It IS, whether named or not
And no name can fully describe it, though we call it Tao
Without names it is the Whole, the formless
Named, it is the ten thousand things, the forms
Form and formless, neither and both,
Mystery upon mystery, the gate of perception.
“It IS, whether named or not”
The nature of swordsmanship can only ever be partially described. Only those who have inquired deeply have felt all words drop away and felt the inadequacy of the usual distinctions applied to the sword and its use. Even the preference of the object we call a sword is a limiting distinction that leaves us at a disadvantage when circumstance calls for a bow, or spear, or perhaps even a kind word to serve whatever the situation presents to us. If we had no idea of style or fixed techniques, some would still excel with the sword, because swordsmanship does not necessarily arise from styles and fixed techniques. Those are only tools to help perceive the principles of swordsmanship in action (and in fact, the principles of the Universe itself), and are meant to be means not ends. Too often, we confuse our descriptions of reality with the actual reality we are an inextricable participant in, and are correspondingly frustrated when what actually happens doesn’t match what we told ourselves should happen. Only by accepting the indescribability of what is actually real and being comfortable not having to describe it to ourselves, can we escape the compelling trap of seeing only a self-flattering ghost of the world. Once we let go and surrender our poorly informed ideas about the world and really look at it for what it Is, without judging what we see, we can become a real part of reality as it happens and begin to see deeply into What’s Going On. We stop building walls to protect ourselves and instead can reach out and truly Learn what’s around us. This attitude is critical to the deeper pursuit of swordsmanship.
“And no name can fully describe it, though we call it Tao”
Words are only pale, thin images of the reality of swordsmanship. A list of techniques can hardly be confused with the deepest mysteries of sword, but still people get stuck in certain forms and expressions of swordsmanship. A description of a sword fight can hardly reflect the real workings of one’s mind and body when life and death are finely balanced. Even a well-trained practical knowledge of the entire body of technique found in any of the venerable lineages is no guarantee of Understanding. What arises from that empty moment before the first strike comes is something much greater than mere technique, and yet it is far more simple and quiet than the most refined forms of the Masters. Those styles that keep secret techniques and forms for their highest levels of achievement have fundamentally misunderstood the progression towards embodied principles. The adept should be actively dropping and abandoning the study of fixed technique as they progress, beginning finally to trust what they’ve learned and letting the principles express themselves spontaneously and appropriately to the situation.
“Without names it is the Whole, the formless
Named, it is the ten thousand things, the forms”
If we watch a true Master in action, it is immediately apparent to most that they have penetrated the mysteries of their craft. We need know nothing of the particulars of their style or method to recognize true understanding of principles being expressed. In this case we see the completeness of what they’re doing, precisely because we are not blinded by various details and distinctions, which give rise to our own petty judgements. In a Master, Technique and Principle are in proper relationship with each other; the understanding of Principles generating Techniques appropriate to the particular situation. To compare this process with speech, long training in technique provides the vocabulary, but deep understanding of principle is the expression of ideas with that vocabulary in a fashion that communicates something more than just words.
In this case, the “names” are not just labels, but the actual fixed body of techniques and forms that a style uses to distinguish itself from other styles. By separating ourselves from others, we retreat from Completeness. If the reality of the universe is Oneness, by pursuing Separateness we are committing to an unnatural course of action, and by doing so, we fight the very fabric of the universe itself with our every action. Following this course of Separation, we are literally swimming against the current in a swiftly flowing river, which is generally exhausting and frustrating.
It should be remembered, however, that without technique of some sort, Principle has nothing with which it can be expressed. While the Whole of swordsmanship is in reality only what happens at any given moment, to truly excel, one must have developed a vocabulary to effectively express whatever ideas are demanded by the present circumstance. Principle is useless without the ability to take perceptible action in the world, and that ability is provided by technique.
To return to our analogy of the conversation, we can express certain ideas with formless sounds, grunts, pointing, or in other non-verbal ways, but this is generally quite a limited way to communicate, especially when the message to be communicated is complex or difficult. Only with a thorough grasp of our language and the words it uses, can we create poetry, or communicate fine details or nuances. But we must never forget that our goal in doing so is Communication. Any language can do that very effectively, though each guides the minds of its speakers accordingly. We would be fools to think that somehow our language was the only one that Communicates, or that our words are somehow deeper or more meaningful than those of others. For us, they may be, but not for everyone. Sometimes we can drop our language entirely and just point at the moon without having to say a thing. We all know what we’re looking at in that moment, even if our words differ profoundly.
- Contrast using known techniques against standard attacks with allowing spontaneous responses to arise. Work slowly. Use known partner drills but don’t begin a technique, even in your mind, until the attack actually develops. Pretend your partner’s techniques will be brand new, and that you’ve never seen them before. What does your body want to do? What does your training tell you to do? Is there something else you can try?
- Start with closed eyes. When you open your eyes, have your partner attack immediately without giving you a chance to think. Try to empty your mind of predictions and planning. Do not respond with a pre-selected technique; instead try to come up with a fresh response directly related to the attack as it happens in real time. Trust yourself to open your eyes, see what attack is coming, and respond appropriately. Don’t anticipate, but rather be completely open to what your eyes see as they open. See what techniques create themselves. See what techniques arise that you have trained extensively.