“Battle Spirit”

A friend shared this post from Business Insider. It’s good, a nice little encapsulation of the real reason for our martial training: Calm. Centeredness. Grace under pressure. 不動心 (fudōshin: “immovable” [i.e. imperturbable] mind/spirit). Not just in combat or self-defense, but in all of daily life, as well.

It reminded me immediately of this calligraphy by Musashi:


Besides being one of the most renowned swordsmen of all time, Miyamoto Musashi was also an accomplished artist and calligrapher, and in this, his most famous piece of calligraphy, he similarly encapsulates the meaning of the martial Way, but much more economically.

The two bold characters at the top read 戦気 sen-ki, or “battle spirit”/ “the spirit of battle”. Their bold, slashing strokes are the very embodiment of the clash of swordsmen’s bodies in combat.

But below, in a softer, more flowing script, Musashi has included a line from the Chinese poet 白居易 Bái Jūyì (Po Chü-i):

“The cold stream
holds the moon,
[in its] clarity
[it is] like a mirror.”

(Literally: “cold flow, belts moon, clear, like a mirror”)

The cold stream, although flowing, holds the reflection of the moon clearly, and placidly. This, Musashi seems to be telling us, is the true “spirit for battle”: in the midst of furious conflict, utter calm: flowing, unattached.

This, I believe, is the true meaning of our training. We strive to become able to maintain this inner stillness – in the chaos of combat, or the upheavals of our day-to-day existence.