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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


"Cut their Hands" & "Always Be Cutting": The Purity, and Ruthlessness of Miyamoto Musashi

Delicious! by Ikayama
Delicious!, a photo by Ikayama on Flickr.

Miyamoto Musashi remains Japan's most famous swordsman. He wrote"The Book of Five Rings," available freely on the net. Reading this excellent work, I was intrigued by its use of flexible, inductive reasoning (compare DiGrassi's five rules, which are deductive, almost laws of Physics and thus supremely intransient), and by its use of almost totemistic metaphor. Musashi recommends that swordsmen become running water, and a short-armed monkey. Above all I was struck by the by the purity, or sheer ruthlessness, of its author.

At least three (1, 3,4, and probably 5 which is a mirror of 4) of Musashi's five fundamental stances used in sword fighting, mention that their objective is to cut the hands of the opponent: no grandiose beheadings, and torso slashings for Musashi. Musashi's technique, contra that of the sports of foil and sabre, recommends "go for the corners" (extremities, p. 31), particularly cutting into an opponents arms and hands.

After explaining the fundamental five stances of sword fighting, in typical Zen influenced style, Musashi recommends "the stanceless-stance" because he says, it is not about the stance. No, on the contrary, do not think about parrying, hitting, or knocking but to paraphrase the "A.B.C" espoused by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, Always Be Cutting.

Musashi writes, "whenever you cross swords with an enemy you must not think of cutting him either strongly or weakly; just think of cutting and killing him. Be intent solely upon killing the enemy."

All very good advice in a swordfight, I have no doubt.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.