Why is it that the sword schools of Japan are still with us?
武道学研究35-(3):9-20,2003〈 原著〉新当流における刀剣観について: 『兵法自観照』を中心に酒 井利信
Concepts of the Sword in Shintou Sect Doctrine
This study attempts to clarify the concepts of the sword in Shintou Sect doctrine by examining the book, named “Heiho jikansho” written by Mr. Sekihei Otsuki. The important part to note regarding this book is firstly the enormity and quality of core techniques that were described in writing and consigned to posterity, even though secrecy was prerequisite in the world of modern swordplay. Secondly, I viewpoints on sword concepts in terms of swordsmanship have been summarized in this book. Furthermore, this book not only explains sword techniques, but also our country’s attitude towards swords, that have been established since ancient times, are narrated as a whole, not partially. Thirdly, the content of magical acts involving swordsmanship is recorded, which represents the uniqueness of this historical document.
The largest discovery in concluding this research is that the artistry of magical acts has been maintained and conveyed in modern swordsmanship. As for the content of Shintou Sect artistry of the magical acts, the following was revealed : 1) In the Shintou Sect, the magical act for exorcism was performed using a sword (s). The sword used for the artistry was considered to be the same as that of “Futsuno-Mitamano Tsurugi.” When an exorcism was performed with this sword, the relationship with a god named Takemikazuchi was an important element, which has been shown in our ancient mythology. 2) This magical act of exorcism was performed in two directions, namely against an enemy one was actually confronting and against an enemy within oneself. 3) The magical act of exorcism using a sword (s) consisted of two elements, which involved both physical movement and linguistic action.
By “still with us” I mean why and how did the sword arts come down to us unchanged (we can argue that later) and unbroken (same argument). The sword arts obviously are not “battlefield ready” in this day, nor were they ever all that useful in war, being better thought of as sidearms than as main weapons.
One theory might include the findings of this paper, that some schools of the Shinto ryu lineage at least, may have considered the sword as a religious object, used to perform exorcism. While I doubt we are studying the koryu sword arts today in order to cast out demons, I suspect there is a kernal of religious feeling in our practice. Who hasn’t, at one time at least, looked at a well-made sword with a feeling of mystery and a desire to achieve mastery over it. Is this not the same urge that founds religions, or that sends people looking for one. This as opposed to those who do Religion (with a capital R) out of habit.
Think about the idea of exorcism, to cast out a demon. Can this not be the bad parts of ourselves that we wish to be rid of through the practice of budo? Should we consider this to be a degraded or perhaps downgraded form of the exorcism described in the abstract? Not at all, the worse demons of our own nature are more real and more powerful than any supernatural entity that we might wish to blame for our base acts.
Does the Japanese sword only act against Shinto demons? If so put it down, you will have to become Shinto, become Japanese in order for the practice of budo to do you any good. Can one convert to Shinto? Perhaps that would work. Myself, I choose to believe that the personal demons of our own bad nature are at the core of every world religion. Far from there being a father or mother god or set of gods that all other gods are modeled on, and who created demonst to torture us (thanks god, really appreciated…) I think it started from the other end, from the impulses to destruction we call demons. If we put them outside ourselves we must also put up a god to oppose them or we are lost. The devils came first.
Here is another abstract on the same subject, but talking about the sword as representing god (as opposed to being that which performs exorcism… wait, same thing).
ON CHANGE OF ANCIENT JAPANESE FAITH ACCOMPANYING ACCEPTANCE OF SWORDS CULTURE
Toshinobu SAKAI Released: November 27, 2012
In ancient Japan, the concept of gods had been changed as passing of time. From this fact, it is expected that Japanese primitive faith had been changed, as sword culture was transmitted from China. In this paper, we describe transformation of primitive belief and foundation of unique Japanese sword culture, in the process of accepting sword culture. The summary is as follows: 1. Sword culture influenced ancient Japanese mental world, and changed belief in the fire. This belief in the fire changed from destructive to constructive and part of this had been absorbed in the concept of sword. 2. Originally, ancient people believed in god of snake that supported farming. But, as the time went by, power of god of snake had declined, and this faith was absorbed in the concept of the sword. 3. Power of god of thunder had decline, too. The belief in this had concentrated at peculiar god “Takemikazuchi”, and this had been related to sword. 4. The sword came to absorb concepts of fire and snake. And related to “Takemikazuchi”, it was recognized as god itself. 5. From the above discussion, it is assumed that there is a unique Japanese way of thinking that sword is related to god. This is thought to be a foundation of concept of sword in Japan.
July 3, 2015