15.5. Technique –Principle: Questions and Answers (2)
Question: What is the decisive point in a match?
Answer: When vital force and form come forth together, it is called “the decisive point in a match.”
Question: When this happens, does it lead to a certain victory?
Answer: That which cannot be won is inside one’s self. That which can be won rests with the opponent. One has to mature [in this art] and reach the “wondrous.” When one matures, his heart-mind fully forgets his hand; his hand fully forgets the sword and spear; he does not leave the divine sphere.
Such state is the state of ease in which there is no limit to magical transformations. One maneuvers in accordance with one’s opponent’s movements and attains victory.
Question: What is the meaning of gains and losses with respect to technical form?
Answer: There are a few swordsmen nowadays who tend to assume oblique stances. This is called “linking form.” Linking form allows one to act according to circumstances: when there is contact, one rolls with it; when there is none, one stays away from the opponent. This is called “to follow what comes about.” When one follows this method and becomes proficient in this way, one makes [conscious] maneuvers. In so doing, there are gains and losses with respect to technical form.
When one learns the proper way, his maneuvers will be proper. In training one comes full circle: having gone all the way to the end, one returns to the beginning; having come to the beginning, one reaches the end. There are neither beginnings nor ends for me. The same is true of others –there are no limits to mastery. One is both divine and not. This is called “maturing in studies.”
Question: What is certain victory according to the transmission?
Answer: Certain victory is to be fully accomplished within human affairs. Which is to say, he who studies without reflection remains in darkness; he who reflects without study does not understand the truth. He who studies and reflects well can earn his bread and clothes. If one is active in studies and thorough in reflection, how can one not gain knowledge, how can one not become victorious?
Question: What is the difference between high skill and poor skill?
Answer: The sole difference is whether you can seize the crucial moment in distance and timing or not. Distance and timing are the great opportunities in a contest. When distance and timing are not properly used, even if one has done quite a bit of practical training, one is after all not yet ready to step onto the contest ground. The point of difference between high skill and poor skill is truly a matter of a hair’s breadth.
This is the final part of the text, and we continue with questions on how to win a match. The decisive point is given as “When vital force and form come forth together”. This is somewhat different than Musashi’s critical point where one is on the verge of hitting or being hit. Chiba refers more to the point where we reach the unity of swordsmanship.
The next question asks if this brings certain victory and Chiba reminds us “That which cannot be won is inside one’s self. That which can be won rests with the opponent” This goes back to his first article where he tells us that the losing point is in oneself and the no-winning point is in the opponent. We are to lose our ego, our desire to win. If there is a desire to win, we cannot win. Whether or not we score a point on the opponent depends largely on him. If he hits us first we will not win. Winning and losing are ‘in the air’. If we lose our ego (stay in the divine sphere) and unite the heart-mind, the technique and the sword, we will fight in accord with what the opponent is doing and this will lead to victory (incidentally, whether we win or lose the match).
The questioner still wants to pin something down and asks about gain and loss with respect to technique. Chiba refuses to be drawn in. He tells us of those who use oblique stances (think of an Aikido stance, half-facing forward). This is not the usual kendo position and it allows one to roll away when struck and to keep the body out of reach by, perhaps, using a longer shinai with a longer hilt. The angled body position would allow this longer blade. Using these things one can link one’s form to the opponent’s form in a mechanical way, and so in a mechanical way one can have gain and loss in technical matters. In other words, if you want to restrict yourself to technical gain and loss, you put yourself into the realm of technique which, as we have been told repeatedly, is limited. No matter what stance you take, if you ‘take a stance’ you are restricting yourself to that stance. This may seem good for politicians but we are swordsmen and it is dangerous to be drawn into a fight of stance against stance. Instead, learn the proper way so that your movements will be proper. Have no stance, do not try to force the world into your stance in the hope that it is a good one, that way lies the war of rock-paper-scissors.
Chiba says your training will come full circle, at the end you circle back to the beginning and so there is no limit to mastery. We are all familiar with the concept, your white belt gets grimy until it is black and then threadbare to become white again. A beginner has no technique and so strikes ‘from nowhere’ as does the master.
When Chiba says there are no limits to mastery he means that we come back to the beginning, but not on a flat circle. Open it up to a spiral, when we get back to the beginning we are above the beginning, and each time we circle around we get higher. If you think there is something to learn you will only learn a little. If you think there is learning there is nowhere to stop. It’s a process rather than a goal. “One is both divine and not. This is called “maturing in studies.”” When you come back to the beginning you have skills and you do not, you have something and you have nothing, but go around again and you will have more and even less. The 90 year old master says ‘I think I am getting the hang of my grip’.
Our questioner then tries another tack and asks about victory according to the transmission. He is told to study and reflect. Study alone brings technical skill alone, without understanding, you swing your sword in the darkness. Reflection alone will not reveal the truth, you are a ‘light under a bushel basket’, there is nothing to be illuminated. If you study and reflect how can you not learn a truth and this is certain victory according to the transmission. It is ignorance that lies bleeding on the dojo floor.
In the final question our hapless student gives up on trying to learn the secret of winning and asks about good and poor skill. The difference, he is told, is in seeing the critical moment in distance and timing. “The point of difference between high skill and poor skill is truly a matter of a hair’s breadth.” Substitute ‘literally’ for ‘truly’ and you have our modern version of this statement. It really is a hairs breadth, the thickness of a hair, the time it takes for the sword to move the thickness of a hair.
floats to the sand
To those who have come along with me as I read through this manuscript, I hope you will go back over the text itself without my thoughts in your head. Circle around to the beginning and see what it will teach you this time.
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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May 13, 2015