The Water Chapter is a difficult chapter to discuss in this free flow type thinking approach, as it deals with actual sword techniques. “Great”, you may think, “let’s have it.” But consider, Miyamoto Musashi followed the Niten school of thought, where Niten stands for two swords, one short, one long. However, there is much to be learned from this chapter, as his approaches to fighting apply as much to us as they did to him.
I finished the last chapter with a couple of poems from the Tao te Ching, that great work of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. The poem for this chapter dealt with water and how this “softest stuff know” penetrates the hardest, seemingly without effort.
As Musashi points out, water is the source of inspiration for the method of winning in the Heiho way. He says it is beyond his powers to describe the doctrine as he would like to, but there are a few things that are worth considering about water.
Water will flow with the terrain, finding its way unstoppably. It will come to rest, assuming the shape where it is, without problems. It adapts, conforms and still finds its way. Water is unstoppable, patient and will, in time, hollow stone with steady drop. Much of what Musashi discusses in terms of learning, moving and fighting in general are based on some of these principles of water.
Let’s see if we can’t explore some of these ideas.
In the opening, Musashi makes another, important point, harkening back to if you can win against one you can win against ten thousand. He says that although he speaks about one on one matches, one should think of them as battles, with tens of thousands of men. This is an important idea, because it allows you to consider your body as an army, a thought that will become appearant. Musashi makes various points about mental attitude, that we have, in part, already touched upon. I think it can be summarized in this: Always keep a fluid, flexible, free and open mind, concentrating on the essential.
When you face an opponent on the field, keep your mind and your eyes open. Notice everything. React without thinking. It is a difficult concept, as it borders into the concept of “no mind”, a concept of zen, very strange, but very real. We will be talking of this again as we get into discussions of vision.
Next, Musashi speaks of posture. I would be hard pressed to summarize this, as just about everything he says I can relate to and find to be accurate. Let me just try to put it into shorter terms. Look straight at your opponent, squint a little. Keep your head straight and your neck tensed. Maintain even tension throughout your body, lower your shoulders, keep your back straight and don’t stick your butt out. Maintain solid, yet active contact with ground you’re standing on and tense your stomach muscles to keep yourself straight.
Now comes the weird part – do this especially when you are not fighting!
This may seem like strange advice, but if we consider what Musashi is really talking about, the way, Bushido, training, the life of a swordsman, then we realize that we are beginning to leave the realm of hobby, of sport, of a temporary change. We are beginning to realize that we are talking about a way of life. This is what martial arts is all about, what being a warrior is all about. You have to realize that these concepts come from a man who spent his life fighting with razor-sharp, four-foot blades that are marvels of weapons. Remember how in the beginning we are speaking of accepting death absolutely?
This is were it comes from.
Maximilian, Ritter von Brandenberg
A warrior, perhaps
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