Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023
The body as representative of the sword
The body as representative of the sword describes the basic principle that when attacking you should not apply the sword and the body simultaneously against the opponent. To strike, the already prepared body usually advances as representative of the sword and after this the actual stroke of the sword follows.
This strike should be carried out with a free spirit of the void (“Ku”). The sword, the body and the spirit do not advance simultaneously.
You should consider: a spirit held back inside when striking; a body also held back inside.
These relationships should be carefully observed.
Personally, I find this one of the most disruptive articles Musashi ever wrote. All I have been taught in the Japanese martial arts, in Aikido, Karate, Iaido, Jodo, all of it has included the idea of Ki Ken Tai Ichi. The idea that spirit, sword, body move together. It’s almost a mantra, a tenet of the faith. Yet here comes Musashi the iconoclast who says this is a bad idea. We ought to move the already prepared body and then after that, cut with the sword.
How is that possible? Do we hit from a standstill? Do we move in, let him take a swing at us and then swing? Just the opposite. Remember Musashi said “already prepared body”. To me that means you will be, for example, in furi kaburi, the sword will be over your head and your body will be square and ready to attack. Then and only then will you move into range and once you are in range you will cut.
The alternative would perhaps be to move in toward your opponent while lifting your blade overhead and then cutting down, that is, taking your body, unprepared to strike, into your opponent’s range and then trying to strike. Disaster.
Or striking as you move in toward your opponent, again disaster as you miss because you haven’t put your body into range before you’ve swung the sword.
Put this way the idea isn’t so radical, You do need to be in range before you cut and you need to be solidly connected to the ground to do some real damage. In iai we have been taught this from a very early time. I well remember the first year or so of our spring seminar when Haruna sensei showed us, in the Kendo Federation iai #4 technique tsuka ate, that we must have the rear foot planted before we thrust our opponent’s solar plexus or we will be blown back over our left knee. The body prepared before the strike is made.
How long after we get into range do we strike? Musashi doesn’t say, but I’d be willing to bet it isn’t long. Maybe an inch after? As in your sword is an inch from the target when your body arrives at the correct distance? To a beginner this would seem to be the same time.
In recent years my hearing has, perhaps improved because I’m starting to hear some hanshi say Tai Ken Ki Ichi or Ki Tai Ken Ichi. The body is coming before the sword.
I’m also hearing Tai Ken Ichi, without the Ki. This is Musashi’s statement “a spirit held back inside when striking” Total commitment to a strike may be very sutemi, very ai uchi, but it’s also very arrogant. Who’s that good that they can abandon any sort of option and simply strike with everything at once? If you’re both striking at the same time maybe that’s your best chance but usually a little spirit ought to be held back in case you don’t connect. Remember we’re talking real world consequences if we miss.
We’re not talking about thinking here, just holding back the spirit so with that free spirit you can strike from the void. Remember we talked of the critical moment, that moment between the committed swing and the inevitable strike. If you move the body into range but withold the spirit you can then strike “from the void” spontaneously to where the opponent now is. If you have moved body, sword and spirit together you are fixed on the target, you cannot adjust and so the opponent can survive the critical moment. By holding the spirit in the void you close the distance between swing and strike.
Musashi concludes with “You should consider: a spirit held back inside when striking; a body also held back inside.” A body and a spirit held back? This may be a bit more clear in the Go Rin no Sho, but consider, can you think of a time when you should reserve the spirit in the void, and the body where it is, then swing the sword? This would of course be when your opponent moves into your range unprepared to strike at you. You may have lifted the sword above your head in preparation to step forward and cut, but he has moved forward lifting his sword to cut you. “Drop the hammer”, cut his do “from the void” (spontaneously, eyes see target – hands swing) without moving the body.
Remember always that Musashi considers the most important thing of all is to strike the opponent. There ought to be as little in the way of that rule as possible.
Feb 1, 2015