The ultimate mastery of Japanese Swordsmanship lies in the unification of these three aspects into one.
The mind, body and sword must move as one. This article dives into the intricate challenges to achieving this ultimate goal of swordsmanship.
Ki Ken Tai Ichi is the most encompassing term in Japanese swordsmanship. It contains all the intricacies, the nuances, the secrets, the soft and the hard, in and yo, of Kenjutsu.
The term may loosely be translated as the spirit, sword and body is one.
Lets break the term down into its respective kanji.
Ki means spirit and in typical Japanese fashion, spirit may also mean heart or mind. Looking at the term from the spirit point of view, it hints at the esoteric aspects of Japanese swordsmanship. The origin of the cut is the spirit, the energy of intent. It may be said that the mind is a lake, the energy it exudes is delivered in direct relation to the depth of the lake, the purity of the energy depends on how calm the surface of the lake is. In swordsmanship we strive to have the surface as calm and mirror like as possible. A choppy surface, distorts the energy of intent and thus what will be delivered in the eventual cut will be distorted. Now, how does the heart tie in to the spirit ? In our Western civilization, the heart symbolically refers to our emotional state. Our emotions directly influence the spirit and thus the energy that emanates from the spirit. In Japanese swordsmanship, most emotions may give rise to what we call the four sicknesses of the Samurai namely fear, doubt, surprise and captivation. But this is a topic for another article. Lets just say that we learn to minimize the emotions in swordsmanship. The Japanese people do not show much emotion or have a lot of body language, so it may be far more difficult for a Westerner to attain this state of mind.
To summarize so far, we train to purify the spirit, or more specifically the energy that the spirit emits. We train to calm the heart as the way of the sword and emotions do not go well together. We train to make the mind immovable, clear and right so that our sword may never need to be drawn. The mind-lake should always be reflective and calm, so that we may, in the instant of our enemy’s intent, sen, reflect it back at them.
Ken means sword, healthy as well as learn. These terms are represented by different kanji. The sword is the instrument the kenshi, swordsman have chosen to refine his or her being, in order to reveal the intricate mysteries of themselves through the process of never ending training. We always train to go deeper into the self, deeper into the spirit, to rectify the wrongs within ourselves, to eliminate any impurities contained within ourselves. We use the sword to learn the lessons of not only how to deliver the perfect cut, but also to live the most meaningful life. In finding balance in our lives, in having the right mind, the right attitude, we attain health and hopefully a long and meaningful life.
The more we train, the more the sword becomes an extension of ourselves, connects to our spirit and heart and truthfully reflects the intent of our spirit, whether that intent is good or evil, life giving or not, expanding and fruitful or self consuming and destructive. This process of linking spirt, heart, mind and sword becomes the way of the sword and may be referred to as Katsujinken (Life giving sword) or Satsujinken (Life taking sword).
Tai means, amongst other translations, body, form or style. If the spirit is the origin of our intent, the sword the instrument or measurement of that intent, then the body becomes the form or realization of that intent. The circle is finally completed. In the coming together of all three these aspects, lies the secret to perfecting the cut. In Kendo this perfect cut is referred to as yuko-datotsu, or valid strike. In traditional swordsmanship, these three aspects unite in perfect balance, not one more than the other, not one less than the other, in order to deliver the perfect cut, delivered with the correct distance and with the correct timing. The body internalizes the hours and hours of training, of form and function and stores it as perfectly repeatable patterns or techniques, also called waza.
Ichi means one. In this context it refers to perfect balance. All in equal parts. Parallel and concurrent delivery of the intent, the movement and cut as one. This oneness is one of the most difficult aspects to attain in Japanese Swordsmanship.
An additional factor that comes into play in the more advanced levels of swordsmanship is the oneness with the enemy. In fact this oneness with the enemy is often referred to as no enemy, no self, no sword. This is a very advance concept that was ever only truly understood by the handful of true sword saints delivered over many centuries of swordsmanship.
The combination of several waza into a repeatable sequence becomes a form or kata. Katas are designed to teach the kenshi all the relevant movements making up a certain style, school, ryu of swordsmanship. There are no shortcuts in this process.
Effective technique may only be learnt and internalized through hours and hours of repetitive training. This training is of no use unless the techniques being repeated are correct, precise and effective. What we do in the dojo, becomes our habits and if bad habits are fostered in the dojo, then our swordsmanship will be ineffective and so too, our spirit and sword will be ineffective.
This article contains many gems left as enticers for further exploration and contemplation. Japanese swordsmanship is so simple in it’s technique, yet totally impossible to ever perfect. Perfection in this context may be defined as the perfect unification of principle and technique. If the one is present without the other, we can never hope to become a competent kenshi, swordsman and even less of becoming a enlightened human being.
So as a final thought, it is no good to know all the book knowledge and explore the deep esoteric zen-like koan nature of swordsmanship without putting it into practice. Furthermore it is no good to only swing a wooden or steel sword about without understanding the deep connection of the sword to the human soul.
As many of you may know, the samurai of old often referred to the sword as the soul of the samurai. Ki ken tai ichi, contains all the wisdom and truths inherently buried in this statement.
So when a cut is made, always make the cut with the right immovable mind, let the spirit-energy fill the whole body and flow into the sword, that is an extension of that body, so that harmony may once more be attained through the delivery of that most beautiful cut.