on 28 July 2016
I first bought this book over 20 years ago when I started doing martial arts, and, innocent as I was, it was a bit mind blowing at the time. "Don't think", "Be like water", "Be like the reflection of the moon on a flowing river", etc., all such Zen type sayings can come across as a bit like oriental psycho-babble, to the uninitiated, however, and again, I was quite young when I first read this, this book seemed to make it all make sense, to me, and left me with a very real appreciation of the core value of Zen, of meditation, of how Martial Arts are "Arts" because once you let go of trying to do what you think you should be doing, what remains is the full expression of yourself through your technique. It's very much based upon the Japanese experience, but it is of universal appeal. Enjoying reading it again.
on 3 May 2000
Profound yet highly enjoyable, a book that will make you reconsider your view of the world. Invaluable to martial artists and those with any interest in getting more out of life. Both a practical guide to attaining wisdom and philosophical food for thought. Written specifically for europeans, it is an elegant piece that you will read again and again..
`The Zen Way to the Martial Arts' explores some of the links between the practise of Zen and various martial arts from the perspective of a Japanese Zen master. There are numerous similarities in the philosophies and much can be gleaned and applied from either sphere to the improvement of the other. This has some calligraphy dotted throughout the text, as well as some photos of the author. My particular favourite parts of the book were the mondo sections which consist of a conversational question and answer format between the author and some students. These sections were easy to read and grasp and the personality of the author shines through. I heave read other books that have tried to link martial arts and spiritual practises but this is the only one that has succeeded and comes across as credible and authentic. The writing style (surprisingly for a translation) is clear and lucid and the points raised give plenty of food for thought. There is something for all to appreciate in these pages, whether you are a Zen practitioner, martial artist or interested in some of the spiritual ideas of the east and this is worth adding to your bookshelf at some point.
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on 25 June 2015
Two questions about this: is it real, and is what it teaches good? The answer to the first must be, 'not entirely'. The acknowledgements mention half a dozen people, apparently students of Deshimaru, who 'helped prepare' the book - what did they do, exactly? Presumably they had something to do with the references to Pascal, the analogies with things like football and playing guitar, as it is difficult to believe that someone so anti-intellectual and so embedded in traditional Japanese culture would have come up with them. And was it celibate Buddhist monk Deshimaru, or his groovy European disciples, who thought it important to state that 'modern education should restore an authentic, natural meaning to sexuality in our society' (I'm not sure what that means, but I can guess)? At any rate, clearly Taisen Deshimaru did not personally sit down at a typewriter and write this as we ordinarily understand the term.
As to the second, I can't decide whether I admire the guy's philosophy (assuming it actually is his) or not. In these 'bushido' books you glimpse a culture with many good qualities - loyalty, dedication, stoicism, elegance - but also the unthinking, unquestioning and ruthless attitude that led its people not so long ago to join enthusiastically in a savage attempt at world domination. Deshimaru admiringly relates the anecdote of a teacher whose response to students doing too much thinking was to hit them with a big stick. Only when they started to hit back, apparently, was the lesson learned. Thinking, you see, 'uses too much ki' (similarly, Inazo Nitobe's book dismisses academic learning as 'mere storing of information').
This is a hard, comfortless creed, you could almost say a heartless one: 'with their swords they learned not only to cut their foes in two, but even more to cut their own consciousness in two'. It's interesting to read about, but I wouldn't want it to attract too many disciples. Fortunately that isn't likely, though, and this is a great rarity in that you see the relationship between Zen or Tao (Deshimaru doesn't distinguish between the two), life in general, and martial arts in particular, addressed by someone who actually belongs to that tradition - someone of a type that probably no longer exists. No doubt there are useful principles here - particularly for those who practice hard, 'external' martial arts, and American financiers who like to delude themselves that they do.