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Paul Sanderson-Cimino
08-11-2003, 02:43 PM
I was looking for some thoughts on what I consider an enigmatic phrase, satsujinken/katsujinken, which I'm told is translated along the lines of "the sword that takes life/the sword that gives life". (I've also seen it as 'setsu nin to', as it is in the aikiweb language section...not being a Japanese speaker, I'm unsure of the significance.)

I remember my sensei used a little symbolism when he spoke about this, as he often did on the first or second day of class. He'd bring a sharp knife with a somewhat intimidating look to it into the dojo, along with an apple. I hope I'm not mis-recording the demonstration.

He'd say that if you have a knife, you could use it to cut someone, and do a lot of damage (perhaps against someone seeking to take that apple), or you could turn the blade to the apple, cutting it in half to share, and create harmony.

He would then pause, and do something that I found a little confusing at the time and quite significant later on. He'd display the knife, and say, "Same knife. The exact same knife." (meaning that the knife can be either the blade that takes life, or the sword that gives life.)

He'd also use the example of ikkajo, noting that during the takedown, it is possible to simply smash uke's elbow joint and toss him aside, but instead, aikido teaches being gradual and firm enough that they have a 'way out' - in this case, moving to the ground.

It seems like it has superficial meaning as 'Oh, you can hurt people, or be nice to them', but I think it's more than a cute, 'Oooh, that's all spiritual and stuff!' phrase. I can think of a lot of angles to consider it by, and imagine that others may similarly be inspired by the phrase.

My most basic interpretation was that by cutting the apple, symbolically one is using the same skill that one could use martially to destroy the opponent to radically change, perhaps destroy, one's initial plan - in this case, having a whole apple to oneself - and take up a new plan that can accomodate another person. It's not the same as just handing them the apple, or slashing at them with the knife to drive them off.

I think this quote is intriguing because it seems to be a thought-provoking phrase which questions not just how to study aikido, but why we do. I hope I'm not just provoking clichees, but personally, I'm of the opinion that 'clichee' is itself an over-used concept in today's novelty-focused world.

I was especially curious if anyone could shed some light on the origin of this saying. (I know there are some astute historians here.)

Also, an interesting essay I found:
http://www.blackbeltmag.com/archives/kki/1986/jan86/satsujinken/satsujunken.html

There is also of course an entry in the Language section.

Yes, from 'Black Belt Magazine''s website. I know that's fairly disreputable, but hey, I just googled it. ^_-

Don_Modesto
08-14-2003, 12:04 PM
satsujinken/katsujinken--I was especially curious if anyone could shed some light on the origin of this saying.
I'm curious about that myself. I don't have a timeline for the following, but life giving/taking thing has been used as a--

1) metaphor for clarity/delusion in the Indian tradition (see Lishka, Zen and the Creative Process, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 1978, 5/2-3.)

2) way to describe taking or yielding intiative (Karl Friday's book, Legacies of the Sword).

3) metaphor for mercy (as above; see also, Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture for some great intellectual contortions on the subject and Sharf (as a tonic to Suzuki's ethnocentrism and distortions in the History of Religion (?)--a journal, sorry, don't have the reference on hand)

Don_Modesto
08-14-2003, 07:14 PM
(as a tonic to Suzuki's ethnocentrism and distortions in the History of Religion (?)--a journal, sorry, don't have the reference on hand)
Found it.

Sharf, Robert N.; The Zen of Nationalism, History of Relgions, 33:1, 1993.

Excellent read.

Paul Sanderson-Cimino
08-15-2003, 05:32 PM
Thanks for the information, I'll take a look at those.

Kensho Furuya
08-27-2003, 08:23 PM
Hello! "Satsujinken, Katsujinto" is one of the inner teachings of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu School of swordsmanship and was often used by Yagyu Renyasai of the Owari Yagyu Branch of this school and well as by its head, Yagyu Tajima no Kami, fencing instructor to the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu.

It is in the form of a Zen "koan" which a student must ponder. It can be taken literally but it purpose, very briefly, is to put the student into an comtemplative state of mind about his own actions and his attitude. When he is about to cut someone down, it must be in his mind the effect and consequences of his action.

At the same time, this phrase is also intepreted as a landmark transitional point in martial arts moving from the viewpoint of techniques as methods of killing and destruction towards the art as a "life-giving" or more productive or having more spiritual meanings. . . . . A discussion of these words can fill volumes. . . . . .

As a side note, "to" and "ken" are used interchangeable in this phrase. "To" and "ken" both meaning "sword." Hope these tidbits help. . . . . .

Pretoriano
08-28-2003, 01:11 AM
Reverend kensho Furuya my respects,

Question: Wich is the better way for the searcher to deal with a sword with two blades?, is there an advice for to reconcile the always existent opposites? it is valid or recomended to learn to "cut the weed and clean the garden"? on the latter, this should be done naturally, constantly or vigorously?

Last, is there a center state of being (neutral, not affective, imparcial perception) that brings peace to men?

Simple but not simple questions

Thank you in advance,

Praetorian

Manuel Chiquito Anderson

Caracas, Venezuela

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."



Aristotle

Kensho Furuya
08-28-2003, 10:08 AM
Reverend kensho Furuya my respects,

Question: Wich is the better way for the searcher to deal with a sword with two blades?, is there an advice for to reconcile the always existent opposites? it is valid or recomended to learn to "cut the weed and clean the garden"? on the latter, this should be done naturally, constantly or vigorously?

Last, is there a center state of being (neutral, not affective, imparcial perception) that brings peace to men?

Simple but not simple questions

Thank you in advance,

Praetorian

Manuel Chiquito Anderson

Caracas, Venezuela

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."



Aristotle

Kensho Furuya
08-28-2003, 10:24 AM
In this case, I think that it is recommended to take these words in the spirit and purpose for waht they were meant. You cannot find an easy solution or rationailze them by our own perspective and attitudes. At the same time, we cannot simply see an easy logic to them. In the past, students have spent years, even a lifetime, to try to pierce through its meaning. This is why, even today, it is still used a a method of practice. It is still used in Zen practice as a form of "koan." It is not simply a matter of right and left - or, to kill or not to kill. . . . . it is a door into one's own mind as a way to seek enlightenment. . . . If you study Japanese art, you will see that the Samurai of the past used to engrave these same words on their sword guards and other fittings as a constant reminder to himself wherever he went.

It is easy to understand "satsu" or "to kill" but it is more difficult to transform "kill" into "katsu" or the verb, "ikasu" meaning "to give life to." It is not simply to give life to the sword or one's technique, but to "give life" to your opponent as well. Somehow, I feel this is so compatible to our own Aikido practice. In Japanese art, one attempts to "ikasu" or "give life" to all of his actions and thoughts. In the tea ceremony, one must give life to the tea ladle and the tea bowl, one must give life or "bring life" into his movements and thoughts to make the best cup of tea for his guest. In Aikido, as well, we try to give life or "breath in life" into our movements. Sorry to ramble on and on like this. . . . this is enough for now. Thank you.

Ron Tisdale
08-28-2003, 10:25 AM
Kensho Furuya,

Lately I've been pondering the koan 'not one thing'. Any suggestions?

Onigaeshimatsu,

Kensho Furuya
08-28-2003, 10:28 AM
Pondering "not one thing" is already one thing. Stop, stop! Let it drop away and forget about it and "not one thing" is already achieved. . . . . Thank you.

Ron Tisdale
08-28-2003, 11:09 AM
In my tradition I would usually say 'osu!' here. I have the feeling that would not be appropriate with you, so instead;

Domo arigato gozaimashita!

Ron

akiy
08-28-2003, 11:38 AM
Hi folks,

I just wanted to take a minute to welcome Kensho Furuya of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles (http://www.aikidocenterla.com/). It's good to have you here and thank you for your contributions so far!

-- Jun

Kensho Furuya
08-28-2003, 12:05 PM
Oh my! Many thanks for your kindness.

Paul Sanderson-Cimino
08-28-2003, 12:24 PM
Thank you all for the replies, I appreciate it. A special thank you to Reverend Kensho Furuya, for clarifying the origin of the koan, as well as its interpretation.