Removing the bowstring is a method of releasing yourself from a deadlocked situation. During combat a situation sometimes develops whereby you and your opponent pull at each other simultaneously between both tensioned spirit strings, so that the fight becomes deadlocked. In such a case you should remove the string with your body, with the sword, with the legs or with the spirit as fast as possible.
It is best removed in that you do something unexpected to the opponent.
This should be tried out.
This article and the next (The small comb) are yet another pair of teachings. They both have to do with tension or the lack of it.
With the bowstring it is tempting to think back to the thread and yardstick and assume that this bowstring is the thread spoken of there. It may well be, but we are talking about a thread under tension, a bowstring. Here Musashi talks about you and your opponent pulling at each other simultaneously, “between both tensioned spirit strings, so that the fight becomes deadlocked.” The image should be of two strung bows with the strings interlocked. Now take one bow and your opponent takes the other, pull them away from each other. See the problem? The more you pull, the more tension is created in the bows, the more dangerous the situation.
Now cut your string, see what happens to your opponent, the tension of both bows snaps into him all at once.
When you are fighting, your spirit comes under tension, you are paying so much attention to your opponent that you almost hum with tension, but that tension can become anxiety and you can become inflexible like a bow that is drawn too far. Eventually there is a breaking point. You must release this tension before that happens.
Hard as it may be to believe, there can be too much strength during a fight, too much attention, too much connection between you and your opponent, so much that you can’t do anything. This is the old story of the two masters who stand at the mutual distance for an hour, neither being able to move because both are at full readiness, full draw. Eventually they move and the result is a broken dojo floor.
Is it a good thing to stand under such tension? As might be imagined by drawing a bow and holding, tremendous amounts of energy are being used to maintain the tension and Musashi advises against spending such energy to no purpose. In my dojo I have been told more than once that I run a rather easygoing and slack class. I joke, I laugh, I do not require my students to stand to attention and be on their guard for the two or three hours I usually teach. This is true. From my experience, a student can only fully concentrate for a few minutes at a time and, since we are not in the society that spawned the samurai, we are not at risk of betrayal and death at any moment.
In other words, we live in a pretty decent society which allows us to move about relatively relaxed, but. But we can still come under risk and one of those risks is to step out in front of a bus or perhaps a car with a driver who is texting at the same time. In other words, we may, at any moment, have to come from a condition of relaxation to one of fighting for our lives in less than a split second. Our problem is not an enemy hiding behind a rock or around a corner, but one in which the rock (our bus) may suddenly be coming at us. Thus my class is relaxed except when doing a kata, then I expect full concentration on an instant, from a standing start. It’s no good being taut as a bowstring up to the time to do a kata, that only reduces the amount of energy you have to put into the kata, and you have a running start at it. The difference between standing around and the kata is not large enough to do any good.
When you find you are deadlocked by tension, release it as fast as you can, by doing the unexpected which will disrupt your opponent if possible. Swing your sword at him, shift your body, release your spirit, unstring the bow.