has no form but adapts perfectly to the angles or curves of a container.

Let a man practise not that his body moves and then the sword, but that the sword moves first and then the body.

There is the instrument, the sword. At the back of the sword, there is technique; at the back of technique, there is the spiritual principle. The heart is the basis of technique 5 the body is the basis of the sword. To keep the basis unmoved and the instrument in front moving, that is fullness, the right way. To have the basis moving and the instrument lagging behind is hollowness.

Where there is fullness, success is certain, where there is hollowness, uncertain.

If there is an idea of some hoped-for gain behind the technique, how will the technique be able to adapt to unexpected circumstances?



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