We are away on holiday at the moment and for some reason the TV in our room seems to default to NHK. We watched a programme about Japanese pottery and how both professional and amateur potters lose themselves in the process of its creation.
Reflecting on this aspect of the Japanese arts, pottery is far from unique. Painting, calligraphy, flower arranging, the tea ceremony and numerous other arts and crafts are as much about correct mental attitude as they are about the end product. The zen martial arts share this quest for mushin (the state of no-mind). Kyudo is perhaps the best example where the accuracy of the arrow is less important than the mindset of the archer.
Kendo shares this vision, with kenshi aiming to produce the perfect waza at exactly the right moment, without relying on conscious thought or planning. This is more easily said than done. Most people learn kendo through instruction, imitation and repetition, but nevertheless need to think hard about the correct timing and opportunity to use a technique. Complex ojiwaza or renzoku waza require even more forethought.
Whenever a kendo student receives new advice, even if it is a simple comment on the spacing of his or her feet or the height to which the hands should be raised prior to striking this causes a need for a major rethink. This is one of the reasons why I am reluctant to give anything more than tactical advice prior to a grading examination.
The route to mushin does not come from thought and reasoning, it comes from constant repetition. I have mentioned on numerous occasions, both in this blog and in after keiko chats, that Chiba Masashi sensei used to practice a continuous set of 3000 suburi every day. Those of you who have attempted just a few hundred will appreciate the effort that this involves. As a result of this hard work, anyone who has ever seen him in action will be aware that the time it took for his shinai to move from jodan to his opponent’s kote did not leave time for thought.
Most of us will never have time to do 3000 suburi a day, nor do we stand a chance of becoming another Chiba sensei, but if we do aspire to reach a state of no-mind in our keiko, the answer lies in constant repetition of the basics. It is of course worth reading up on the theory, but the way to satori is through hard slog