Five Venn Diagrams – March 17, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Trolling google scholar once again, I came up with a paper titled something along the lines of Toward a Translation of the Go Rin no Sho. The first few pages were devoted to a discussion of whether the “rin” should be translated as ring, sphere or realm. My personal preference is for “venn diagram” since the information in one section interpenetrates with that of the anothers. After that the concerns continued to “scroll or book” for “sho” and “chapter, scroll or section” for “maki”. Of course I don’t have the paper with me so I may have got the specifics wrong.

Does anyone out there have a problem with using any of these terms at all? Does the information conveyed change much if we say “five rings” as vs “five spheres” If we suggest that “realms” links us to some idea of a buddhist world-view consisting of five ways of thought, does this help us? It doesn’t help me unless I’m a buddhist scholar, and I’m not. Realm means as much as ring to me.

We can get so balled up in the definitions and the language we miss the information. Trees and forests and all that. After all, it’s a book in five sections, call them whatever you want.

Yes you say, but we need an idea of what Musashi was talking about and precise defintions can help. Ah, perhaps, if we have some sort of common external reference system that the definitions can link us with. Unfortunately that’s not very likely. I’m no more linked to the world of Musashi than I am to the world of Shakespeare. Less actually, Shakeseare wrote for a general audience.

Musashi wrote for a student. The Go Rin no Sho may have been intended for one read and then destruction, at least that’s the suggestion from some researchers. A single successor who allowed a couple of copies to be made at the request of Lord Hosokawa.

The common suggestion that a translation should be made by a “student of the ryu” is hopeful, but let’s face it, 1645 is a long long time ago. I’ve been practising the school for going on 25 years now, and I know a couple of things about the kata and a couple of things about other Japanese sword schools of comparable age. Those give me a certain frame of reference with which to approach the text but I’m afraid it does not help me understand the references that Musashi and his student shared. Some things I get, I know what the modern interpretation of the five stances look like in the Santo ha line of the school, I know what the kata attached to those stances look like in the Santo ha and I’ve seen what they look like in the Noda ha line but I have to admit that these two lines don’t match up exactly and I freely admit they don’t line up with the translations at all. There are kata in the book, there’s no doubt about it, but I can’t justify any sort of shoe-horning of the modern kata into the original text, believe me I’ve tried.

On the other hand, there is a lot in the book that does ring a bell these 400 years later, and arguments over ring vs realm don’t help much. We have to use our modern frame of reference and apply it earnestly to the information behind the language, apply it to what Musashi was trying to say to his student. I promise there are no secrets, just the plain and honest advice of a teacher to a student. Nothing would have been hidden because nobody else was intended to overhear. There would have been short-hand references but nothing that a linguistic analysis would be able to winkle out using the national decryption computers.

I taught a jujutsu of the sword seminar yesterday, it dealt with some kata from an iaido school that work inside the range of the sword and with the sword in the belt. We also dealt with some sword taking and sword retention, and at the end we did a demonstration to promote a Niten Ichiryu seminar for next month. It was during that demonstration that I understood the way I practiced Niten gave me the mindset that it takes to stand unarmed in front of a swordsman and have the arrogance to think you can take the sword. Does an accurate translation of Musashi’s writing help me with this? Maybe, probably, but what helps a lot more is the way my teacher taught me to do the kata. I re-read Musashi’s writings regularly and they say something more every time I do, but so do the kata and I practise them more than I read.

I also read whatever I can find on my other arts and they all speak to each other as they rattle around my head. My frame of reference is the same as Musashi’s student, but both of us got “something” from the Go Rin no Sho without worrying too much about the semantics. We might have different views of the same mountain but I’d bet we both put one foot in front of the other on the way up.

My Niten practice interpenetrates my Iaido which interpenetrates my Aikido and my Jodo. Venn diagrams.

(There is a Niten seminar in Guelph next Sunday March 20, and another in Peterborough April 05 (or somewhere around then) Email if you want to attend.)

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