The translater - William Scott Wilson - is an American scholar widely recognised as the foremost expert on Japanese samurai literature, the Bushido Code and the Edo Period of imperial Japan. His translations are reliable, retain original meaning and are easily accessible to the general reader. This book is about the application of Zen Buddhist meditation to the activity of the use of the Japanese sword. The writings contained within this book date to 16th and 17th century Japan, and are spiritually motivated on all the many levels of nuance. The original Japanese work was written by Rinzai Zen monk Takuan Soho (1573-1645).
The paperback (1987) edition contains 101 numbered pages and consists of a Foreword, an Introduction, a Notes section and a Bibliography. This book is comprised of three essays written by Takuan Soho:
Foreword. Introduction. The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom - (Letter to master Yagyu Munenori). The Clear Sound of Jewels - (Advice on knowing 'right' from 'selfishness'). Annals of the Sword Taia - (Letter to either Munenori or Ono Tadaaki). Notes. Bibliography.
Wilson provides the English translation for the Japanese text known as Nihon no Zen Goroku Zenshu, Vol 13, which gathered its information from the Takuan Osho Zenshu. These two letters and one instructional text offer advice about sword technique, mind development, self-transcendence, duty, psychology of combat and spiritual growth, the avoidance of selfishness, the cultivation of wisdom, correct dying for a warrior, and compassion. The sword is inbued with divine power within Japanese traditional culture. Takuan was a very well thought of Zen monk in Japan, who became an abbot of a temple in Kyoto at just 35 years old! This is astonishingly young for a Zen monk, and is indicative of the good reputation Takuan is thought to have had. It is known that he gave advice to the great master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), and to the abdicated emperor Go-Mizunoo (1596-1680). Takuan, as a Zen monk, gave advice to all who needed it, includng the warrior class. He always brought their attention back to their mind-essence through his instruction. Although the 'hook' in these essays is martial endeavour, the objective is always a mind of no delusion. When such a mind is achieved, there is no need for violence, and martial arts become spiritualised as a result. A spiritual classic.
This book contains a collection of three letters/essays from Takuan Soho to masters of the sword arts. They contain some incredible gems. This book should not just be read; but reflected upon.As another reviwer said, "The ideas of the interval between striking flint and steel to the production of the spark, or the visual and mental image of the glint of light on the blade of a sword become captivating and even revelatory." I could not have said it any better myself. This is a must read book.
Takuan Soho's insight into the mechanics of the mind and its effects on performance, is much more than a manual for the martial artist. To sum up the first essay simply as saying "practice makes perfect" shows the ignorance Soho addresses in the first line of the first essay. The three essays requires contemplation and an appreciation of its context. It is a useful companion to anyone who sees the usefulness of constant striving to improve one's Self, "We are that which we habitually do...", and a reminder to all faiths that humanity requires a moral code.
I have read allot of these types of books, I find them very hard going at times. What I get out of them is a view into a different world, sometimes they barely seem human but in-between they give a philosophical output that borders the superhuman. I feel allot gets lost in translation and there is a vast cultural gap that is way out of time. If you put in the effort you will find lots to muse over and compare. The theory of "no mind" is the central aspect of this way of thinking that shows a very natural height that can be recognized and more actively sought after. Something about the writing makes the essence timeless.
For every martial artist, it does not matter if you do karate, aikido, judo or anything else. This will strike a chord with your if you have progressed long enough for the technical aspects of your art to routine.