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Zen and Budo

Kawaraban No. 9


by Kamata Shigeo

(On December 22nd last year at the beginning of the Bonenkai celebration Professor Kamata delivered a speech, which articles are abstracted as follows. We are overwhelmed how the professor always practices full of energy and how at that day he fascinated about 100 students in his speech by profoundness and humor.)

Until early Edo period people began to use the name ‘budo’ instead of ‘bujutsu’, how it was called in former times. By this new name the change of a matter, where it had been sufficient just to aim at the weak points of an opponent and to strike him from front or behind, can be seen. And at this point the relation to ‘zen’ can be shown.

Yagyu Tajima no Mori Munenori was the one, who achieved this. But at the beginning of the Edo period Kamiizumi Ise no Mori, who was well-known as a sword master, was the first to engage in zen in the mountains. Full of devotedness he studied zazen and the art of the sword. Thereafter, it is said, his way of handling the sword had changed. Tsukahara Totsutemo was next to retire to the mountains, as he reached a deadline during practice.

The good point in zazen is that the center of the body (seikatanden) can be trained, because you do not breath with your nose but with the tanden (a point about 10 cm below the navel).

In addition there was Yagyu Munenori, who disliked his father’s way of living, left the village of the Yagyus, and traveled through various parts of Japan. When he one day practiced very earnestly with his sword in the garden of the Daitokuji temple, he answered Takuan, who was young at those days and who had criticized him, by: “Is it possible to become enlightened by zazen?” It is said, that because of Takuan’s answer: “If it would be possible to become enlightened by zazen, Buddhism would not be necessary. And if everybody became a Buddha, the world would become quite boring. But because there are only boring people, it is funny in this world”, Munenori thought, that this monk had something special, and a friendship came into being. Munenori also learned from him the secrets of the art of the sword, and zen and budo merged.

Shortly after, at the end of the Edo period, Yamaoka Tesshu was living. Indeed the founder of aikido, Ueshiba Morihei, did not concentrate on zen, but he retired to the mountains as well. It is said, that he achieved enlightenment there by hard practice.

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) practiced zazen in the mountains, achieved enlightenment, and published the ‘Book of the 5 Rings’ (GoRinSho). One of his favored sentences was ‘chotan yuren’ (forming in the morning, training in the evening). By this he meant to form a basis three years in the beginning and then to work on it for another 30 years. In this book in the foreword is written: “During writing I had chosen tendo (the happy medium) and the goodness Kannon as mental basis”. This I have written, because I mastered something, which penetrates the universe, although you are not able to see neither the happy medium (tendo) nor the goodness Kannon with your eyes.

In Takuan’s ‘Motionless Comprehension’ there we find words “We may not fix our mind on one single point”, which means, that the mind has to be spread over the whole body. Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) built a temple and wanted to welcome Takuan, but Takuan was someone, who wrote in his testament: “I refuse burning incense by Iemitsu. The incense of Buddhist monks I refuse even more. I neither need the singing of sutras and mourning presents. Throw my dead body away behind the mountains.” Munenori wrote at that time, when he received teachings from him, the works ‘The killing Sword’ and ‘The Life Giving Sword’. Therein he says: “The sword, which kills people, becomes the life spending sword. You have to avoid by all means to cling to one matter only. How so ever the way may be described, it is always a valid way.” The ‘General Way’ is called ‘General Mind’ in zen. “The general mind is a mind, which does not cling to anything.” When launching an arrow you should not think of hitting the target, and you should not think of defeating an opponent.

At the end of the Edo period Yamamoto Tesshu was a henchman of the shogun, and after the restoration he became the honored instructor of emperor Meiji. He even threw the tenno (emperor) to the floor when practicing sumo. It is said, that he put on a white kimono about three hours before his death, seated himself in lotos seat facing the imperial palace, and made his last breath. That is something, which normal people generally are not able to do. It is said, that people after long years of practice are able to foretell their own death.

When the mind becomes clear, the future seems to show up in the depth of mind. Tesshu drank in his early days 4-5 sho (1 sho = 1,8l) sake, celebrated all night long, and returned home at 4 o’clock in the morning. Then after two hours zazen he practiced three hours with the sword. When walking he wore iron geta. He developed Mutoryu (No Sword School) and taught: “No sword means we do not have a sword besides our mind. If facing the enemy you should not become aware of the him standing in front of you, you should not become aware of your self, you should not become aware of one side or the other, and your eye should not stare at anything and should not stick to anything. Mutoryu Kenjutsu is not about winning or loosing, the mind becomes clear, straightforwardness is trained, we want a victory, which is achieved naturally. We want to be independent of the sword and to have the will power to strengthen the ki. Therefore we have to work hardly. Without external help we have to discover our innermost naturally (you have to experience it by yourself).”

Nowadays we should cultivate such mind as well. Today’s circumstances, which attach too much weight to materialism, are not good. From now onwards we should not advance one-sided in one or the other direction.


During question and answer time after the speech the practice of kokyuho (breath techniques) was explained and demonstrated, too. These were extremely valuable moments.

© translated by Peter Nawrot 11/2005