View Full Version : Zen and Swordsmanship I & II

May 28, 2002, 10:56 AM
Anyone read it? It's written by D.T. Suzuki. Another really good piece by DTS is Zen and the Samurai. If you liked The Book of Five Rings and The Art of War, you'll love these.

D.T.Suzuki wrote one of the first books attempting to introduce the nonAsian world to the tenets of Zen Buddhism in 1938. All three pieces I've listed come from that origional work. The current edition, which he completed in 1958, is available, in paperback, as Zen and Japanese Culture .

Some quotes:

"Let the enemy touch your skin and you cut into his flesh; let him cut into your flesh and you pierce into his bones; let him pierce into your bones and you take his life!"

"You simply perceive the opponent's move, you do not allow your mind to "stop" with it, you move on just as you are toward the opponent and make use of his attack by turning it on to himself. Then his sword meant to kill you will become your own and the weapon will fall on the opponent himself."

"As soon as the mind "stops" with an object of whatever nature- be it the opponent's sword or your own, the man himself bent on striking or the sword in his hands, the mode or the measure of the move- you cease to be master of yourself and are sure to fall a victim to the enemy's sword."

May 28, 2002, 05:20 PM
I'm going to guess and say that some sort of context is required to understand those quotes. To me, they seem rather mystical without some explanation.....of course, I could just be thick.

Still, I'll look the guy up. Thanks for the tip.

May 28, 2002, 05:38 PM
Sort of zenny,even:) What I found most interesting in read Suzuki is how "modern" a lot of the "ancient" stuff he presents is. When you understand the OODA cycle and look at where most people get stuck, orienting and deciding, it's kind of neat to see this old guy writing about not allowing your OODA loop to be derailed by unimportant stimuli. The vocabulary is completely different, but the intent is the same. Suzuki dovetails nicely with Musashi's Five Rings, also and the vocabulary is more similar.

The basic idea, "It's a fight, so fight" is universal. I just find it neat to see the parallels between the old warrior's mindset and the new.

Matt Wallis
May 29, 2002, 12:32 PM
Well, I'm not a believer in Zen, but as far as swordsmanship goes...

I don't agree with the first quote at all. It seems to be saying to give up a lesser hit to attain a greater one against your opponent. I'd say that the goal should always be to hit without being hit. Especially when you're talking swords, any hit is likely to be fatal (especially back in the day). So saying, "let him pierce into your bones and you take his life" may be poetic, but as a fighting philosophy it's nonsense. If someone "pierces your bones" you're screwed! Heh, heh.

And the rest seems like it could be said much more directly and achieve the same result. If your intended result is to teach swordsmanship, that is. If it's to teach Zen, well then that's different.


May 29, 2002, 04:42 PM
As I said initially, IF you enjoyed The Book of Five Rings and The Art of War, THEN you'll like DT Suzuki. Certainly, it's not for everyone. Some people will get more of reading Clauswitz, or even Stephen King. But the spirit of Zen has always been closely tied the (Asian?) Warrior archetype.

Do you need to read anything to gain insight from a force-on-force simulation? Of course not. But I find it interesting how aware these old guys were of how bodies acted and reacted in combat and how they developed "technologies" to counteract negative reations. They never used our vocabulary but the concepts are there.

Musahi's Five Rings is written in planner [read "less zenny"] language and was my first introduction into these ideas.

Zen & Swordsmanship was not a "training manual" at all. It is a paper showing why Zen struck such a cord with the warrior class in ancient Japan, because it tied in with the 'way of the warrior', not was the way.

May 29, 2002, 09:42 PM
I don't agree with the first quote at all. It seems to be saying to give up a lesser hit to attain a greater one against your opponent.

Maybe it's a bad translation or somewhat out of context. Maybe the point is not to be paralyzed by the thought of getting injured, and in fact if you are struck to recognize even that as a tactical opportunity (since your opponent is momentarily out of his defensive posture).

I can't see someone deliberately getting hit in order to score a bigger hit though -- very risky tactic.

Having read Suzuki's "Zen and Japanese Culture" a few years ago, I'll say that the text is rather dense and difficult to get one's Western brain around even with some previous basic understanding of Zen. I also suspect that not every concept in it translates particularly well from Japanese to English.

May 30, 2002, 05:18 PM
part of the problem is that zen thought is very metaphorical.
it by no means is to be taken literally.
this passage is about the escalation of force as we would refer to it today.
on being correct in taking violent action once provoked.
it means do not meet your enemy with like force trading blow for blow.
you must quickly move the fight to another level in an attempt to overwhelm the opponent to the varying degree the situation demands. reasonable force to stop the threat.
the really interesting and main course of zen (if you will) is that it will allow us to change our focus from operating out of a conclusion.
you should not be so self centered that you miss an opportunity to strike simply because you are too focused on not being hurt.
the samurai in japan in old times really liked this approach to thought as it allowed them to free up their total concentration
for the battle at that exact moment.
zen keeps you from losing concentration on the important matters of life.
the biggest hurdle for zen thought is to help us understand
the cycle of change. involving our own life and death.
once we get over the idea of ourselves as being something special and permanent, then we can truly get on with
vibrant, spontaneous life.
once we face death, we are not afraid since we have studied it on a daily basis. every "thing" meets its death.
nothing is going to avoid the cycle of change...change is the only constant.
zen just teaches you to adapt to it.

nothing special...no scripture...no gods of who's feet you have kiss. it is not even a spiritual religion. it was never intended to be.
some people in more modern times have tried to make
zen buddhism a religion...but that is another story.

hope this helps,

train hard and smart.