March 6, 2017

Zen, Ken, Sho

Our particular branch of the Rinzai lineage expresses an approach to Zen practice called Zen, Ken, Sho. Literally this translates as "Zen, Sword, Brush." More broadly, it means that the unity of Zen practice, physical culture, and artistic endeavor is a truly well-rounded training for human beings.

Culturally, there are antecedents for this in Confucian notions regarding the ideal education, and later in the samurai ideal of the literary warrior, expressed through the saying Bun bu ryodo (the cultural and the martial are one Way). Naturally similar notions existed in ancient European civilizations, carried forward in the ideals of chivalry and right down to the ideal of the "gentleman" that we still carry.

Of course, whenever bodily or artistic disciplines are chosen to supplement the usual Zen training, they must fit the individual's needs, abilities, physical condition, and so on. This is especially so with physical culture, and certainly no one unable to engage in rigorous physical activity is excluded from Zen practice. There is no one "style" of Zen practice, in other words; to set up such a thing would be ludicrous.

That being said, one traditional expression of physical culture that can still be useful for some folks is bujutsu (martial arts). When used in this context of Zen, Ken, Sho, martial arts become a study not of how to harm others, but rather to realize and and bodily manifest the truth of muteki ("no-enemy"): that is, the non-differentiation of self and other. Martial arts also are tremendously useful for the cultivation of posture, breath and energetic vitality (kiai), as well as for a direct facing not only with conflict, but with the truth of mortality.

For these reasons (and because of my personal background) I am spending a great deal of time recently working on the bujutsu curriculum for Korinji, which may in the future be taken up by some students for whom such training is suited.

Today, laying out some of the tools used in practice, I was struck by the fact that not a single one was purchased: they were all hand-made, and in fact all the steel implements were hand-forged at Korinji. In this way, training in one aspect of Zen-Ken-Sho is being used in service of the others. This is how it should be...

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