Moral Instruction in Budo – II
I want to work through this text for myself, you’re welcome to come along with me in these essays. The second article seems to refer to stances.
15.1.2. Stances have five elements: heaven, middle, earth, yin, and yang.
Within each of these there are yet again five variants. The transmission of antiquity divided stances into yin and yang. [The movement of] the body mediates [the movement of] the sword; [the position of] the sword mediates [the position of] the body. For instance, a yang stance contains transformation in yin, a yin stance contains transformation in yang. Therefore in stances there is no yin-yang disbalance.
These principles should be applied regardless of what one is doing or thinking. The transmission has no preferred stance. It is one’s self that decides to use one stance or another. The one who desires to make exclusive use of a stance considers only external gains, and doing so he commits an internal error. He is said “to be transfixed on a stance.” Mistakenly transfixed on a stance, one might win if the position matches that of his opponent, but one will lose immediately if it does not. This is due to the lack of internality and reliance on externality.
The Stance is originally formless: it contains neither externalities nor internalities, neither matches nor mismatches, neither advantages nor disadvantages. [Formless stance] protects the whole body. This is the stage of mutual unity of the sword and the mind. Thus there is no yin in a yin stance; there is no yang in a yang stance. [Acting at the] “lightning speed,” the mind takes no premeditated form. This is called “formless stance.”
The learners should cherish these mysteries and train accordingly.
Overall this seems quite consistent with Musashi’s discussion of stance and no stance. There is a stance, but there are also no stances. Stances can be a problem so they deserve a bit of consideration.
This article states there are five elements in stances. Musashi says there are five positions as well. For Musashi there is high, middle, low, right and left. Here we have heaven (high), middle and earth (low). We then have yin and yang. This could mean left and right I suppose, the left side of the body is often called yin, the right yang. We meditate with the left hand over the right so that yin calms yang and unites at the thumbs. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what is meant here. “The transmission of antiquity divided stances into yin and yang” it says. Then it talks of the body mediating the sword and the sword mediating the body. Yin and yang transforming and balancing. Yin being the body and yang the sword perhaps, internal and external? Defensive and aggressive? Or perhaps as Musashi says, the spirit held back and the spirit sent forth.
Musashi also talks about moving from one stance to another, chudan is the captain, the other four stances being the soldiers. One can flow from one stance to another, as Chiba (for lack of an author on this earlier text) states yin and yang transform.
We come to no-stance, as in “The transmission has no preferred stance.” You pick your stance according to what you feel is best at the moment. One who desires a certain stance is only considering winning and losing and makes a mistake all on his own (as opposed to one forced on him by the opponent I suspect). Transfixing on a stance might win if it happens to be the right one to respond to the opponent, but can be the source of defeat if it isn’t. Here Chiba states this is “due to the lack of internality and reliance on externality.” Lack of yin and reliance on yang I suspect. So we are talking about function and form, thought and action, kan (insight) and ken (sight).
Going back to the beginning, we’re perhaps talking about stances which are high, middle and low, which also have a meaning and a shape. These are the five elements named in the first sentence. If we rely on the shape without the theory behind it we might win, we might not. No wonder the transmission has no preferred stance.
This is my problem with kata being thought of as little formulae for beating an opponent, and with iaido as hitting the grading points. It’s all yang, all external form and no understanding. Going back to my analysis of Musashi’s Sanjugokajo and the concept of Jikitsu, one of the Enmei Ryu sensei was said to have explained the concept in terms of responding to your opponent’s stance with one of your own. In other words, stances are responses one to another, if he takes a certain stance, you should adopt one that will counter what he can do from that stance. I often have trouble with Shindo Muso Ryu jodo because there seems to be a new pair of stances for each kata, yet when we get close to each other we just drop into a middle stance and then do the kata. Of course if you examine those stances you start to see how one covers the other.
So why not a table of stances to memorize, if he does jodan you respond with seigan, match hasso with gedan, waki gamae with chudan? The final paragraph of this article gives us a clue as we move to the formless, the void, the place from which all things come. “…it contains neither externalities nor internalities, neither matches nor mismatches, neither advantages nor disadvantages.” When your sword and your mind are finally united there are no dualities of yin and yang, internal and external. No tables of this for that. This is the ri of shu ha ri, where you leave the stances and the kata behind. This is the place where Musashi would yell at you “stop analysing and just hit him.”
Beginners are dangerous because that’s all they can do, all they know. Take the sword and cut that guy over there. This is the return to a beginner’s mind we aim for from about six months of practice until we “get it”. This is what Musashi means when he says “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. When you know a bit about the stances, about the grading points for iaido, about which technique might work for which attack, you are more danger to yourself than to your opponent. You’re going to trip over your own cleverness, as granny might say “You’re so sharp, mind you don’t cut yourself”.
Having gone through the rest of this article, I’d like to return to my thoughts about yin and yang transforming and this being the same as Musashi’s captain and soldier stances, I think I might have been a bit superficial. This yin and yang transformation is more likely the analysis transforming the shape of the stance and the position of the sword (yours or your opponent’s) transforming your analysis which then changes the shape to compensate.
Finally, “The learners should cherish these mysteries and train accordingly.” Oh dear, are we going to have another of these scrolls where we get told to go practice it lots?
From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.
MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.
Sign up for the May Seminar at:
Apr 14, 2015