The Iaido Journal  Jan 2014
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Gorin no Sho 4:
Chapter 2 Water
Part 1

copyright © 2014 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved.

Chapter 2; Water

I’ll write about the logic of the sword in this chapter, dealing with the heart of the hyoho of “Ni Ten Ichi Ryu”, using water as a model, to find the way of victory. I can’t describe this way in detail as my heart pleases. Even if I can’t continue in words, you will understand the logic yourself naturally. What I write in here, each point to each point, each word to each word, you should consider seriously. With a rough or hasty estimate, it will result in going the wrong way. In terms of the logic of hyoho, even if it's described as a match of one person to one person, imagine it as a war of 10,000 versus 10,000, the point is, you should be able to imagine the big picture. In this particular way, if you chose the wrong way or lose the way to go, you will fall within an evil (wrong) way.

[Using water as a good example we'll talk about winning by the hyoho of Niten Ichiryu. Avoid going the wrong way in your practice by reading carefully and keeping the big picture in mind.]


Why would Musashi choose water as his way to describe his school? The obvious answer is that all schools are a flow, a "stream" of knowledge that moves down through the generations as a river moves down from its source through the landscape. Something that a river does which a school should also do is to accumulate water as it moves along, to become larger and deeper. It is a sad river indeed that gets smaller as it moves along, such a river is likely trying to live in a desert.

The key feature which Musashi introduces here in his first point is the idea of being able to apply his teachings to bouts with one or ten thousand. He would like his student to see the large in the small, to see the ocean in a drop of water.

Read and understand all of this book and make it your own without simply looking through and mimicking, then make it your own belief and principles, as if you found them from your own mind.

Always remember them and study (invent and research) them well.

[Don't just glance at this, understand it and make it your own.]


There is a concept in the arts called Shu Ha Ri which means something like keep, break and leave. While I have heard it described as to mimic your teacher, break away from him and found your own ryu, this is a very selfish and shallow understanding of the concept. The point is to imitate the movements of each kata for as long as you have to (shu), until you can understand them (break them down into their basic components, ha), and then leave the kata behind and go on to the next one, or to the next level of understanding for that kata (ri). There is no need to leave the school or to invent something new if you truly make the instruction your own. In fact, it's always better to "dance with the one what brung ya", if the school was good enough to bring you to an understanding of budo, it will likely be good enough for your students.

While Musashi uses carpentry for his explanation, I'll use cooking to explain this concept a bit further. A chef may go to a cooking school or apprentice under a chef. While there he will receive a recipe which is the kata of that art form. The recipe may be unique to that line of cooking or it may be similar to other recipes but the chef will teach the student how he makes it and how he makes it his own. The student will follow the recipe as closely as possible, hopefully to make the dish as well as the chef makes it (shu), eventually the student will figure out what is in the recipe and why it's there, he will come to understand what makes the dish unique, what gives it the distinct flavour (ha). Now the student is free to improvise on the recipe, to use different ingredients which still keep the original flavour but add something a bit different (ri). This is how a cooking school becomes deeper and richer, as the student will pass along his teacher's recipe and his own understanding of how it can be made.

Note that in cooking and in budo the understanding of the components is important but it is not enough to recreate a recipe or a kata. It is the way they are combined, the timing of their addition, the quantity and the quality of each one that gives the desired and distinctive result. Even in simple recipes or kata the few parts can be put together in different ways to create different results.

The Preparation (Attitude, Intention or Mood) of Hyoho

Hyoho kokoro mochi

For the way of hyoho, the preparation has to be the "same as usual" (normal). In the normal situation or during the practice of hyoho, without changing to any degree, have your mind wide and straight, don’t pull it tight, don’t give it too much play, in order to keep it impartial, place it (your mind) at the center of your being, gentle and calm. Even if you are being gentle and calm in your mind, you have to practice well not to stop being like that at any moment. If you move gently, your mind should not be gentle but if you move hard or quick, your mind has to be gentle. Don’t let your mind be distracted by your movement or your movement be distracted by your mind. Even if your mind pays attention (or gives a lot of care to something), your body shouldn’t do so. Don’t let your mind be clumsy (or pay scant attention) but don’t give your mind too much play. Even if your mind appears weak or sheepish, you must be strong from the bottom of your heart, and not be seen through the mind by others (don't reveal your real intention).

[Your practice should be the same as usual, normal. Your mind should be calm while your body is active and your mind should be active when your body is still, keep it all in balance. Don't get distracted and don't give away your intentions.]


The "same as usual" means that all is practice. Later Musashi mentions that you should walk as you always walk. This means you walk the same whether you are in battle or walking down the street, so they both work when you need them. Matsuo Haruna sensei was also my iaido instructor as well as my first Niten Ichiryu sensei and I once asked him how his iaido changed between practice and tournaments. He said "it doesn't". Thinking I knew it all I said "so you practice each day as if you're in a tournament, you should treat each kata as if it's your last kata".

"No" he said, "in the dojo, in a demonstration, a grading, a tournament, it's practice". It's all practice, there isn't any difference. If you think you must practice "as if" you're in a tournament you are making a distinction between practice and tournament. There is none, it is all practice, it is all one, this is the place you must arrive at eventually.

There is a saying "sei chu do, do chu sei". It means calm in action, action in calm. When your body is active, your mind should be calm, when your body is calm you should keep your mind active. This balance is one part of what Musashi is saying here. The other is the concept of Fushin and Fudoshin, of a mind frozen in concentration on something that is happening, as compared to a mind which is free to deal with whatever is happening. The "immovable" mind is one that is not captured and dragged around by events or thoughts, the "frozen" mind is one that is stuck like your tongue to cold metal, it will drag you to places you may not wish to go.

If you are a small guy, you should know (study) all about the intentions of big hearted guys well, if you are a big guy, you should know about the intentions of small hearts well, thus no matter if you are small or big, have your heart straight. It is essential to try not to have too much confidence in yourself.

[If you're small, know how big guys act, if you're big, know how small guys act. Try not to be overconfident.]


To know means not only to understand but to be able to do. No matter what the size of your opponent you must be able to match their timing, to match the size of their swing so that you can break their timing. An iaido sensei I watched many years ago was a small fellow with a small sword but had a swing that seemed to be as large as my own (and I would be one of the "big guys" mentioned above).

Don't be overconfident, don't rely on your own timing, you have to pay attention to the other person. When thinking about iaido, which is mostly practiced solo, it is difficult to overcome your own timing. In this case you must match your timing to sensei when he's leading a group kata, or steal timing from fellow students. In partner kata such as Niten Ichiryu it is important to practice with many partners so that you can adapt to and understand many timings.

Don’t let your mind become muddy or foul, keep it wide (broad and open), and think from a high place (put an ideal at a high place in your mind). It is important that you brush up your mind and ideals well. Brushing up your ideals, understand (master) the principals (the rights and wrongs) of the world, know the good and bad of things, try various skills and experience their ways. After you become resistant to being cheated by people you meet in public, then you will achieve the right way to judge in your mind, the mind of hyoho. In the knowledge of hyoho, there are many different things.

On the battlefield, it is very busy at all times, even so, judge using the principals of hyoho (the way of strategy), and train hard to achieve a steady (firm and calm) mind.

[Keep a clear head, think about things carefully and know your own mind. When you are no longer fooled by others you will understand hyoho. The battlefield is very busy but you have to think clearly and calmly.]


Many stories depict Musashi as a thug, but he was far from it. While writing this book he was a retainer of the Hosokawa and was writing for "gentlemen" and was recommending high ideals. Here he is also pointing out that you must have a clear mind, and a realistic view whether on the battlefield or in your daily life. You must know yourself and know your situation.

The Appearance of Hyoho

hyoho no minari

The posture of the body is not to look downward, not to hang or bend down the face and head, not to look upward, not to be distorted, not to look around or stare about restlessly, not to gather the skin at your forehead, but rather at the middle of your forehead, to knit the brow. Do not move your eyeballs around or do any blinking, instead make your eyes narrow, make a quiet, calm expression. Straighten your nose line and stick out your chin slightly. Straighten the back line of your neck, put power at the nape, then put power all over the body from the shoulders and down both shoulders evenly. Straighten the back, but don't stick out the butt. Put power from the knees to the toes, Throw out the stomach in order not to bend the hip, squeeze the ‘kusabi', push your stomach into your wakizashi saya, so as not to loosen the obi, this is the doctrine of squeezing the ‘kusabi’. This is all about the posture, the appearance of hyoho, make your usual posture the posture of ‘hyoho (in the battle)’, and make your posture in the battle your usual posture. You should train and study this very hard.

[Look straight ahead calmly, without blinking and concentrate. Stand up straight and maintain a good posture with power where you need it. Make this a natural posture and use it all the time.]


This passage is quite technical. You just make your normal posture your battle posture and vice versa. This means you should keep the same attitude in all cases. There is a proper posture that fits both situations, and that posture is not sloppy. A posture that is too relaxed is dangerous, but a special combat posture will be unnatural. Keep the face straight forward, bending it down or up means that you are breaking your balance. The hips should be kept under the shoulders, the head above the shoulders, the feet under the hips. The calves should be kept ready to drive the body forward. The concept of kusubi is a description of how to move from the hips, keeping the legs strong and the shoulders relaxed but powerful. Chapters could be written about this posture and the words here should be considered carefully.

The eyes must of course blink or they will dry out and become damaged, but when in a critical situation you should not blink. Try looking at something at one distance, blink and at the same time focus on something a bit closer. You will find that you lose sight while you are blinking, and also during the time it takes to refocus after the blink. You can miss the swing of a sword during this time.

The ‘Me tsu ke’ of Hyoho

hyoho no metsuke

The way of looking at, is to make the eyes big and wide. There are two ways of seeing, the first one, "kan" is to observe, to see with the eyes of your mind. Kan has to be strong. The second way, "ken" is to look with the physical eyes, and this has to be weaker. Look at the far places closely, and look at the closer places farther, this is the essence of how to look at things from the way of hyoho. Know the opponent’s tachi, but do not be mislead by his sword, this is the importance of hyoho, you have to work on this with great effort.

[Look at everything. Look with your mind and your eyes, mostly with your mind. Try to see details when looking far away, and try to see the whole picture when you're up close. Don't get caught up in details like looking at a sword, look at the whole situation instead.]


This section is very important and it has been used and re-used by other schools and instructors for many years. You can look, but you can also look into or look beneath. You can see and you can understand. The two ways of seeing can be the difference between anticipation and reaction, between being fooled or not. You must always ask yourself what you are really seeing. Watch his sword but don't be led into danger by its movement.

But kan and ken are not two different things, they have to be one and the same. "You can't see the forest for the trees" means that you can get too caught up in the details, too concerned with what's happening at the micro level. On the other hand you could "have your head stuck in the clouds" which means that while looking at the big picture you could miss the details. You could walk off a cliff while looking at the mountains. A balance is necessary, and practice in kan and ken is possible at all times. When driving a car you can practice seeing the car in front "ken" while also seeing what that car is about to do "kan" regardless of blinkers and other such often-misleading signals.

This “Metsuke” is no matter of small hyoho (battle) or big hyoho, this is the same thing. To look to both sides without moving the eye balls, this is very important. Like many of these things, when we are in a busy situation, it is very difficult to master. Remember and learn from this book, pay attention and remind yourself to practice. Use “Metsuke” in your daily life and you should practice and study “Metsuke” so that it does not change in any situation.

[This seeing isn't a matter of details and big picture, tactics and strategy, it's all the same. Widen your gaze without moving your eyes. This is hard, take it all in at a glance during your daily life so you can do it when things get busy.]


We call this looking to both sides without moving the eyes "enzan no metsuke" or looking at the far mountains. This is an important skill to learn and it works because our eyes move in and out as we focus near or far. Look at the tip of your nose and you go cross-eyed.

As you look at things further and further away your eyes move apart and your peripheral vision improves. Look slightly down and it improves even more. Learn, while practicing, to catch things "in the corner of your eye" and deal with them.

The Way to Hold Tachi

Tachi no mochiyo

The way to hold the tachi. Hold the sword by using the fingers with the feeling of putting half power into each of the thumb and index finger, and do not squeeze (but do not loosen) the middle finger then squeeze the third finger and pinky finger. In the palm, it is not good if there is any space. Hold the sword with a feeling like you are going to kill the opponents. Even if you are in position to kill the opponents, hold the sword the same way, without any space in the palm, and hold it so as not to be cowering or flinching.

When you hit or slap with the sword, when you receive or push down the opponent’s sword, you may change the pressure on only the thumb and index fingers, making them a bit stronger. In any case, hold the sword ready to cut. The way to hold the sword is as when you do ‘Tameshigiri’ (test cutting) or when you are on the battlefield, it is not different when you cut people. However, in general it is not good to fix the grip for the hand or to fix the sword. Fixing the hand makes a dead hand. A flexible hand is a live hand.

You should consider this well.


This section is also quoted often. Tenouchi is to bring the sword into the palm of the hand. Shibori is to put a bit more grip into the thumb and index finger while cutting. By doing this you make your grip flexible and alive, not dead. You don't need to change your grip any more than you need to change your posture or your way of seeing. Make it flexible and natural.

The Way of Using the Foot (How to Walk or Footwork)


How to take a step. Lift the toes slightly up and put the weight on the heal strongly. The use of the foot depends on the situation, big step or small step slow step or fast step, however, the usage is the same as normal walking. There are three bad steps, the flying step (quick footwork), floating step (heel up, on the toes) and stomping step. There is an important way of stepping in this category called “in-yo” this is essential. “In-yo” is not to use only one foot when cutting, when pulling, when receiving, but at any time to use the right foot and then left foot, right foot and then left foot (make a shuffling step to recover). Again, do not make a step using only one leg.

You have to research this and practice hard.


Walking should be the same as normal, nothing special. Keep your way of walking the same so that you are always practicing. Musashi mentions three bad steps, flying, floating and stamping. While we may have no clue what he meant by these three steps, we can assume he meant that special steps are not a good idea. If you keep the toes light, and tread firmly with the heel, you are keeping your foot in good contact with the ground. It is not, however, advisable to slam the heel into the ground with a locked knee and then roll down onto the sole. Anyone who has walked on ice will know the problem with this. Instead, think about this as a recommendation not to dig in the toes, and not to get your heel too far off the ground. When walking this way it means that you keep your foot close to the ground, and you push off with the area just behind the ball of the foot. This means that you can move without a preparatory motion, without settling down onto the heel in order to activate the calf muscles before driving the hips forward. Using the foot like this means that you are protected from slipping, or even perhaps, breaking through a rotten plank in a bridge, and that you have a good grip at all times.

The inyo method is also important when thinking back to the correct posture. If you were to step forward with only one foot your stance would become wider, your hips would be twisted, and various other things about your posture would change. If, instead, you brought your back foot up after stepping forward you would maintain your posture in the ready position. You would be able to act and react in any direction. The bringing up of the back foot is often called okuri ashi. We won't walk this way, it is a bit inefficient and unnecessary when simply going from one place to another, but we will move in this way when within range of the opponent. Note that Musashi says that it is the way to step while cutting, pulling or receiving.

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