Unifying the spirit of Swordsmanship and Zen(剣禅一如)- Tattoo Design With Zen Word in Japanese Brush Stroke Kanji

‘Unifying the spirit of Zen and the spirit of Sword’(剣禅一如)is a phrase/concept developed by a Zen Master, ‘Takuan Sōhō ‘

This is a very deep and intriguing concept. It basically means that how well you can perform at sword fighting is essentially dependent on how well you have sunk in the teaching of Zen. In other words,  you need to master the spirit of Zen to become more proficient at sword fighting.

Explanations and Interpretations

The concept of ‘Unifying the spirit of Zen and the spirit of Sword’ was first introduced in takuan’s work called ‘不動智神妙録’.(The Unfettered Mind)This is a three-part treatise on Buddhist philosophy and martial arts and talks about a series of three discourses addressed to samurai but applicable to everyone who desires an introduction to Zen philosophy. This book was written to Yagyū Munenori, head of the Yagyū Shinkage-ryū school of swordsmanship and teacher to two generations of shōguns, military dictators (将軍)

How can a concept of Zen be translated into Martial arts?

If the mind is caught up in one thing (too much awareness), that awareness will disturb/hinder your unconscious body movement ; when in doubt, the body and mind stops, even if only slightly. From the view point of Zen, this state is not ideal and the mental state and mind of a warrior who has reached the level of a master should be “unconscious action” and the mind is always in flux, “never wandering, never grasping, never stopping”. The Mysterious Records of Immovable Wisdom is divided into multiple sections and I will share some of those here.

1 : The Affliction of Abiding in Ignorance (無明住地煩悩)

When the opponent swings the sword, from the moment you think he is coming at you, your mind is caught up in his movement. In order to move freely, you must not move consciously, such as “Who’s coming and how?” The movements of your opponent’s sword, your timing, and your own sword movements are all objects of disturbing your unconscious movement.

2 : The Immovable Wisdom of All Buddhas (諸仏不動智)

The mind moves freely and the mind is not caught in the slightest in any one thing . This is the immovable wisdom. The best thing to do is to move like the Acala who most embodies the immovable wisdom.

Statue of Acala, from 12th century Japan. Currently in Rietberg Museum (Zürich, Switzerland)

For example, when ten people come slashing at you one by one. After dodging the first slash, If your mind is fixed on/caught in that slash, you will not be able to respond to the second slash immediately, and the only way to respond to 10 people is to move your mind 10 times.

Another example with Senju Kannon (Kannon of a thousand arms) , If her mind is caught up in one of the thousand hands, the one with a bow, all the remaining 999 hands are useless. All the thousand hands are useful only when the mind is not caught in one.

Senju Kannon

If you are interested in further exploring this concept, the translation of the book is available in English.

The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman

Who is Takuan Sōhō ?

Takuan Sōhō (沢庵宗彭) was a Zen monk, painter, poet, gardener, tea master, calligrapher. (what a versatile person he is !! ) and adviser to both Shogun and emperor as well as, a legend as it, being a friend and teacher to the Sword Saint(剣聖)Musashi Miyamoto.

He was born into a samurai family but entered a monastery at the age of 10 to study jodo sect of Buddhism. I can explain or you can google who he is but maybe reading ‘Vagabond’ is much more fun and easier to get the picture of who he is.

Vagabond portrays a fictionalised account of the life of Japanese swordsman Musashi Miyamoto, based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi.

Vagabond, Vol. 1 (VIZBIG Edition)

Literal meaning of 「剣禅一如」

Here are the meaning of each Kanji

  • 剣 : sword
  • 禅 : zen
  • 一 : one
  • 如 : alike

What is Yojijukugo(四字熟語)

Yojijukugo in the broad sense simply means any Japanese compound words consisting of four kanji characters.

There exists tens of thousands of them in Japanese ranging from those spoken in everyday-life-situation (casual) to the one used only in writing, sounds very formal, sophisticated and impressive.

Suitable for Kanji design

Why I recommend Yojijukugo for your kanji designs?

Because they sound

  • natural
  • straight to the point
  • concise and neat
  • have a nice ring to it

I wrote a post on why I am not a fan of translating English to Japanese when It comes to Kanji design and the reason I recommend revers – look ups instead.

➡️Lost in Translation, 2 overlooked factors that cause a pity Japanese sentence tattoo

Instant Download

You can download the file right after the purchase and no need to wait for me to send it to you. Then you just simply forward it to your favourite tattoo artist. The design is 100% accurate and he/she does not need to know any Japanese.

The file contains both calligraphy style and line art (Stencil).Stencil is what your tattoo artist must have to ink the tattoo, as it serves as the outline to trace the artwork onto your skin.

NOTE : the design DOSE NOT NEED TO BE MIRRORED, meaning it should appear on your skin/object just as it appears on the paper.

Depending on your purpose,  pick either jpeg or pdf

If you are looking to use the design just as it appears and not wanting to resize it, then the “jpeg” should be fine.

But if you are looking to

  • use it on a large object and need to resize
  • change the layout / position
    (e.g, vertical▶️horizontal / angled,  etc)

then the “pdf” should be your choice as it will be less work for your tattoo artist, meaning costs less.
(You need to check with your tattoo artist though)

Click the link below for more information.

▶️ pdf or jpg ? Which one is right for me?

5 different styles

You have 5 writing styles to choose from for this design.

each style gives different impressions and I have summarised in the gallery above.

How to order

Just simply tick your preferred style and add it to the cart.

Click the image blow to have a closer look.

If you are not sure, please read through the page below or simply contact me.

▶️Purchasing process


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