Check out part one here.
The Japanese love their pickles. Love ’em. Love them so much, in fact, that I am hard pressed to recall any Japanese meal I have ever partaken of that did NOT include a little side dish of colorful pickled daikon.
I, on the other hand, can’t stand pickles. Or pickled stuff. Hate it all. Absolutely.
This pickle thing is only relevant to this series because those little colorful pickles I just mentioned are called takuan. So named because they were invented (discovered? summoned forth?) by the Rinzai Zen priest Takuan Sōhō. The very same Zen priest who managed to befriend, advise, and engage in lengthy discourse with not only Miyamoto Musashi, but also several other “tier 1” Japanese swordsmen of his age. Two of whom were Swordsmasters to the Shogun, and equally certifiably BAMFs as Musashi. (One, another author appearing on this list, could be argued to have been “greater.” I’ll ‘splain in his article.)
Takuan Sōhō authored hundreds of essays, poems, and letters. The most famous of which is counted as the single greatest treatise on Samurai Warrior Psychology (and I’d argue *all* warriors’ Psychology) ever penned: The Unfettered Mind. The fact that you can probably fill a high school football stadium with the number of people who have ever read it notwithstanding, it is a fantastically insightful read.
However. This book is…dense. And difficult not only to read, but to “get.” The difficulty isn’t in the translation from Japanese to English, but in the very difficult and specific Zen and Kenjutsu terminology–which it supposedly tries to avoid–and concepts. This book is absolute mandatory reading for anyone trying to track with this kind of Psychology.
And by Psychology…I don’t just mean “how to think.” This book, as you bite off the tiny pieces and chew on them for days, covers all the itty bitty little spaces between learning and doing. Runs you so far down rabbit holes on “mind” and “muscles” that by the time you finish a section, you’ll be ready to start that whole chapter over again to try to understand it.
I’ll be honest here: The first time I read this book, it felt like reading a math book. And I was already years into traditional Japanese martial arts. Don’t let that shit stop you. If this is your lane, or cup of tea… hit this bitch full force. Keep a copy in your pocket and read bits and pieces as you can.
I’m not Cliff, and I ain’t giving you my notes, but the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) on this book is threefold:
1. Technique versus self, and self versus self during any confrontation; how the individual “mind” (self, self and technique; the tool used in the technique is an extension of the self) can work to become “one.”
2. Self versus other; and how that “other,” ultimately, is also a component of that complete “one” mentioned in 1.
3. Human nature; how to identify what is selflessness; death (or, and how to die).
So, basically, big brain shit.
Takuan, as I mentioned, was an influence, to some extent or another, on dudes that ended up being influential on all of Japanese culture. So, his ideas managed to ease their way into just about every corner of Warrior society–Zen or not. And, Takuan’s influence is one dominant reason why everyone who doesn’t know better equates *all* Japanese Warrior stuff to Zen stuff. Which, is about as farcical as you can get. Some schools and individuals buy in, most don’t (or haven’t). But this was what Takuan specifically had in mind for this work: To show that Zen stuff and Sword stuff were mutually interchangable. (And, honestly, until you dig into the weeds, it is.)
Since there are two dudes on this list that were *heavily* influenced by Takuan’s concepts and ideas–and Takuan himself is also on this list–you can see that a serious majority of the *published* (remember, kids, most of this shit is locked up in Eyes Only scrolls and word of mouth instruction) stuff on this topic is going to include “Takuanisms.” (I just made that word up, be careful using it.)
This is the only work of its kind on the Psychology of “The Sword.” By extension, the Psychology of Combat.
I would not only recommend this book to modern warriors, but I would call it absofuckinglutely mandatory for anyone involved in the deep dark places of technical death-dealing.
Have at it, killers. I had to stop occasionally and color, just to keep shit balanced.
Featured image courtesy of Terebess.
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