Outside of Miyamoto Musashi, Takuan Soho (1573 - 1645 A.D.) remains in my mind the most approachable of the Japanese writers on martial arts. This is a remarkable statement as Soho was himself a Zen monk and not a martial artist, yet his best known works - The Annals of the Sword Taia, The Mysterious Record of Unmovable Wisdom, The Clear Sound of Jewels - make up the work known as The Unfettered Mind. Some writers that I have read from the Sengoku period and later are confusing and cloud their discussion of the practice of martial arts in phrases and techniques I cannot understand; Soho's works are clear and applicable (Yamaoka Tesshu, a former samurai and writer in the Meiji era, also falls into this second category).
How often, then, do I choose to follow The World rather that The Way?
The Way (Dao or Tao in Chinese, Do in Japanese 道)can mean many things. In Japanese culture many things have a "Way": The Way of Tea, The Way of Flower Arranging, The Way of the Sword). And of course in Western culture, "The Way" was the original referral to Christians. In all cases it suggests that there is a particular path to follow in the quest of reaching to the essence of the activity.
The perfect and flawless Iai technique is the one where the draw, the cut, and the sheathing happens in one extended motion. To reach that point, one must move beyond just the mechanical practice of understanding how to apply the technique and reach in to find the spirit of it. Once the spirit of anything is understood, one can apply it in any situation.
And yet, how often I find myself pulled from my own ways to the ways of the world.
The way of the world is broad. It demands little from us: no sacrifice, no thought, just a sort of bland acceptance of what is presented to us. In return, it grants a sort of blissful well being which is often just a fingernail's length deep: look to the way of the world in times of crisis or challenge and you will often find nothing but parroted phrases and wishful thinking that does not sustain us.
The Way demands more of us; in fact it demands all, although we do not always realize it at the time we set out on it. At some point in my journey in Iai, I made the conscious decision that I would dedicate myself to it instead of it and other martial art practices. A man can only master a few things, perhaps only one in his lifetime.
We must choose.
I write to those who - at least so far as I perceive of you through your comments here and other places - have already committed to a Way, in whatever form or fashion you practice it. I can only hope that I can achieve your levels of commitment.
For all of us, if we would follow The Way, we must turn our back on the world.