What is the Sword of Life/Sword of Death?

The expression of sword of life comes from The Life Giving Sword (Munenori, 1632), which is part of the famous trilogy about swordmenships back in the samurai time.  The two other books are The Mysterious Record of Unmoving Wisdom (Takuan Soho, 1632) and The Book of Five Rings (Musashi, 1643).  Takuan spoke of Zen and the importance to free your mind from attachment.  It was more a philosophical approach to swordmanship.  Musashi had a more practical approach that included tactics and techniques, and he emphasized the importance of the surrounding in the practice of the sword (5 elements).  Musashi also spoke of the power in freeing the mind.  However, Munenori had an intermediate approach on swordmanship that combined both the philosophical and the practical approach.  For him, the sword of life was a way to take over with bare hands the sword of an opponent without killing him.  This became then a metaphor for the non violent approach of the sword.

For centuries, the samurai’s sword has been associated with the samurai’s soul, as the two have to be one in combat.  A pure Zen connection – which is the meaning of the unfinished circle in the drawing above.  Indeed, from an Eastern point of view, the “sword” stands for more than a mere weapon:  it symbolizes a way of life.  Sword of life and sword of death is then a metaphor that stands for the way we think and carry ourselves both in training and in life.  If you focus on the growth of consciousness in yourself, it is the sword of life.  In Myoku, we train to empower ourselves in our personal and spiritual journey.  Our training is a Way of Life, not a way of death – death understood as training for sport and to flatter the Ego.  In such a context of Ego, there is no growth or refinement of the mind-body and spirit.  In Myoku training, there is no competitiveness, no reward given to you – the only reward is your personal growth.  In Myoku, the art of combat is a tool to refine in a Zen way mind, body and spirit (sword of life), not a tool to engage in physical interactions with others (sword of death).

A Zen story:  a young master wants to test his new sword and plunges it in the current of a small river.  A leaf passes by and is automatically cut in half upon contact with the blade.  Here comes the master of the young master who in turn wants to test his sword newly made for him.  He plunges his sword in the current and waits patiently for a leaf to pass by.  A leaf slowly makes its way toward the sharp blade but at the last minute magically circles around the blade to continue its journey in the current.