Make the mind empty


Tokusai says to make the mind empty and he thought Kendo was a good way to do this. But he said if you lose intensity and you just develop clever tricks of winning with a bamboo sword, then it is no help to you in life, and the same applies to Judo. There are people who are very strong in Judo, who make tough opponents and they will take a lot of injuries but they believe they are rotten at mathematics, for example, and when you suggest exactly what they could do each morning to overcome the mathematics weakness and to improve and become expert in adding within two months, they will not accept that they can. Tokusai says how to give a freedom of this instinctive fear and the feeling ‘I’m no good at that but I’m good at this’. One more thing that Tokusai says is about posture in Kendo. In the different branches of culture there is a certain amount of interchange. The Kendo men hold themselves to be somehow superior to the Judo men. We do not agree with that. When they have not got their little swords – well then! One of the things that they say, for instance, is that in Japan, the Zen, was influenced strongly by the Kendo. One example that they give is the posture. If you look at a picture of a Japanese master swordsman you will see an upright posture and the holding of the sword lightly and firmly as in the helping of the new-born chick to come out of the egg example given earlier – so delicate yet so firm. In the Chinese pictures of Zen the masters have nearly always got their heads thrust forward. Of course, it is said that the representations are symbolic. Anyway, the Zen men now hold themselves very much like the Kendo men. They criticize the Judo men for their poor posture. Tokusai says that you can have an inner posture, that is far more important than the outer posture and it is this calm freedom, not glaring, not stamping. One of the things about this is that the eyes can be fully open and glaring or the eyes can be fully shut; a total withdrawal, or the eyes can be half-shut; one of the examples says it is like a tiger on a hill-side looking at a distant landscape through half-shut eyes. He sees it and he is a tiger, enormously powerful, but he is at rest on his hill-side, looking calmly through (his half-shut eyes). Tokusai says that there is this inner posture which you can have.

Notice here in this Tokusai reading there is the technical side of it which we need not bother to explain but then notice when he speaks of the inspiration.

The cut at the side of the trunk.

This cut cannot be made until the opponent exposes his side by himself attacking the head. It is an example of go no sen taking over the initiative or the lead from behind, roughly counter-attack. If the path of the sword stroke is not right and unity of vital energy and sword and body is not preserved it not merely fails but in fact invites a defeat. If he does not realise that it has to be a counter-attack after the opponent has taken the lead this stroke at the side will be futilely beating the air and he will be open to counter-attack himself. When it is said here that it must be a counter-attack, namely taking over the lead, that does not mean holding back with the idea of waiting for him with a counter-attack. It means that one’s own body, vital energy and mind are fully at one, but, independent of that, the lightning stroke comes about of itself without one’s knowing or realizing it. This is what is meant by go no sen, taking over the lead or counter-attack. The real go no sen means penetration of the spirit of the opponent.

Well, you saw that. It takes place of itself, and this can only happen when the mind is clear and empty. Then these things which have been practised, the techniques which have been practised can flower without any internal opposition. Otherwise there is always the thought when making the attack ‘Is this going to come off and what do I do if it fails?’


These days one rarely sees the thrust because if the thrust at the throat fails one will be cut oneself. This shows a lack of determination. There must be a hi chi, all or nothing spirit, resolution to die. The body must be thrown as fodder for the opponent’s sword. If there is not the attitude of the spirit bull smashing down an iron mountain he is sure to get cut off half-way through his thrust. The essential thing is to cut out a feeling of half-faith, half-doubt. But when practising with each other it is best to keep the normal seigan distance and make the thrusts lightly.

Well, that thrust, when it is made, as Tokusai describes it, is almost like a rugby tackle but with the sword, but when practising with each another you do not keep doing this. That comes in a contest or in an actual fight when it is all thrown away but in the ordinary practise it is done lightly.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Sword and Mind

Part 2: Give up all idea of winning

Part 3: Get people to practise

Part 4: Freedom from reactions and endless planning

Part 5: The Lohan figure

Part 6: Make the mind empty

Part 7: Cut off before and after

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