The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts by Issai Chozanshi

“How could there be no one else in the world who knows what I know? Secret things are for the sake of beginners. If they were not kept secret, beginners would not believe in them. This is one of the expedients of teaching. Thus, the things that are kept secret are just the tail-ends of techniques. They are not in some deep principle. Beginners understand nothing, listen arbitrarily, grasp things poorly, and decide ‘This is it!’ on their own. So contrary to what you might expect, they cause damage when they speak with others.”

I rarely read any book twice, this one I have read many times, and will read many more.

The book is a discussion on the nature of martial arts and self transformation through an understanding of the principles of yin and yang and the development of ki. It begins with a collection of short parables on life from a Taoist perspective. It then moves on to the main body of work, which is a discourse delivered by a group of Tengu on swordsmanship and its deeper meaning and significance. (Do not know what a Tengu is? Shame on you!). The final section is another parable, this time about a cat, a master of wu wei.

The premise of the book is that the purpose of swordsmanship is the discovery of your true self nature and that to learn martial arts simply to become a master of technique is to miss the point. That is not to say that mastery of technique is not vital to the process, rather that it is not the essential telos of Budo. The Tengus’ discussions point the way to achieving this ultimate goal.

What Chozanshi has provided us with, is a Taoist handbook on martial arts; I recommend it be read by everyone.

Some quotes chosen at random:

“Swordsmanship is the practical application of the self-nature of the essence of the mind. Coming, it has no form; going, leaves no trace.”

“Technique is given life by principle; what is without form is the basis of what has form. Thus it is the order of things that technique is trained by means of ch’i, and that ch’i is trained by means of the mind.”

“When your spirit is settled and your ch’i integrated, when your action and response comes with No-Mind and techniques follow naturally, you will have reached the deepest principles.”

“The person without desire who simply exerts everything he has will have no empty space to be struck.”

Sensei Eacott

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