17 – Moral Instruction in Budo (Itto-ryu Kenjutsu Jiri Kuden Kannen Sho, 1769) – May 5, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

15.3. Proper timing in a match

When both opponents face each other in a match, endless variations of movements may arise. Once the state of anticipation in the middle of an attack and attack in the middle of anticipation is actualized, [the practitioner] arrives at the unity of attack and anticipation. Maturing in technical skill, [the practitioner] arrives at the principle. Mastering the principle, he arrives at the [perfection of] technique. The unity of technique and principle is thus embodied. In this manner, when one’s belly is settled, his hits leave no trace, his actions make no shapes. As the saying goes, it is like striding on top of the nine heavens and strolling below the nine grounds. Beyond the border of no-recollection and no-thought, no sound issues, and no odor comes forth. Ghosts and spirits would not visit this place.

As a matter of comparison, the mind is likened to a mirror in that it reflects objects. This is called the mind-mirror. If you face a mirror and try to attack, the attack cannot pass undetected. But if your mind projects itself, it can hardly be called a real mind-mirror.

There is an old poem that Hanshan once addressed to Shide:

That you are holding that broom
while there is no dust to sweep
is in itself mind’s dust,
is it not?

The following poem is Shide’s response:
This broom
is for sweeping the kind of dust
called “no dust to sweep.”

This interesting dialogue indicates the stage when the level of no-recollection is not yet reached. When there is a thing called “mirror,” it means there is still a concept of “a mirror.” To get rid of the mirror that reflects, and to be able to reflect is the highest mastery of the mind. As an old poem has it:

The Pond of Sarusawa –
the moon thinks not
of casting its reflection
upon the water
that thinks not of reflecting.

While such an account is surely that of someone who has achieved an exalted level, let me also provide an account of proper timing for striking down an opponent, in a manner suited for a general audience. To wit, when the following opportunities present themselves in a match, one should definitely strike:

1. One should avoid the opponent’s committed moves, but strike at feigned
2. Next one should strike the opponent using the discernment of the eye, and ones. not the mind.
3. Strike when the opponent is indecisive.
4. Strike when the opponent freezes.
5. Strike when the opponent shouts in preparation for an attack instead of waiting for him to do his technique.
6. Strike instantaneously.

Also, there is a method of the Eight Conditions for a match:
1. You must act when the opponent is in the midst of preparation.
2. In a match, you must act according to the position of the opponent.
3. You must act when you discern your opponent’s habits.
4. When the sword tips come into contact, you should pressure the opponent’s attacking impulses with your mental power. 218
5. You must put yourself in a striking position such that your opponent will consider it too far for a strike, [6] while it will be close enough for you.
7. When the opponent is strong on the defense, you must use feigned and committed attacks.
8. Regardless of how strong the opponent’s hand is, dissipate the force and attack.

In terms of military strategy, when you must attain victory over an opponent who is twice or three times stronger then you, it is a matter of great importance to retreat from the place of direct confrontation while striking at the opponent’s weak spots in counterattack. In military strategy, too, there is no such thing as cutting down the opponent in a dramatic theatrical manner. You must think deeply over such matters as when to pursue and scatter the opponent, as well as when to retreat and counterattack: know these well.

Timing. You have to unify attack and anticipation so that they aren’t two separate things. You must master the technique to understand the principle and master the principle to arrive at the technique. When you unify it all you are in the place where ghosts won’t go, you’re in the void. We’ve heard this before, as we have heard of the mind-mirror that is not clouded but reflects so purely that no attack can be missed. If there is dust on the mirror it doesn’t reflect truely. A mirror also reflects without thinking about it, like the pond and the moon.

That reminder given with appropriate zen poems to the superior swordsman, we ordinary folks are now told the opportunities to strike in a match. You can read those for yourself. The first two seem somewhat strange to me at first glance. Striking at feints seems a good way to fall into the trap, but if we know it’s a feint we can strike at a different place than the one desired. Avoiding the committed move is also efficient, the alternative is to block it which takes more energy than avoiding it.

The second point is to strike using the discernment of the eye and not the mind. Again, it seems counter-intuitive, surely we want to use our mind and not our eye? No, your eye is the mirror, your mind-mirror is the strike that happens when you see-strike without putting the analysing mind in between the two. The rest seem clear, if not obvious.

The eight conditions for a match are next and they seem fairly clear as well. Number seven means, I suspect, you should mix up your attacks between feigned and committed. Shooklyn suggests that against a strong defence one should feign and then strike the exposed target as the opponent reacts to the feint. Going back, we see that he on the other hand should be striking us at an exposed point as we feign toward him. We can see how fast we get into the situation where neither can win if both are skilled.

It seems to me that this advice ought to be as applicable to kendo players today as it was in 1769. Read the points just before your next practice and see what you can do with them.

The final passage bears special attention. First, we are told that on the battlefield we do not confront superior strength directly, but retreat and counterattack to the weaknesses that are exposed. Good advice, the counterpoint would be to strike strongly and quickly before the opponent can retreat if one is superior in strength.

Next we are reminded that there is no dramatic, theatrical victory to be had. Too much style is a bad thing, just get the job done. Remember what Musashi said about flowers that have no fruits.

Be the big coconut that falls on the head, not the flower petals.

From: Moral Instruction in Budo
A study of Chiba Chosaku with a translation of his major work.

MA thesis, McGill University, Samuel Shooklyn, 2009.


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Weekend after next! All you late-registrants ought to know that the “at the door” fees are quite high and numbers are down this year so…

Kim Taylor
May 5, 2015

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