Katsujinken Setsuninto – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido Renshi and Roukudan Jodo Renshi

During the past seminar, Chris Mansfield sensei mentioned this paired concept. Ohmi sensei also referenced it, and then Carole Galligan at the zoom class last evening. At that point Pam Morgan pointed her finger at me and said “next essay”.

Umm, OK I thought, just do a search and put up something from my previous writings. But that search turned up nothing. I don’t suppose I’ve never written on the topic, but of course I won’t find what I want to find when I look.

Now you know why I write new stuff, the old stuff is gone, disappeared, forgotten. I think I remarked a couple of times during my class that those present should “go look it up for yourselves” when I reached for a word and it wasn’t there. There is less and less in my head when I think about budo, there is more and more of nothing at all, honestly. These sets of terms don’t mean as much as they used to, not that I don’t care, but that their definitions are gone, their meanings are gone. The label probably applies to stuff that’s in me, but the label is no longer flapping around like a price tag on a new hat.

So what is this Katsujin / Setsunin?

First, it’s from the Shinkage tradition, mostly. It means roughly life giving sword and killing sword. An excellent description of what it means in the original is contained in “Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima-Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture”
By Karl F. Friday, Fumitake Seki from the University of Hawaii Press. A book that most of you should own and have read, even if you’re not in the Shinkage tradition.

I have stolen a screenshot of the google books page display and you can read that below (or above or wherever it ends up).

It does seem that everyone has their own idea of what katsujinken means (setsuninto almost always means you kill him). The first interpretation (most obvious?) seems to be that you let your opponent live. In iaido we have the concept of “nuki tsuke” which is a space in which our opponent can back down. So we let him live. Carole Galligan sensei mentioned this in the class last evening.

Go and read the photo now.

Have you? Good, so the terms do not refer to the opponent living or dying, but to whether you suppress and overwhelm his spirit and responses with your will, and strike him down, whether you kill his spirit, or whether you allow him to attack, allow his spirit to live, and respond to that.

Which side are you? For most you would say “oh, win first and then kill him” I suspect (which is not an accurate definition of that concept). But the authors point out that this is a very ego-driven, risky adventure. I would agree. You are attacking, relying on your suppression of your opponent’s will, but what if his spirit is not killed, what if your mojo isn’t working? He counterattacks and you die. Better to wait for him to attack, for him to commit to his attack and thus bind himself to a path so that you can then counterattack.

We should respect this definition of the terms, they would seem to be the original meanings. Yet we are allowed to move beyond this, so can you apply the terms to yourself and your sword practice? Why do you practice the sword?

Is it to learn how to kill people, goats, straw bundles?

Or is it to learn how to live? Are these exclusive? Can you learn how to live by learning how to kill? Is that an easy thing to do? To do by yourself in a fantasy world?

I keep coming back to a fundamental question don’t I? One that Ohmi sensei asked Eric Tribe at the end of Tribe sensei’s class.

Why are you doing this stuff?

Kim Taylor
May 20, 2020


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