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The Way of the Living Sword

The Secret Teachings of Yagyu Munenori

Translated by D.E. Tarver

I highly recommend this book for all serious martial artists, regardless of your chosen discipline. I found myself paraphrasing it at a black belt grading not too long ago. A young shodan candidate was temporarily stuck in her mind, with her emotions beginning to take control. A simple trigger of one of Munenori’s strategies for ‘freeing the mind’ empowered the young woman to forge ahead.

Aside from being infinitely applicable to martial arts, this book is simply fun. There are wonderful catchphrases that aptly describe all aspects of martial strategy, and yet do so with such flair. Concepts such as “snatching opportunity out of an instant”, “hear the wind, listen to the water”, “control distance like the moon touching the water.”

Munenori was one of the greatest swordsmen of Japan, but what sets him apart is that he was also one of the great Zen masters of the time. This book explains many Zen principles that are the foundation of all budo, including Karate-do. These concepts extend far beyond fighting concepts and powerful life strategies.

This book has immediately added itself to my annual re-read list. I’ve been reflecting on several sections for days. My detailed notes on this book are long, but here are three of my favourite concepts.

It is your mind that confounds your mind

Mind, do not yield to the mind

A mirror is free to reflect everything, because it is committed to nothing.

The moon dances on ten thousand waves all at once, yet does not move. The same is true of the free mind of the master.


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