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The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts: And Other Tales    by Issai Chozanshi order for
Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts
by Issai Chozanshi
Order:  USA  Can
Kodansha International, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki (1659-1741), a samurai of the Sekiyado, wrote The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts in the eighteenth century under the nom de plume Issai Chozanshi. This English version was translated by William Scott Wilson - whose other translations include The Book of Five Rings, Hagakure, The Life-Giving Sword, The Unfettered Mind - and who wrote The Lone Samurai (on the legendary Miyamoto Musashi). Throughout the book, black and white illustrations of Japanese scenes reinforce concepts.

In his Preface, Wilson speaks of Japan's historical reverence for the martial arts, and of the confusing 'profusion of schools and weapons' that evolved. He tells us that Miyamoto Musashi said of certain styles that 'while they looked good to the eye, none of them had the heart of the truth'. The latter is the subject of this book, which 'seeks to set the martial artist firmly on an inward path, a path of non-dependence, spontaneity, and ease', the goal being 'not technical proficiency, but transformation.' Chozanshi's writings offer both 'direct instructions on the martial arts' and 'fanciful stories that instruct in a more circuitous way.' The demon of the title is the long-nosed tengu - this half-man, half-bird is a master of the martial arts with supernatural powers, sighted deep in the mountains (the Introduction elaborates on these creatures).

The book begins with eleven playful fables from Chozanshi's The Hayseed Taoist - offering insights on transformation. In Transformation of the Sparrow and the Butterfly we learn that 'Principle has no form, but exists within chi'i.' The Owl's Understanding reminds us that 'the long-tailed maggot makes its home in a pile of shit while the pinworm lives in a dust heap, and they think of these places as palaces and towers.' The Seagull and the Mayfly Discuss the Tao, commenting that 'for every thing there is a law of nature, and there is an appointed task attached to every form.' Profit and Loss for the Bulbul and the Wren offers the insight that 'A man will learn some skill and ... will use it over and over again in vain, never understanding that that skill has now become his enemy'. In The Centipede Questions the Snake, we hear how men 'know that something works on its own from its very creation, but don't know how to leave it to do so.'

These thought-provoking tales can be read and re-read (like Sufist stories) to reveal new nuggets of wisdom. They're followed by Chozanshi's Demon's Sermon, which Wilson tells us addresses chi'i ('a field of energy, spontaneously and continuously in self-transformation') and its application to the martial arts. In his Introduction, Wilson explains chi'i as well as concepts of yin and yang - emphasizing the importance of equilibrium in martial arts - and of tzu jan (spontaneity), of which he says that the martial artist 'can harbor no thoughts of prepared actions, for they will only come between himself and the external circumstances.' He goes on to talk about wu-wei (taking no action), and wu-hsin (no-mind). Thus he prepares the reader to better understand Chozanshi's philosophical treatise, which talks - in question and answer format, and using many analogies - about cultivating mind and chi'i in martial arts, while still emphasizing the importance of maturing technique.

Chozanshi tells us that 'Technique is given life by principle; what is without form is the basis of what has form. Thus, it is the order of things that technique is trained by means of chi'i, and that chi'i is trained by means of the mind. Nevertheless, when your practice of technique is mature, you control your chi'i and settle your spirit.' This enlightening book ends with another intriguing story favored by martial artists, The Mysterious Technique of the Cat, which advises 'harmonize mind and chi'i; rely on nothing; and be as serene as a deep pool.' Wilson informs us that this classic, The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts, has at its core the secret shared by both demon and cat - 'the secret of holding the sword with Nothing in your hands.'

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