Ed. Mondadori –

Pagine 251 –

È un saggio molto apprezzato per la chiarezza e la profondità con cui viene analizzato l’influsso dello Zen in molti aspetti della cultura giapponese. Ripercorrendo precisi accadimenti nella storia del Giappone, l’autore spiega come sia accaduto che le arti marziali fossero le prime a beneficiare dei precetti dello Zen. Riportiamo la traduzione di parte del  capitolo che riguarda le arti marziali e l’originale in lingua inglese.

Il testo,  pubblicato in italiano dalla Mondadori nel 1981 ma difficile da trovare in commercio,  lo troviamo disponibile sul sito www.thomashoover.info/

Lo Zen e le arti del tiro con l’arco e della scherma

(L’era Kamakura 1185-1333)

L’anti-scolasticismo, la disciplina mentale, come pure la rigorosa disciplina fisica degli adepti dello Zen, che conducevano una vita in totale contatto con la natura, affascinò la casta dei guerrieri.

Lo Zen contribuì molto allo sviluppo della tempra tenace e della forza di carattere che caratterizzò i guerrieri del Giappone feudale.

Edwin Reischauer, Japan: Past and Present

Gli inizi dell’era Zen si situano circa a metà del 12° secolo, quando i lunghi secoli di pace Heian giunsero al termine.

L’aristocrazia giapponese governò il territorio per centinaia di anni senza toccare una spada, servendosi della persuasione diplomatica con tanta abilità che Heian fu l’unica capitale, nel mondo del medio evo, priva di fortificazioni. Questo fu possibile in parte perché la classe dominante preferiva delegare ai leader locali ed ai ricchi monasteri l’amministrazione delle tasse, piuttosto che accendere dispute. Qualora fosse stato inevitabile il ricorso alla forza, la classe dominante era solita darne delega ai due più forti clan militari, i Taira e i Minamoto.

I Taira dominavano sulle province occidentali e centrali che facevano capo a Kyoto, i Minamoto quelle delle frontiera orientale, la regione dove un giorno sarebbe sorta la capitale guerresca di Kamakura.

Il tramonto dell’antico regime ebbe inizio nel 1156 quando scoppiò una disputa tra l’imperatore regnante e un sovrano che aveva ceduto il trono, mentre contemporaneamente sorgevano divergenze in seno all’aristocrazia circa la fedeltà all’uno o all’altro. Entrambe le parti in causa si rivolsero ai guerrieri per averne l’appoggio, il risultato fu una faida tra i Taira e i Minamoto che culminò in una guerra civile, la guerra Gempei che durò cinque ani, concludendosi con la vittoria dei Minamoto. Un capo appartenente a questo clan, Minamoto Yoritomo, si insediò alla testa di uno stato unificato e di un governo il cui potere era incontrastato. Yoritomo coniò per se stesso il titolo di Shogun trasferendo la sede del governo da Kyoto al suo quartiere generale militare di Kamakura e iniziò a gettare le fondamenta di quello che, per quasi 700 anni, sarebbe stato l’ininterrotto predominio della casta dei guerrieri, che divennero noti col nome di samurai, ed il cui maneggio delle spade obbediva ai principi dello Zen.

Tra questi guerrieri che si rifacevano allo Zen, la frugalità era tenuta in grandissimo conto, mentre assai disprezzate erano le mollezze degli aristocratici o dei ricchi mercanti; alla loro stessa vita davano scarso valore ed erano sempre pronti al suicidio rituale (seppuku o harakiri) pur di preservare il loro onore dal disprezzo sociale.

Yoritomo era al culmine del suo potere, quando morì accidentalmente per una caduta da cavallo. Si creò così un vuoto di potere che venne colmato dai suoi parenti acquisiti del clan Hoyo, che governò il Giappone per oltre un secolo, nel corso del quale lo Zen divenne la religione più influente del paese, contribuendo al salvataggio del Giappone da quella che fu la massima minaccia alla sopravvivenza: i tentativi di invasione di Kublai khan, capo degli eserciti mongoli.

Nel 1268 il Gran Khan, il cui esercito mongolo stava saccheggiando la Cina, invio dei messi per richiedere dei contributi. La corte di Kyoto ne fu terrorizzata, ma i samurai di Kamakura rispedirono indietro i messi, a mani vuote. Dopo quattro anni il Gran Khan ritentò ma le sue richieste furono di nuovo respinte e ciò significò la guerra.

Nel 1274 una flotta Mongola salpò dalla corea per invadere il Giappone, ma una inconcludente battaglia su una testa di ponte a Kyushu, ed un improvviso tifone fecero deragliare il progetto.

I Giapponesi avevano comunque imparato una importante lezione circa la loro preparazione militare; durante il secolo di pace interna trascorso tra la guerra Gempei ed il tentativo di invasione mongola, i guerrieri giapponesi non si erano curati di coltivare le proprie capacità belliche e per di più, il loro modo di combattere ritualizzato e formalizzato sugli ideali dell’onore, con la modalità di uomo contro uomo, si era dimostrato completamente inadatto contro le chiuse formazioni e le potenti balestre Asiatiche (un samurai usciva dai ranghi, annunciava il suo lignaggio e veniva immediatamente abbattuto da una freccia mongola), e nella sostanza i guerrieri avevano anche perso la loro tempra marziale.

Per porre rimedio a questa deficienza i monaci Zen, che fungevano da consiglieri degli Hoyo, pretesero che l’addestramento militare e in particolare l’arte del tiro con l’arco e l’arte della spada, venissero formalizzati servendosi dei metodi della disciplina Zen.

Venne velocemente ideato un sistema d’allenamento che conformasse psicologicamente e fisicamente i samurai alla battaglia. Il “training” Zen era necessario perché i Mongoli sarebbero tornati a breve.

Una delle migliori armi dei mongoli era il terrore che riuscivano a suscitare nei loro nemici, ma il terrore della morte era l’ultima delle preoccupazioni dei samurai la cui mente era stata disciplinata dall’esperienza Zen.

La situazione giunse al culmine quando un gruppo di messi Mongoli, inviato dopo la prima invasione per proferire dei termini, vennero sommariamente decapitati.

Come atteso, agli inizi della primavera del 1281 il Khan lanciò un’armata d’invasione, forte di oltre 100,000 uomini e con navi fornite dai Coreani. Quando la flotta approdò nel sud di Kyushu, i samurai erano pronti ad attenderli, felici alla prospettiva di provare su di un comune avversario, le capacità militari che avevano sviluppato negli ultimi anni macellandosi a vicenda. Essi molestarono i nemici con piccoli vascelli e li affrontarono uno ad uno sulla terraferma, senza mai cedere in alcun punto. Bloccarono la situazione per sette settimane e giunse Agosto, il mese dei tifoni. Una sera il cielo si oscurò minacciosamente, il vento iniziò a soffiare e prima che la flotta potesse ritirarsi il tifone gli si abbatté contro. In due giorni l’armata di Kublai khan venne annientata e gli avamposti vennero sconfitti dai samurai con il combattimento a uomo.

Così i guerrieri Zen sconfissero una delle più grandi armate del mondo, ed in commemorazione dell’evento l’imperatore per gratitudine chiamò il tifone Vento Divino, Kamikaze.

I simboli dei samurai Zen erano la spada e l’arco. In particolare la prima si identificava con i più nobili impulsi del singolo, un ruolo rafforzato dal suo storico posto tra gli emblemi della religione autoctona precedente il Buddismo  Zen (Shintoismo, ndr). La spada di un samurai era ritenuta animata da uno spirito individuale, e se accadeva che il samurai subisse una sconfitta sul campo di battaglia, poteva recarsi in un santuario e pregare che lo spirito rientrasse nella spada.

La reazione istintiva è la chiave dell’uso Zen della spada. Il guerriero Zen non elabora per via logica le proprie mosse: il suo organismo agisce senza far ricorso alla programmazione razionale, ciò che gli conferisce un inestimabile vantaggio su un avversario che debba riflettere sulle proprie azioni e quindi tradurre le conclusioni razionali in movimenti del braccio e della spalla. A questa tecnica i guerrieri Zen aggiunsero un altro elemento di importanza vitale: la totale identificazione del guerriero con la propria arma. Il senso del dualismo uomo, acciaio è cancellato dall’addestramento Zen; il samurai non ha mai l’impressione che il suo braccio regga una spada poiché la stessa, il suo braccio, il corpo e la mente divengono tutt’uno.

I metodi elaborati dai maestri Zen per insegnare il tiro con l’arco differiscono da quelli usati nel caso della spada. Mentre il maneggio di questa richiede che uomo e arma divengano tutt’uno, l’uso dell’arco e della freccia richiede che l’uomo si distacchi completamente dall’arma per concentrarsi unicamente sul bersaglio. La prima lezione Zen di tiro con l’arco consiste nel controllare il respiro, ciò che richiede tecniche che si imparano con la meditazione. Una respirazione adeguata condiziona la mente dell’arciere esattamente come avviene nello zazen ed è essenziale per assicurare la tranquillità dello spirito e la perfetta concentrazione. Soltanto una volta raggiunta la padronanza del possente arco, l’arciere si dedica al vero e proprio tiro delle frecce (ma non, va sottolineato, al raggiungimento del bersaglio). Anche in questo caso si fa ricorso al metodo della respirazione, avendo lo scopo di far sì che la freccia venga scoccata per intuizione spontanea, esattamente come il fendente dello spadaccino.

Accadde così che le arti marziali del Giappone fossero le prime a beneficiare dei precetti Zen, poiché non va dimenticato che meditazione e combattimento sono affini, in quanto entrambi richiedono una rigorosa autodisciplina e il superamento delle funzioni manifeste della mente. Successivamente lo Zen sarebbe divenuto la religione ufficiale dello stato e gli Shogun i suoi protettori particolari.

Segue testo in lingua inglese, tratto dal sito dell’autore https://www.thomashoover.info/

CHAPTER FIVE

Zen Archery and Swordsmanship

(THE KAMAKURA ERA—1185-1333)

The anti-scholasticism, the mental discipline—still more the strict physical discipline of the adherents of Zen, which kept their lives very close to nature—all appealed to the warrior caste. . . . Zen contributed much to the development of a toughness of inner fiber and a strength of character which typified the warrior of feudal Japan. . . .

Edwin Reischauer, Japan: Past and Present

The beginnings of the Zen era are about the middle of the twelfth century, when the centuries-long Heian miracle of peace came to an end. The Japanese aristocracy had ruled the land for hundreds of years practically without drawing a sword, using diplomatic suasion so skillful that Heian was probably the only capital city in the medieval world entirely without fortifications. This had been possible partly because of the ruling class’s will­ingness to let taxable lands slip from their control—into the hands of powerful provincial leaders and rich monasteries—rather than start a quarrel. For occasions when force was re­quired, they delegated the responsibility to two powerful mili­tary clans, the Taira and the Minamoto, who roamed the land to collect taxes, quell uprisings, and not incidentally to forge allegiances with provincial chieftains. The Taira were in charge of the western and central provinces around Kyoto, while the Minamoto dominated the frontier eastern provinces, in the region one day to hold the warrior capital of Kamakura. The astounding longevity of their rule was a tribute to the aristo­crats’ skill in playing off these two powerful families against each other, but by the middle of the twelfth century they found themselves at the mercy of their bellicose agents, awakening one day to discover ruffians in the streets of Kyoto as brigands and armed monks invaded the city to burn and pillage.

The real downfall of the ancien regime began in the year 1156, when a dispute arose between the reigning emperor and a retired sovereign simultaneously with a disagreement among the aristocracy regarding patronage. Both sides turned to the warriors for support—a formula that proved to be extremely unwise. The result was a feud between the Taira and Minamoto, culminating in a civil war (the Gempei War) that lasted five years, produced bloodshed on a scale previously unknown in Japan, and ended in victory for the Minamoto. A chieftain named Minamoto Yoritomo emerged as head of a unified state and leader of a government whose power to command was beyond question. Since Yoritomo’s position had no precedent, he invented for himself the title of shogun. He also moved the government from Kyoto to his military headquarters at Kama­kura and proceeded to lay the groundwork for what would be almost seven hundred years of unbroken warrior rule.

The form of government Yoritomo instituted is generally, if somewhat inaccurately, described as feudalism. The provincial warrior families managed estates worked by peasants whose role was similar to that of the European serfs of the same period. The estate-owning barons were mounted warriors, new figures in Japanese history, who protected their lands and their family honor much as did the European knights. But instead of glorifying chivalry and maidenly honor, they respected the rules of battle and noble death. Among the fiercest fighters the world has seen, they were masters of personal combat, horsemanship, archery, and the way of the sword. Their princi­ples were fearlessness, loyalty, honor, personal integrity, and contempt for material wealth. They became known as samurai, and they were the men whose swords were ruled by Zen.

Battle for the samurai was a ritual of personal and family honor. When two opposing sides confronted one another in the field, the mounted samurai would first discharge the twenty to thirty arrows at their disposal and then call out their family names in hopes of eliciting foes of similarly distinguished lineage. Two warriors would then charge one another brandish­ing their long swords until one was dismounted, whereupon hand-to-hand combat with short knives commenced. The loser’s head was taken as a trophy, since headgear proclaimed family and rank. To die a noble death in battle at the hands of a worthy foe brought no dishonor to one’s family, and cowardice in the face of death seems to have been as rare as it was humiliating. Frugality among these Zen-inspired warriors was as much admired as the soft living of aristocrats and merchants was scorned; and life itself was cheap, with warriors ever ready to commit ritual suicide (called seppuku or harakiri) to preserve their honor or to register social protest.

Yoritomo was at the height of his power when he was killed accidentally in a riding mishap. Having murdered all the competent members of his family, lest they prove rivals, he left no line except two ineffectual sons, neither of whom was worthy to govern. The power vacuum was filled by his in-laws of the Hojo clan, who very shortly eliminated all the remaining mem­bers of the Minamoto ruling family and assumed power. Not wishing to appear outright usurpers of the office of shogun, they invented a position known as regent, through which they manipulated a hand-picked shogun, who in turn manipulated a powerless emperor. It was an example of indirect rule at its most ingenious.

Having skillfully removed the Minamoto family from ruling circles, the Hojo Regency governed Japan for over a hundred years, during which time Zen became the most influential religion in the land. It was also during this time that Zen played an important role in saving Japan from what was possibly the greatest threat to its survival up to that time: the invasion at­tempts of Kublai Khan. In 1268 the Great Khan, whose Mon­gol armies were in the process of sacking China, sent envoys to Japan recommending tribute. The Kyoto court was terrified, but not the Kamakura warriors, who sent the Mongols back empty-handed. The sequence was repeated four years later, although this time the Japanese knew it would mean war. As expected, in 1274 an invasion fleet of Mongols sailed from Korea, but after inconclusive fighting on a southern beachhead of Kyushu, a timely storm blew the invaders out to sea and inflicted enough losses to derail the project. The Japanese had, however, learned a sobering lesson about their military preparedness. In the cen­tury of internal peace between the Gempei War and the Mon­gol landing, Japanese fighting men had let their skills atrophy. Not only were their formalized ideas about honorable hand-to-hand combat totally inappropriate to the tight formations and powerful crossbows of the Asian armies (a samurai would ride out, announce his lineage, and immediately be cut down by a volley of Mongol arrows), the Japanese warriors had lost much of their moral fiber. To correct both these faults the Zen monks who served as advisers to the Hojo insisted that military train­ing, particularly archery and swordsmanship, be formalized, using the techniques of Zen discipline. A system of training was hastily begun in which the samurai were conditioned psy­chologically as well as physically for battle. It proved so suc­cessful that it became a permanent part of Japanese martial tactics.

The Zen training was urgent, for all of Japan knew that the Mongols would be back in strength. One of the Mongols’ major weapons had been the fear they inspired in those they approached, but fear of death is the last concern of a samurai whose mind has been disciplined by Zen exercises. Thus the Mongols were robbed of their most potent offensive weapon, a point driven home when a group of Mongol envoys appearing after the first invasion to proffer terms were summarily be­headed.

Along with the Zen military training, the Japanese placed the entire country on a wartime footing, with every able-bodied man engaged in constructing shoreline fortifications. As expected, in the early summer of 1281 the Khan launched an invasion force thought to have numbered well over 100,000 men, using vessels constructed by Korean labor. When they began landing in southern Kyushu, the samurai were there and ready, delighted at the prospect of putting to use on a common adversary the military skills they had evolved over the decades through slaughtering one another. They harassed the Mongol fleet from small vessels, while on shore they faced the invaders man for man, never allowing their line to break. For seven weeks they stood firm, and then it was August, the typhoon month. One evening, the skies darkened ominously in the south and the winds began to rise, but before the fleet could with­draw the typhoon struck.

In two days the armada of Kublai Khan was obliterated, leaving hapless onshore advance parties to be cut to ribbons by the samurai. Thus did the Zen warriors defeat one of the largest naval expeditions in world history, and in commemora­tion the grateful emperor named the typhoon the Divine Wind, Kamikaze.

The symbols of the Zen samurai were the sword and the bow. The sword in particular was identified with the noblest impulses of the individual, a role strengthened by its historic place as one of the emblems of the divinity of the emperor, reaching back into pre-Buddhist centuries. A samurai’s sword was believed to possess a spirit of its own, and when he expe­rienced disappointment in battle he might go to a shrine to pray for the spirit’s return. Not surprisingly, the swordsmith was an almost priestly figure who, after ritual purification, went about his task clad in white robes. The ritual surrounding swordmaking had a practical as well as a spiritual purpose; it enabled the early Japanese to preserve the highly complex formulas required to forge special steel. Their formulas were carefully guarded, and justifiably so: not until the past century did the West produce comparable metal. Indeed, the metal in medieval Japanese swords has been favorably compared with the finest modern armorplate.

The secret of these early swords lay in the ingenious method developed for producing a metal both hard and brittle enough to hold its edge and yet sufficiently soft and pliable not to snap under stress. The procedure consisted of hammering together a laminated sandwich of steels of varying hardness, heating it, and then folding it over again and again until it consisted of many thousands of layers. If a truly first-rate sword was re­quired, the interior core was made of a sandwich of soft metals, and the outer shell fashioned from varying grades of harder steel. The blade was then heated repeatedly and plunged into water to toughen the skin. Finally, all portions save the cutting edge were coated with clay and the blade heated to a very precise temperature, whereupon it was again plunged into water of a special temperature for just long enough to freeze the edge but not the interior core, which was then allowed to cool slowly and maintain its flexibility. The precise temperatures of blade and water were closely guarded secrets, and at least one visitor to a master swordsmith’s works who sneaked a finger into the water to discover its temperature found his hand suddenly chopped off in an early test of the sword.

The result of these techniques was a sword whose razor- sharp edge could repeatedly cut through armor without dulling, but whose interior was soft enough that it rarely broke. The sword of the samurai was the equivalent of a two-handed straight razor, allowing an experienced warrior to carve a man into slices with consummate ease. Little wonder the Chinese and other Asians were willing to pay extravagant prices in later years for these exquisite instruments of death. Little wonder, too, that the samurai worshiped his sidearm to the point where he would rather lose his life than his sword.

Yet a sword alone did not a samurai make. A classic Zen anecdote may serve to illustrate the Zen approach to swordsmanship. It is told that a young man journeyed to visit a famous Zen swordmaster and asked to be taken as a pupil, indicating a desire to work hard and thereby reduce the time needed for training. Toward the end of his interview he asked about the length of time which might be required, and the master re­plied that it would probably be at least ten years. Dismayed, the young novice offered to work diligently night and day and inquired how this extra effort might affect the time required. “In that case,” the master replied, “it will require thirty years.” With a sense of increasing alarm, the young man then offered to devote all his energies and every single moment to studying the sword. “Then it will take seventy years,” replied the master. The young man was speechless, but finally agreed to give his life over to the master. For the first three years, he never saw a sword but was put to work hulling rice and practicing Zen meditation. Then one day the master crept up behind his pupil and gave him a solid whack with a wooden sword. Thereafter he would be attacked daily by the master whenever his back was turned. As a result, his senses gradually sharpened until he was on guard every moment, ready to dodge instinctively. When the master saw that his student’s body was alert to everything around it and oblivious of all irrelevant thoughts and desires, training began.

Instinctive action is the key to Zen swordsmanship. The Zen fighter does not logically think out his moves; his body acts without recourse to logical planning. This gives him a precious advantage over an opponent who must think through his actions and then translate this logical plan into the movement of arm and sword. The same principles that govern the Zen approach to understanding inner reality through transcending the ana­lytical faculties are used by the swordsman to circumvent the time-consuming process of thinking through every move. To this technique Zen swordsmen add another vital element, the complete identification of the warrior with his weapon. The sense of duality between man and steel is erased by Zen train­ing, leaving a single fighting instrument. The samurai never has a sense that his arm, part of himself, is holding a sword, which is a separate entity. Rather, sword, arm, body, and mind become one. As explained by the Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki:

When the sword is in the hands of a technician-swordsman skilled in its use, it is no more than an instrument with no mind of its own. What it does is done mechanically, and there is no [nonintellection] discernible in it. But when the sword is held by the swordsman whose spiritual attainment is such that he holds it as though not holding it, it is identified with the man himself, it acquires a soul, it moves with all the subtle­ties which have been imbedded in him as a swordsman. The man emptied of all thoughts, all emotions originating from fear, all sense of insecurity, all desire to win, is not conscious of using the sword; both man and sword turn into instru­ments in the hands, as it were, of the unconscious. . . .1

Zen training also renders the warrior free from troubling frailties of the mind, such as fear and rash ambition—qualities lethal in mortal combat. He is focused entirely on his oppo­nent’s openings, and when an opportunity to strike presents it­self, he requires no deliberation: his sword and body act auto­matically. The discipline of meditation and the mind-dissolving paradoxes of the koan become instruments to forge a fearless, automatic, mindless instrument of steel-tipped death.

The methods developed by Zen masters for teaching archery differ significantly from those used for the sword. Whereas swordsmanship demands that man and weapon merge with no acknowledgment of one’s opponent until the critical moment, archery requires the man to become detached from his weapon and to concentrate entirely upon the target. Proper technique is learned, of course, but the ultimate aim is to forget technique, forget the bow, forget the draw, and give one’s concentration entirely to the target. Yet here too there is a difference between Zen archery and Western techniques: the Zen archer gives no direct thought to hitting the target. He does not strain for accuracy, but rather lets accuracy come as a result of intuitively applying perfect form.

Before attempting to unravel this seeming paradox, the equipment of the Japanese archer should be examined. The Japanese bow differs from the Western bow in having the hand grip approximately one-third of the distance from the bottom, rather than in the middle. This permits a standing archer (or a kneel­ing one, for that matter) to make use of a bow longer than he is tall (almost eight feet, in fact), since the upper part may extend well above his head. The bottom half of the bow is scaled to human proportions, while the upper tip extends far over the head in a sweeping arch. It is thus a combination of the conventional bow and the English longbow, requiring a draw well behind the ear. This bow is unique to Japan, and in its engineering principles it surpasses anything seen in the West until comparatively recent times. It is a laminated composite of supple bamboo and the brittle wood of the wax tree. The heart of the bow is made up of three squares of bamboo sandwiched between two half-moon sections of bamboo which comprise the belly (that side facing the inside of the curve) and the back (the side away from the archer). Filling out the edges of the sandwich are two strips of wax-tree wood. The elimination of the deadwood center of the bow, which is replaced by the three strips of bamboo and two of waxwood, produces a compos­ite at once powerful and light. The arrows too are of bamboo, an almost perfect material for the purpose, and they differ from Western arrows only in being lighter and longer. Finally, the Japanese bowstring is loosed with the thumb rather than the fingers, again a departure from Western practice.

If the equipment differs from that of the West, the tech­nique, which verges on ritual, differs far more. The first Zen archery lesson is proper breath control, which requires tech­niques learned from meditation. Proper breathing conditions the mind in archery as it does in zazen and is essential in developing a quiet mind, a restful spirit, and full concentration. Controlled breathing also constantly reminds the archer that his is a religious activity, a ritual related to his spiritual charac­ter as much as to the more prosaic concern of hitting the target. Breathing is equally essential in drawing the bow, for the arrow is held out away from the body, calling on muscles much less developed than those required by the Western draw. A breath is taken with every separate movement of the draw, and gradually a rhythm settles in which gives the archer’s move­ments a fluid grace and the ritual cadence of a dance.

Only after the ritual mastery of the powerful bow has been realized does the archer turn his attention to loosing the arrows (not, it should be noted, to hitting the target). The same use of breathing applies, the goal being for the release of the arrow to come out of spontaneous intuition, like the swordsman’s attack. The release of the arrow should dissolve a kind of spiritual tension, like the resolution of a koan, and it must seem to occur of itself, without deliberation, almost as though it were independent of the hand. This is possible because the archer’s mind is totally unaware of his actions; it is focused, indeed riveted in concentration, on the target. This is not done through aiming, although the archer does aim—intuitively. Rather, the archer’s spirit must be burned into the target, be at one with it, so that the arrow is guided by the mind and the shot of the bow becomes merely an intervening, inconsequential necessity. All physical actions—the stance, the breathing, the draw, the release—are as natural and require as little conscious thought as a heartbeat; the arrow is guided by the intense concentration of the mind on its goal.

Thus it was that the martial arts of Japan were the first to benefit from Zen precepts, a fact as ironic as it is astounding. Yet meditation and combat are akin in that both require rigor­ous self-discipline and the denial of the mind’s overt functions. From its beginning as an aid in the arts of death, Zen soon became the guiding principle for quite another form of art. In years to come, Zen would be the official state religion, shoguns would become Zen patrons extraordinaire, and a to­tally Zen culture would rule Japan.