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on July 11, 1998
I have been involved with the martial arts for over 25 years. Student, instructor, swordsman. I consider this book a reference tool and a source of inspiritation. My copy is worn and tattered, what more can I say.
I am sure that Musashi valued his friendship with the author. The insights into human nature and self improvement are timeless.
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on June 16, 1999
Takuan's voice in this work provides resonance for scholars and martial artists alike. For avid readers of the Zen tradition, this book offers both contrast and compliment to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Most intersting I thought was his disticntion between the "mind of principle" and the "mind of technique". It stimulates meditation on our own day-to-day quality of thought and action.
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on June 3, 2009
Takuan is one of my sources for inspiration, and I value this work. He was born during the Warring States period in 1573 into a Samurai family of the Miura clan, and entered a Jodo-sect Buddhist monastery when he was 10. He joined the Zen Rinzai sect when he was 14, and made history by becoming the abbot of Daitokuji, one of the major temples in Kyoto, at the young age of only 30.

He was a prolific writer who composed over 6 major volumes, of which this is but a small fragment. The three works contained here were all written to great sword masters including Yagyu Munenori, and last piece was possibly to the head of the Itto school of swordsmanship, Ono Tadaaki. The purpose of these works is to unify the spirit of Zen with the spirit of the sword. To transcend the physical duel and have unbroken awareness of everything in the moment.

This is not a book to read quickly and hope to find entertainment or a lesson in history. This is deep martial philosophy written by an absolute genius and master of some of the highest arts in ancient Japan. The book contains a few images of his art and calligraphy, but unless you know what to look for it is hard to see just how great his work is. I bought a repo scroll of his calligraphy when last I was in Japan. There is a standout quality about his style in that his scripting appears three dimensional. In fact, it is almost impossible for at least my mind to follow some of the path. Never seen anything like it. I own an original Tesshu who was a great master, but there is something unique and special about Takuan's style that suggests he may have indeed been operating on a whole different level.

"The unfettered Mind" is very advanced stuff. This is not a casual read, and it will appeal to experienced martial artists willing to work with it and apply deep meditation to the many concepts that may not be apparent at first glance. This is one of the greats.
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on March 25, 2008
You might be someone who's down to earth, just like, figuring out how in someone's name some Japanese sword fighter is going to help you out in your daily life. Well, he isn't going to.

What this book does teaches you is to seek within yourself and return to your own core. As I'm not someone who meditates or does much spiritual enlightment, this book still taught me a lot. As for the time of reading it, it takes you back into time and makes you think of certain things you might not have thought about all your life. So, if that's enlightment, count me in.

With only 92 real pages to read, this book still gives much value for its price. Most sentences are compressed with knowledge and sometimes make you read them twice. Hey, that's 184 pages already then!

Are you interested in gaining some spiritual thoughts and maybe some habits as well? Then read this book.
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on April 6, 1998
Takuan Soho has a book made of 3 parts, the first is a letter he wrote to a sword master about not "stopping the mind" and "the right mind" which basically amounts to "practice makes perfect" to the modern marital artist. I can't say that it went any further than that.

The next section reminded me very strongly of Plato's republic, as Takuan Soho went into the nature of the world as it is, which is very much seen through the lense of his understanding (16th century Japanese science I guess) which is sometimes ridiculous, and of limited use.

The third section is interesting, as he takes writing of various martial artists and interprets them or critiques them. This is useful for a modern martial artist, as we lack much of the historical and cultural context to interpret these directly from the translation. This section, along with the first are what makes the book worth reading. Still, I think that there are many more useful books out there for the martial artist to read before this one. Try Frederick Lovret's "Way and the Power", or Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" or Musashi's "A Book of Five Rings". All of these are much more useful.
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on August 23, 1999
In essence, this book is Takuan's (a Zen priest) message (written in a letter) to Yagyu Munenori about swordsmanship and Zen. Wilson's translation is but one of many (cf. Sugawara, Sato, etc..) but it is quite good.
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on May 28, 1996
This is not an entertaining book. This is not a story and
is not engaging. What it is is illuminating! This very
short (and frequently hard to find) collection of three letters/essays
from Takuan Soho to masters of the sword arts contains some
incredible gems. It is the kind of book that should be read
a page or even just a paragraph at a time followed by a period
of thought. The ideas of the interval between striking flint
and steel to the production of the spark, or the visual and
mental image of the glint of light on the blade of a sword
become captivating and even revelatory.
If you are a martial
artist, you MUST read this book. If you are in business,
this is as essential as Musashi's Book of Five Rings.
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on August 22, 2011
Very interesting book, with great wisdom, however, being that it is a printing of actual letters from the samurai days, it is not an easy, breezy read!! You need to be in the right mood to focus and pay attention to the wisdom in it. The more you love studying Zen Buddhism and martial arts, the more you will enjoy it. But certainly not a casual read.
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on October 29, 2011
The Unfettered Mind, a scant 100 page document written by a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman about the importance of right mindedness. Soho most likely couldn't have envisioned his treatise would be poured over after some 400 years had past. Yet, it has been since first writing it. Westerners have devoured his work just as much as Easterners.

A quick search for the Unfettered Mind will net the potential reader many possibilities from different translations as well as many reviews. I do not have the audacity to think mine will be something new, but, after all, it is my perspective.

William Scott Wilson is the translator on my edition; he also translated The Book of Five Rings and Hagakure both of which I suggest reading in addition to The Unfettered Mind. This completes the most common "trilogy" of Japanese thought during the height of their renaissance. There are others of course, but these three are the most accessible to western thought and frankly the easiest to get.

The Unfettered Mind is broken into three smaller books or essays: The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom, The Clear Sound of Jewels, and Annals of the Sword Taia. Each of these deal with the right mind in the double context of Buddhism and Swordsmanship. Soho draws on many different aspects of Buddhist thought but basically the thing is and the thing isn't; for example, "One may explain water, but the mouth will not become wet. One may expound fully on the nature of fire, but the mouth will not become hot."

Other such jewels of Buddhist wisdom seem to be tailor made for the martial arts. The ideal of no contemplation on the action of cutting down the opponent is taken into consideration in many different places of The Mysterious Record of Immovable Wisdom. In one such place Soho describes being of no mind by quoting an old poem,

To think, "I will not think"
This, too, is something in one's thoughts.
Simply do not think
About not thinking at all.

Many times Soho uses Buddhism's mystical nature to bring the reader into the right frame of mind and does so rather effortlessly. This is the nature of the Zen Master, to uncomplicated complicated thought. My hat is off to Takuan Soho.

Finally, I will say that I have enjoyed this small book of Immovable Wisdom. I will be giving as gifts to those on the path to right mindedness. It is a piece that should be read then reread a few years down the road. And, finally, reread a decade down the road. I am sure I will come back to it again to find more truth than I did this time.

To all potential readers, take your time, understand that you might not, and above all else, enjoy.
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on March 24, 2015
The Buddhist approach to life has never made more sense than it did after reading this book. I'd previously dismissed the general Buddhist worldview as too nihilistic (nothing is important or matters, etc.), but that is not at all the case. Plus it gives an amazing perspective on the idea of clearing your mind - it's not something you force, and it doesn't mean making your mind empty, but rather allowing it to flow. The letters primarily deal with martial arts (sword fighting, specifically). I've found the advice to apply very well to my own marital arts study; I practice a Chinese one rather than a Japanese art, but it still holds true. But the advice there is not limited to martial arts only, and I find its lessons coming to mind in day-to-day life as well. It's extremely practical, and doesn't ask you to be some ancient priest on a mountaintop somewhere. The translation reads well (I don't speak Japanese, so can't speak to its accuracy), and the translator helpfully includes notes explaining some of the references and metaphors that Soho used, which really fleshes out the imagery and helps make things understandable. This is one of my favorite philosophical books that I've read to date.
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