The Iaido Journal  Feb 2012
Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here

Gorin no Sho 2:
Chapter 1 continued

copyright © 2012 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved.

I'm going to divide this book into 5 chapters

Kono hyoho no sho kokan ni shitatsuru koto

I am dividing the ways into 5 chapters and making them complete individually in order to make it easier to understand the logic. I'm going to write these 5 categories as  "Chi (ground or earth)", "Mizu (water)", "Hi (fire)", "Kaze (wind)" and "Kuh (sky or heaven)".

Chapter of Ground (Chi)

In the chapter "Chi", I talk about the whole frame of hyoho and analyze my own way of using the sword. If I only write about the skills of the sword, it is difficult to convey the true logic of  swordsmanship. Discovering the small details within the larger schemes, reach the deeper meaning from the shallow (basic) learning.  The first chapter is compared to a line, a configuration of a straight way, thus I named it "Chi".

[The first section concerns my way of sword. This is not only technique, I will also explain my theory. From theory you will discover the particular details, and from the details you should be able to extrapolate the theory.]

A school has a set of principles at the core which shape the techniques and make them all hang together. This first chapter is the outline of the core principles of Musashi's school.

Modern schools (those founded or invented recently) often tend to be a collection of techniques taken from different schools. In the worst cases that's all they ever are, but some have an underlying framework. An example of this is the Zen Ken Ren Iai (All Japan Kendo Federation iaido) which has a set of 12 iai kata taken from different schools. In this case the way to move, the posture, and attitude of Kendo is used while practicing the set and so it has an overall unified feeling and theory to it.

Were old schools originally founded the same way, as a set of techniques from here and there that got smoothed out as similarities of movement were found between them and the rough (sticking out) edges smoothed off? Perhaps. Others perhaps were founded from a single principle and maybe a couple of kata and were then expanded over the years and generations, always keeping to the same principles of movement. In most cases that I know of, old schools tend to end up with a unified feeling and a comfortable number of kata, enough to be interesting and take several years to master, but not too many to keep in practice for someone with a job.

The Second: Chapter of Water (Mizu)

Suppose that water is a model, make your own heart like water. Water follows the shape of cups whether round or square, it can be converted to be a drop and can be the mighty ocean. Think of the depth of blue water, the pureness of it, I write about my style (fashion, my way of using the sword) by comparing it to water in this chapter. The logic of the complete way of the sword is that if you can master it and defeat an enemy freely (in your own way, as you like) you will be able to defeat all the enemies in the whole world.  The attitude needed to conquer others can apply to conquering ten millions of enemies. The way of strategy of generals is to judge the whole aspect from smaller aspects, as when you erect a huge statue of Buddha from a 1-inch figure.  It is difficult to write down these detailed models. Get thousands of pieces of information from one thing, this is the advantage of hyoho. I explain my style in this chapter of water.

[Water is a good model to follow, it adapts to any situation. I'm going to use water as an example of how to extrapolate from fighting one person to fighting thousands]


The basic techniques of Musashi's school are found here. All students start by learning the physical shape of the school, the basic movements. These are like a scale model, or like architectural plans, the pattern from which the actual school is built by each student.

Eventually each student makes their own school from the common kata, just as different sculptors would make their own statues from a single model, or each painter would make a different picture from the same subject matter.

The Third: Hi, Chapter of Fire

In this chapter, I'm going to write about the fight. Fire can change and be changed, it can be small or big, it has a tremendously big power and considering this, I write about battles. The logic (way) of battles, from an individual match to a match of thousands versus thousands is the same logic. You should think about making your mind bigger and also smaller.  It is easy to see the big aspect. However, it is not easy to see the small, detailed aspects. It is not difficult to predict the direction of things that are committed using large numbers of people, because it is difficult to change their movement suddenly. In contrast, things that are done by one person, because they can be changed quickly by that one mind, are very difficult to predict. The transition is unpredictable.

This has to be researched well.

In this chapter of fire, fighting is finished quickly, so you must train everyday, always thinking about it and having great presence of mind. This is the essence of hyoho. Therefore, I'm going to write about battles and duels.

[Fights are considered in the fire chapter. Fire can change from large to small suddenly as can battles. Consider large fights and small ones, with large numbers of people it's easy to predict their movements because they can't change their directions quickly, but with an individual the changes in movement can be fast and unpredictable. Fights happen (and finish) quickly so train every day]


There are two basic ways to learn anything, from the specifics to the general theory and from the general to the specifics. The best instructors use both methods.

In this case Musashi is teaching from the specific in Chapter 2, and from the situation, or from the general case in Chapter 3. In this case the idea is to understand a situation and choose the correct techniques (kata or as some say, waza or technique within the kata), it's one step beyond learning the kata in that the student must pick and choose their responses to the situation based on the techniques learned previously during kata practice.

The techniques of Niten Ichiryu are short, sharp and simple. Musashi states that fights are also short, sharp and over quickly. He talks about flowery and flashy techniques (presumably including long kata) elsewhere.

The Fourth; Kaze, Chapter of Wind

I write this chapter as the chapter of wind (style), and I write about hyoho in the world and other styles but not about my own style.  In terms of kaze (style),  there are old styles, new styles, other house's (school's) styles and so on. I'll write about the styles of the world and their substances clearly. This is the chapter of wind. Without knowing other styles, you won't completely understand your own style. In all things there are other ways and contrary ways. No matter whether we practice a way everyday, if the substance of what we practiced was wrong, even if we believe it's right, when we see it from the true angle, it won't be the right way. If we didn't master the true way, even if you think it was just a small warp in your board, later on it will lead to a big warp.

We should study (research) this well.

In other schools, hyoho means only "the way of the sword", and it is natural that people think like that. However, in my style I don't limit it to only the way of the sword. I'll write the chapter of wind dealing with other styles, to make their substance clear.

[In the wind chapter I talk about other styles clearly. If you don't know the other styles your education is lacking and you could be practicing incorrectly. I don't limit my teaching to swordsmanship alone.]


The idea that you must know other schools in order to understand your own is an important one. You can study your own school deeply but seeing how it's done another way can reveal things about your own school that might otherwise remain hidden.

Examining other ways can also point out problems in your own practice. It can even be of benefit to one school to practice another. Many years ago I was in a jodo seminar with some instructors from Japan. One of the instructors helping us asked me "you do iaido don't you?" I answered yes and he said, "the posture is the same". To my fellow student he said "you do kendo don't you" and he answered yes. "The grip is the same". To both of us it was as if a light had come on over our heads.

While it is useful to know where other schools have got it wrong, don't overlook places where they can help you get it right in your own practice.

The Fifth; Kuh, Chapter of Sky

I illustrate this chapter as the sky. Due to the substance of the sky, there are no questions like "what is deep inside" or "where is the entrance". Accomplish all you can with logic and reason, and then leave logic behind. It is a naturally free way of acting in hyoho and it will lead to a distinguished performance. According to the situation, you will know when there is a chance, when it is a bet and when to try, naturally. This is all the way of "Kuh". Think about these words to enter the true way naturally in this chapter of "Kuh".

[When looking at the sky you don't ask how deep it is or where is the entrance, you can see it is empty. Do all you can with reason and logic, then leave it. This way you will know when you have a chance and when it's a gamble.]


Musashi splits his book into five chapters which reflect the sequence of learning:

Shu: 1. Chi, earth, the overall framework and introduction of Nito Ichiryu. 2. Mizu, water, the Nito Ichiryu, his own sword school. Here he reminds us to keep in mind the details and the big picture, to think of one on one fights and large battles.

Ha: 3. Hi, fire, the fight itself, strategy, seeing into things. The large picture is easy to manage because it changes slowly, the small is hard. 4. Kaze, wind, the characteristics of other sword schools.

Ri: 5. Kuh, sky, what's beyond rationalization, letting go of the kata.

I discuss Shu Ha Ri a little later.

More specifically, after an introduction (this chapter) Musashi outlines four levels of understanding, the first is to learn techniques, which will mean the student has to hunt around for a place to use the kata. Next the student learns about situations and will hunt through a set of tools to see what would work. In the third case the student can look at how other people do it, in the hope of finding out what works and what doesn't. Finally, one is so immersed in the art/craft that one doesn't think about it. The right tools and the right materials fall naturally to hand as you need them.

Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here