Monday, October 20, 2008

Musashi's Fifth Ring: Ku No Maki

In his book, The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi lays out his treatise on warfare and life. His fifth Ring, or Scroll, is entitled "Ku No Maki" or "The Book of Emptiness". Why is the important to us in Karate? Because the word Ku, or Emptiness, is also pronounced Kara, as in Karate. Kara also means Empty or Emptiness.

If you have been following my other posts you will have learned that Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Karate, named the art, "Karate or The Empty Hand" based on the Zen saying, "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form". Musashi states in his Fifth Scroll. "The meaning of ku is emptiness; that which cannot be known is ku. Of course, ku is emptiness. By knowing form, one knows emptiness. This, in short, is ku."

Ku is what ties our Zen Goshindo together when we speak of Five Rings, Three Battles, One Path. Ku (Kara) is highly valued by Musashi, Funakoshi and Zen traditions. As I wrote earlier Ku is difficult to grasp conceptually, but it does not mean you can't understand it. I encourage you to read my earlier posts again.

Musashi speaks of ku as very important to a martial artist, or bushi. "For a bushi, knowing the path of Military Science with certainty, acquiring skill in the other martial arts, understanding clearly the road to be followed by the bushi, having no illusions in your heart, honing your wisdom and willpower, sharpening your intuitive sense and your powers of observation day and night; when the clouds of illusion have cleared away, this is to be understood as the true ku."

He also, like my Zen teacher would say, "Make your mind like the sky. Let the clouds come and go. Just watch and your illusions will vanish." This is also key to any martial artist, whether they practice Karate, Aikido or Kempo. Musashi also goes on to say, "...with a straighforward spirit as your foundation, and an honest heart as your path, practice your martial art broadly. It is important to judge life clearly and correctly. Make ku your path, and your path as ku. In ku there is good, and there is no evil. When there is wisdom, reason and the Way, there is ku."

Within our Karate, Swordsmanship and Zen practice is the opportunity to experience ku. It is not some other worldly concept, but the simple practice of being mindful of what you do. Form (what you do) is ku. Ku is form. Just watch. Just do.

Hands palm to palm,


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