Zen’s Influence on the Art of the Sword Zen has long had a great influence upon Japanese culture. Many aspectsof this culture are touched upon by Zen including art, literature, and specificceremonies such as the one concerning tea. During the Kamakura period of Japan,another area of culture began to be affected by Zen; the martial arts of thesamurai class. Somewhere along the line, the samurai realized the ease with which themonks of Zen Buddhism dealt with issues such as mortality and then began to seekthese methods of discipline for themselves for the purposes of becoming lessconcerned with their physical well-being. However, as D. T.Order now
Suzuki noted, it was not mere recklessness, but self-abandonment, which is known in Buddhism as astate of egolessness. This is the ideal which the samurai warrior sought; astate of being wherein life and death were meaningless and all that he had toconcern himself with was his duty to his master, or if he was ronin (roguesamurai without a master), with his duty to his own code of honor. In order for the Zen master to pass on this state of mind to the eagerto learn samurai, the master had to equate the state of mushin (empty mind andegolessness) with something familiar to the warrior. And what is more familiarto a warrior than his weapon, most often a sword such as a tachi (long-blade),katana, or iaito? From the first time that a samurai blade is picked up by itsowner until the day the owner dies, it is his goal to so completely master theblade and make it as much a part of him as his own hand that there is seeminglyno effort in using it. As stated by Takuan, a Zen master from the Tokugawaperiod, you must follow the movement of the sword in the hands of the enemy,leaving your mind free to make its own counter-movement without your interferingdeliberation. Herein lies the simplicity of Zen teaching in respect to allthings, both exceptional and common; think not, merely do.