top of page

『構えあって構えなし』 To adopt a posture of no posture.... What!?

All things Japanese can be very Zen. Japanese martial arts including Iaido are also very heavily influenced by Zen philosophy. While the Hamlet would ask "to be or not to be" a Zen philosopher might answer "to be in order to not be". A short while ago, I talked about Miyamoto Musashi's Dokkodo. This is a continuation of that topic. Now that I have a better understanding of how I should conduct myself as a person according to the 21 points he suggested, I want to explore how to actually BE.

In all weapon based martial arts, the practitioners will adopt a certain stance or posture. This is most often one that balances the best defensive abilities with the most versatile offensive potential. In most sword schools, a Chudan-no-kamae (中段の構え) also called Seigan-no-kamae (正眼の構え) is the most common. In this posture, the person is ready to defend from an attack as well as initiating one. Thus most basic and often the first kamae to be taught. At an advanced level, an opponent may find it impossible to penetrate this invisible shield that is a perfect kamae. I have touched on other forms of kamae (mi-gamae and kokoro-gamae) in my previous blog, but in terms of an actual physical stance, is there one that is really versatile and impenetrable? And would this be it? Practice to take on this perfect kamae and never be defeated? Sure, go ahead, I wouldn't argue, but you might as well turn yourself into a statue then. In the writings of Miyamoto Musashi (Book of Five Rings, Scroll of Water), he suggested although there are many kamaes being taught, at the same time, none of them exists. This is because depending on time and place, as well as opponent faced, the kamae has to change accordingly, to adapt to the particular situation. A kamae has to be as fluid as water (see "Be like water". Mizu-no-Gojun 水五順). If one is so fixated on taking on certain kamae with specific scenario, he is as rigid as a slab of marble, beautiful and strong to gaze upon, but shatters when dealt with a well placed blow. Many will take on a certain kamae with the thought of how best deflect an oncoming blow, or how to return a blow upon receiving it. Miyamoto Musashi's method is simple, take on the kamae with the sole intention to strike! Never be shackled by a kamae for the sake of having one. In my studies, I learned that often a casual stance with an apparent air of indifference may also be one that is well prepared so that no actual kamae is necessary. This is how Iaido differs from other weapon based martial arts, we start from a stance where the sword is still in the saya! There is nothing more 『構えなし』(no kamae) than standing there with your sword undrawn! With the intention to strike flaring from your cold hard stare, a forward pushing sense of presence projected from your mi-gamae and a well weathered and developed kokoro-gamae, even with your hands calmly placed at your sides, you will still truly have a kamae without having a kamae - 『構えあって構えなし』.

bottom of page