This collection of parables written by an eighteenth-century samurai is a classic of martial arts literature. The tales are concerned with themes such as perception of conflict, self-transformation, the cultivation of chi (life energy), and understanding yin and yang. Some of the parables seem light and fanciful, but they offer the reader valuable lessons on the fundamental principles of the martial arts; “The Mysterious Technique of the Cat” is iconic.
The “demon” in the title story refers to the mythical tengu, who guard the secrets of swordsmanship. A swordsman travels to Mt. Kurama, famous for being inhabited by tengu, and in a series of conversations he learns about mushin (no-mind), strategy, the transformation of chi, and how the path of the sword leads to the understanding of life itself.
The author, Issai Chozanshi, had a deep understanding of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto, as well as insight into the central role of chi in the universe—points that are succinctly explained in William Scott Wilson’s fine introduction and extensive endnotes. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to truly understand the philosophical underpinnings of martial arts, and how these principles relate to our existence.
About The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts
The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts is a classic collection of martial arts parables, written by Issai Chozanshi, an eighteenth-century samurai. The stories, which feature demons, insects, birds, cats, and numerous other creatures, may seem whimsical, but they contain essential teachings that offer insight into the fundamental principles of the martial arts. This graphic novel version based on Chozanshi’s text brings these tales alive in a captivating and immediately accessible way.
Infused with Chozanshi’s deep understanding of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto, the tales elucidate the nature of conflict, the importance of following one’s own nature, yin and yang, the cultivation and transformation of ch’i (life energy), and the attainment of mushin (no-mind). Ultimately, the reader learns in a visually exciting way that the path of the sword is a path of self-knowledge and leads to an understanding of life itself.
“In keeping with his author’s aims, William Scott Wilson, in his elegant and erudite translation, embeds the sermon between a kind of overture and a postlude comprising some of the charming animal allegories to be found in another Chozanshi book, the ‘InakaSoshi’ (here winningly rendered as ‘The Hayseed Taoist’). The centipede questions the snake, the sea gull and the mayfly discuss the ‘Tao,’ and the toad speaks of the way of the gods. Their message is very like that of the demon—get down to essentials, forget yourself, rely on nothing, search for the heart of the truth.”—Japan Times