Sonkei & Jushin

Sonkei & Jushin:  Honour and the Centre

Has the concept of honour become outdated?  Most people no longer seem to think of what is ‘right’ or how their actions affect others.  More and more frequently, people speak of their rights instead of their responsibilities.  I believe that those of us involved in Budo are looking for more than just physical skills when we practice.  After all, isn’t Budo about a way to live your life rather than merely a way to end someone else’s!  Shouldn’t Budo be concerned with living a balanced life?  I believe that the most important question in life really is how do we act with honour and live well?

What does it mean to act honourably?  What is honour?  I consider it to be a combination of a belief system followed by a set of actions.  How do you act with honour?  Some synonyms for honour are respect, nobility, pride, and reverence.  It is often a good measure of a person seeing how they treat others.  You must observe your own behaviour carefully.  Being well-balanced does not mean to always be tranquil and happy!  Sometimes it is necessary to get angry or upset because that is the proper reaction to a situation.

The Japanese inherited from the Chinese a set of Confucian Ethics; ways to act appropriately in society, called the ‘Go Jo’.  These ‘Five Virtues’ were believed to enhance both the individual and society.

  1. Jin  []:  Benevolence.
  2. Gi  []:  Righteousness.
  3. Rei  []:  Respect and Gratitude.
  4. Chi  []:  Wisdom.
  5. Shin  []:  Good Faith & Sincerity

Moving from the centre allows a budoka to use their full power, while appearing to be relatively relaxed.  In fact, they are relaxed!  Keep well-balanced both physically and psychologically and actions become ‘natural’, flexible, powerful, and immediate.   Jushin is the physical centre of balance.  For the easiest and fullest use of the body’s power, moving from the centre is imperative.  The centre is both physical and mental/psychological/spiritual.  On the physical side, the tanden in the hara is the centre of the body.  However, just moving from that one point is not enough to generate sufficient cutting energy.  The entire area in the front of the body, inside it, and at your back must be used.  Strength applied from this area allows the rest of the body to move freely.  This strength must not come from tension and muscle in the upper body.  That causes fatigue, poor cuts and poorly timed actions.

Picture a centre line running up your body {chushin/中心}, something similar to your spinal chord but further inside your body.  When moving forward, backward, up, down, or sideways, move from this centre line.  In this way you can maintain stability, use maximum force, and remain relaxed.  As soon as that line is bent or uneven, you are forced to use arm and upper body strength alone to cut.  This also necessitates a strong grip on the sword.  This is the exact opposite of good cutting, which is relaxed and flexible.

How does jushin, the centre of balance, effect sonkei, honour?  More importantly, how does acting honourably affect our balance in life and in the dojo?  What is the very centre of your being?  Who are you deep inside?  This has the same flavour as the Zen expression, “What was your original face before you were born?”  When we look are our centre, what do we hope to see there?  How do we hope people see us?  How do we want to be remembered?  Certainly we can do our best but how does that translate into practice in the dojo?  Is it enough to do your best?  How do we know we are doing the best we can?  What is the best you can do or hope for in your life?  What does it mean to ‘do the right thing’?  These are all major life questions that are not easily answered but require deep thinking and observation.

There is the expression, “To get to the heart of the matter,” meaning that we look at the most important aspect of a situation.  It is the same in Iaido as in life.  Constantly ask yourself what you are really doing in this action or that kata.  What is the meaning of the action?  What is the end result of this action or series of actions?  How can I make the movement simpler and more effective?   How am I impacting my opponent/partner/workmate?  When we get to “the heart of the matter”, it should balance both our spirit and our body.

“Ken shin ichijyo”, “the body/sword and mind/spirit together in harmony”, is the essence of Iaido and of living life.  It is our journey to combine these facets of ourselves in order to become congruent and harmonious.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”   Mahatma Ghandi

“Act the way you want to be.”       Ken Maneker

剣水  Ken Maneker