What is Shin-Ken: Real Sword?


Translated literally it means “real sword”.

In martial arts, the meaning of “fighting with the real sword” is quite straightforward, it means to take the fight as seriously as if you were battling for your life. 

Even when you are just practicing.

How (and why) act seriously when the situation isn’t serious?

In Japan nowadays, the expression “doing something with shin-ken (real sword)” means to execute a task with extreme care such as if life depended on it.

Shin-ken applies to everything.

Shin-Ken means being able to shift the mind to the ~dead serious~ state at will and to keep this state of mind until the task is finished.

If you master one art you master all the other arts.

Musashi was a legendary Japanese samurai and a skillful artist.

Above all else, he was dedicated to the arts of war, but Musashi knew how to translate his fencing skills into all other crafts.

musashi painting artist
An ink painting by Miyamoto Musashi. Gorin no sho advocates involvement in calligraphy and other arts as means of training in the art of war. — Miyamoto Musashi 宮本武蔵(1584–1645), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Musashi believed that to fully master martial arts, it was necessary to dig into other arts like painting, poetry, pottery, music, etc…

And then, bring to sword fighting the skills developed by practicing these arts.

Shin-Ken Applies to Everything.

It’s important to learn to be unmoved in mind even in the heat of battle.
— Miyamoto Musashi

State of Mind

It’s tricky to hold onto something as fluid as the mind.

grab water with hands
Photo by Hamza NOUASRIA on Unsplash

When we tell ourselves to “be serious” the first instinct may be to tense the muscles around the eyes and force the mind to focus on the matter at hand.

This is like trying to grab water in a running river using only the hands and instead of cupping the hands, you simply try to close your fist and hold the water.

You cannot force yourself into this frame of mind, any more than you can smooth disturbed water with your hand.
— Alan Watts

If you try to calm water by touching it, then you disturb it.

Trying to stop disturbance with disturbance is absurd.

The best thing you can do to calm water is to take your hand away from it.

Musashi suggests:

In the science of martial arts, the state of mind should remain the same as normal.

In ordinary circumstances as well as when practicing martial arts, let there be no change at all — with the mind open and direct, neither tense nor lax, centering the mind so that there’s no imbalance, calmy relax your mind, and savor this moment of ease thoroughly so that the relaxation does not stop its relaxation for even an instant.
— Musashi

I find this part fantastic: “..so that the relaxation does not stop its relaxation..”

Normal Mind

People often tell me that when they meditate they reach a point in which they realize how calm their mind is and the realization itself disrupts the state of trance.

shin ken how to trip well

“When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown.

Instead you relax, and float.”

— Alan Watts

If you want to be dead serious you must learn how to keep your mind normal even in chaotic environments.

“A monk asked an ancient worthy, ‘What is the Way?’
He replied, ‘The normal mind is the Way.’
— Yagyu Munenori

This story was distributed by Medium.

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