The Philosophy

 
Listed below are a few of the philosophical ideas that guide our study of Yagyu Shinkage Ryu.

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The concept of offense and defense lies in adapting one’s action to one’s enemy, much in the same way a sailor will raise the sail when the wind rises or a hunter will release the hawk on sighting a rabbit.

Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Fujiwara-no-Nobutsuna
(1508-?)
Founder of Shinkage Ryu

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Poem 53:
The ultimate in swordsmanship lies in the Five Virtues*. Always keep this in mind.

* 五常(Gojyo): The Five Confucian Virtues
仁 (Jin: benevolence, humanity): respect/love towards others
義 (Gi: morality, righteousness, justice): do the right thing
礼 (Rei: courtesy, manners): show your richness inside
智 (Chi: knowledge, intelligence, wisdom): make the right decision
信 (Shin: trust, sincerity, integrity): be trusted by others

Yagyu Sekishūsai Taira-no-Munetoshi
(1529-1606)
Sword Master, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
Heiho Hyakushu (100 Poems on the Art of War)

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“Weapons are unfortunate instruments. Heaven’s Way hates them. Using them when there is no other choice – that is Heaven’s Way.” *

What the statement says is that the bow and arrows, the sword, and the halberd (naginata) are weapons, and that they are ominous, unfortunate instruments. Whereas Heaven’s Way is the way to keep things alive, these choose to kill, and in this way they are indeed unfortunate instruments. In other words, Heaven’s Way hates them because they go against it.

But the statement says killing a man by using a weapon when there is no other choice is also Heaven’s Way.

At times, because of one man’s evil, thousands of people suffer. So you kill that one man in order to let the thousands live. Here, truly, the blade that deals death could be the sword that gives life.

Yagyu Tajima no Kami Munenori
(1571-1646)
Sword Master, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
Heiho Kaden Sho (Family-Transmitted Book on the Art of War)

* This is a direct quote from Chapter 31 of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. The quotation goes:

The finest weapons can be the instruments of misfortune,
And thus contrary to Natural Law.
Those who possess the Tao turn away from them.

Weapons are instruments of misfortune
That are used by the unevolved.
When their use is unavoidable,
The superior act with calm restraint.

Even when victorious, let there be no joy,
For such joy leads to contentment with slaughter.
Those who are content with slaughter
Cannot find fulfillment in the world.

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PosterYagyuV09a
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It is a disease to be obsessed by the thought of winning. It is also a disease to be obsessed by the thought of employing your swordsmanship. So it is to be obsessed by the thought of using everything you have learned, and to be obsessed by the thought of attacking. It is also a disease to be obsessed and stuck with the thought of ridding yourself of any of these diseases. A disease here is an obsessed mind that dwells on one thing. Because all these diseases are in your mind, you must get rid of them to put your mind in order.

Yagyu Tajima no Kami Munenori
(1571-1646)
Sword Master, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
Heiho Kaden Sho (Family-Transmitted Book on the Art of War)

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The mind resembles the moon in the water;
The form is like the shadow in the mirror.

This verse is adopted for swordsmanship because the water holds the moon’s reflection, and the mirror your body’s. The human mind moves to an object just as the moon does to the water.

This verse is also used to urge you to compare the mirror to the seat of the sword and to let the body, like a shadow, move to the seat of the sword. This means that you must not allow your arms and legs to be disconnected from the seat of the sword. The way the moon moves its light to the water is swift indeed. Though the moon is high up in the sky, as soon as the clouds move away, its light reaches the water. It isn’t as if its light comes down from high up in the sky, slowly, step by step, to cast its reflection. Before you can bat your eyes once, the reflection is there. In other words, the human mind moves to an object as swiftly as the moon does to the water.

It is said in a Buddhist sutra: “The mind is as swift as the moon on the water, as the image in the mirror.” It means that the moon, from distant heaven above, without the lapse of a second, gives its reflection as it is. The same is true of the image reflected in the mirror. Whatever object faces it is there already.

The way the mind moves this way was explained they say by the Lord Buddha, who compared it to the moon on the water and an image in a mirror.

Yagyu Tajima no Kami Munenori
(1571-1646)
Sword Master, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
Heiho Kaden Sho (Family-Transmitted Book on the Art of War)

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Once you hold a sword, you want to strike, you want to win, and you want to have a fight. These three urges are all mental failures, of which diseases are born…

Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi
(1607-1650)
Sword Master, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
Tsuki no Sho (Notes on the Moon)

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The sword of the Shinkage school is not a yang* blade, but a yin (kage) blade. It does not employ any posture (kamae), its posture being posturelessness (emptiness). The position of the Shinkage school is to do things in response to the opponent’s moves. It is a school that aims not to slash, not to take, not to win, not to lose.

*yang: aggressive, hard, solid, fiery

Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi
(1607-1650)
Sword Master, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu
Tsuki no Sho (Notes on the Moon)

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The National Teacher Bukkoku of Kamakura has this poem:

Though he doesn’t have the mind to stand guard,
Not useless in the mountain paddy is that scarecrow.

This applies to everything.
A scarecrow in a mountain paddy is a doll equipped with a bow and an arrow. Birds and beasts see it and run away. The doll has no mind whatsoever, but because deer become frightened and run away and its purpose is met, it is not all useless. What it does is comparable to the deed of someone who has reached the ultimate stage in any field of endeavour. In such a person, only the arms and legs and the body work, and as the mind does not tarry anywhere for a second, you cannot tell where it is. Without thought, without mind*, he thus attains the rank of the scarecrow.

* munen-muso

Takuan Sōhō
(1573-1645)
Zen Master (Roshi), Rinzai Sect
Abbot, Tokaiji Temple (Edo)
Fudochi Shinmyo Roku (The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom), written to Yagyu Munenori

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To speak in terms of your own martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent…
Throw the gourd into the water, push it down and it will spin. When a gourd is thrown into the water and pressed down, it will suddenly pop up to one side. No matter what, it is a thing that will not stop in one place. The mind of a man who has attained the Way does not stop at one thing even for a bit. It is like pushing down the gourd in the water.

Takuan Sōhō
(1573-1645)
Zen Master (Roshi), Rinzai Sect
Abbot, Tokaiji Temple (Edo)
Fudochi Shinmyo Roku (The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom), written to Yagyu Munenori

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