TSUKI-NO-KOKORO: Reality and Illusion in Martial Arts

Martial maxims form the bedrock of budo philosophical concepts.

Some popular proverbs include: Nana korobi ya oki (seven times fall, eight times rise) speaks to tenacity and indomitable spirit. Deru kui wa utareru (the stake that sticks up gets hammered down) refers to breaking with tradition, even in the face of criticism.

While these teachings are based in practicality, others like koan, are more esoteric and intended as personal exploration exercises. Based on experience or stage in our martial journey, we see what we need to see, as illustrated by interpretations of Tsuki-no-kokoro 月の心 (mind like the moon):

SHU (first stage) practitioners often view this saying as “the moon shines through or always exists, even if obstructed by clouds”, as a celebration of perseverance. They’re also inclined to describe it as “the moon illuminates a vast space but is not overwhelmed by its grandiosity”, a nod to humility.  Both are popular in the Shotokan community where philosophy and physical practice seldom meet.

HA (second stage) practitioners express it as “you cannot reach the moon if you don’t let go of the branch”, or giving up the comfort of our current state in order to improve or change our destination.

RI (third stage) practitioners read it as a question:  “Are you reaching for the real moon, or just a false reflection?” Does the philosophy of the dojo, sensei, or group support your authentic needs and desires?  Is your practice focused on pleasing others or improving yourself, physically, mentally and spiritually? To separate reality and illusion, you must ask yourself if you’re travelling a road that is truly your own.

Before you follow the path of Tsuki-no-kokoro, ask yourself “which moon do truly I seek?”

‘It is the very error of the moon.  She comes more nearer earth than she was wont and makes men mad.’

~ Shakespeare’s Othello, Act V. sc. 2