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The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of the Shogun Paperback – December 11, 2012


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Frequently Bought Together

The Life-Giving Sword: Secret Teachings from the House of the Shogun + The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman + Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590309901
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590309902
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Just in time to capitalize on the cinematic vogue for samurai epics comes this new translation of a classic 17th-century Japanese swordsmanship manual. Heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, Munenori, a swordsmanship instructor to several Shoguns, downplays the training and extols the spiritual enlightenment and life lessons to be gained through martial arts. A few rules of thumb like "you attain the victory by having your opponent make the first move" and "it is dangerous to get any closer than one foot" could be useful in a sword fight, but actual combat maneuvers like Billowing Clouds, Flower Wheel and Sword of Mystery must be learned through "oral transmission" since "they are difficult to express in written words." (A lengthy appendix taken from another source, containing period illustrations and detailed but still opaque instructions on fighting moves, confirms this insight.) Instead of specific routines, Munenori emphasizes the attainment of No-Mind, the Zen version of "flow" in which one's swordplay proceeds without self-conscious thought. The book's philosophy, it must be said, is also pretty difficult to express in written words, and is conveyed through poetic imagery ("with a pilfered glance, the dragonfly evades the shrike") and mystic paradoxes ("that which is called existence is nothing other than non-existence, and that which is called non-existence is none other than existence.") Munenori's rambling exposition of it may lead readers to conclude that, whatever wisdom comes of a lifetime of sword fighting, it doesn't impart a polished literary sensibility. Fortunately, Wilson, translator of several samurai works, includes a substantial biography of Munenori that illuminates the political and cultural background of the samurai ethos and clarifies Munenori's doctrines for novice readers. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

William Scott Wilson is the foremost translator into English of traditional Japanese texts on samurai culture. His best-selling translations include Hagakure and The Book of Five Rings

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Very informative and helpful.
JP3
Mr. Yagyu Munenori had a crystal clear mind so grounded in Zen, his writings amazingly show how Mankind has taken a big step back in being grounded in the "Now."
GG Gawain
It requires many reads and deep contemplation together with practice to really come to life.
Ronin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Robert Carlson on May 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who looks to a book to learn how to swing a sword will forever be disappointed. Those of us who have actually taken the time train in the sword know that direct transmition is the only way (yes, the schools still exist -- go find one).
What this book presents (along with some very good subtle sword pointers) is the proper mental attitude you must gain in order to progress on the path. Mr. Wilson does a wonderful job translating a difficult text. If you are serious about sword, get this book AND go find a teacher ...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By GG Gawain on June 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Yagyu Munenori had a crystal clear mind so grounded in Zen, his writings amazingly show how Mankind has taken a big step back in being grounded in the "Now." I find his words so comforting, and when applied to the practice of the sword, they manifest themselves physically into action. It is one thing to seek enlightenment through books, but it seems only through physical experience can true manifestation of that knowledge be put to use. I love how you learn to throw away the mind, "No Mind" and live in the freedom of your actions. If your mind lingers anywhere, it becomes trapped. I see this "sickness" of the trapped mind everywhere today in people. They are trapped in the past, or a future of which they dream, and are looking forward to a reality that does not exist. They are not "here" when you speak to them. Their mind is caught in a dream, like a lotus eater, glassy eyed and harried.

Other than children and animals, it's very hard these days to find people who are absorbed in the present moment. No future, no past, only living for that moment. This book is like a soothing ointment to straighten jagged thoughts of delusion. A must read.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jason Allen on May 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Munenori's book is a classic work of Japanese literature that explores the Way of the sword through what we in the west might call a philosphical approach. Yet, I don't think the distinction between the physical style and philosophical approach would be seperate categories to Munenori. His book sets out to present the Way as a total approach of mind, body, and spirit, and not merely the development of each independently. Reading the book in any other way will probably make it fairly disappointing.

The other thing to remember about this book is its a classic by one of the most influential sword instructors of his era. In that respect, the book is rich with perspective on early 17th century Japanese culture. Particularly interesting are the reprinted plates in the back of the book showing the original inked pages of technique.

As other viewers pointed out, this is not a book for someone simply learning to wield a sword. Instead, Munenori's book is a fascinating account of swordsmanship that gives the reader insight not only to the richness of the Way, but also wonderful insight on a fascinating historical figure. Highly recommended for those interested in Japanese culture, history of samurai, and the feudal era.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ginro on May 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I give this book five stars simply because I love it. For anyone who finds Miyamoto Musashi's book a little hard to fathom at first, then maybe you could start with this.

I have a number of translations by William Scott Wilson, the most recent being 'The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts', I love them all and have to say that I prefer his translations over any other.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ronin on June 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First and foremost this is not a story for entertainment nor is it a manual that will teach you how to use a sword. This is a deeply philosophical investigation into the Zen mind required to master the sword. Experienced practitioners will get the most out of it. Beginners will stumble through it and most of the value will be lost. It requires many reads and deep contemplation together with practice to really come to life.

The first 60-pages of the book are very interesting, as Wilson takes us through a brief synopsis of the life and times of Munenori with some descriptions of his character and people he associated with. Munenori was a very colorful character who was a teacher and adviser to shoguns, winning the post against Musashi himself.

The Yagyu clan is an old ninja family who live in the mountains outside Nara. Their village is surrounded by rice paddies and is difficult to approach. At one point Musashi traveled there to challenge Munenori (who was conveniently not present) and instead wound up dueling and killing a master of the kusurigama, a sickle with a chain and weight on the end and a common ninja weapon.

The actual Life Giving Sword is about 70-pages long and is mostly a philosophical zen treaty with application for any martial art, but geared to the Way of the sword. Also included are 28 prints from the Illustrated Catalog of the Shinkage-ryu, which offers brief descriptions of the techniques and includes the "Tengu Series".

This is an essential book for any sword practitioner, or anyone involved in the martial arts. I can't recommend it enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Seth L. Chazanoff on February 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book starts with a short biography of the author, Yagyu Munenori, that sets the times that he was writing in. This was needed and very well done.

The heart of the book Yagyu Munenori's philosophy is also very interesting and good. This book, like Musashi's Book of Five Rings, is about more than how to use a Japanese sword. It has similar implications to business and life in general. I highly recommend it.
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