The Blown Feather Sword (吹毛剣) – To Cut Away Our Attachments and Shikai

Here’s a translation of an explanation of a koan [Wiki_Koan] regarding a special sword referred to as “The Blown Feather Sword”(吹毛剣-suimouken).  A koan is typically a brief statement, question or story used for meditation.  This particular koan is from the Blue Cliff Records (碧巌録 – hekiganroku[Wiki_BlueCliffRecords] compiled in 1125 A.D. by the Chinese Buddhist monk Yuanwu Keqin [Wiki_YuanwuKeqin].

I found the imagery of the text explaining the koan (below) helpful both in and out of kendo.  Calling us to be vigilant to any attachments that the mind and heart may cling to unconsciously or consciously – the source of our suffering.  And, in the context of kendo, calling us to be vigilant to any attachments which may diminish our ability to be fully present in a shiai, shinsa or geiko.

For example, after his 1999 All-Japan quarter-finals loss to Miyazaki Masahiro sensei, Eiga Naoki sensei describes how his obsession with winning contributed to his loss and his inability to execute techniques instinctively from mushin (mushin-no-waza) [KendoNotes_EigaQuotes].  And how he subsequently managed to overcome this obstacle and win his subsequent rematch in the 2000 All-Japan finals.

Such attachments may also be the source of the four sicknesses (四戒-shikai[KendoInfo_Shikai].  They may make ourselves or our opponents more vulnerable to seme – as explained in the quotes related to shikai and seme by Iwatate Saburo sensei (8 dan) [KendoNotes_Quotes] and Geoff Salmon sensei (7 dan) [KendoNotes_SemeQuotes].

Some notes:  The original Japanese text of the koan explanation follows the English translation (which excludes the last paragraph which is not clear to me).  I’d like to thank Susan Zau sensei for sending this text to me.  Please bear in mind that, given its deep nature, my translation may potentially be off somewhat.  However, I believe it conveys the essence of the text.  More information on this koan can be found on pp. 554-558 (PDF pp. 596-600) in [BlueCliffRecords] along with “Translators’ Notes” on p. 558 (PDF p. 600):  As usual, the sword symbolizes wisdom, cutting off confusion and attachment; uncontrived and equanimous, it sees the moon of truth everywhere in everything.”

The Blown Feather Sword

from the “Blue Cliff Records”

“The Blown Feather Sword” is about a sharp sword with sufficient truth to cut a gently falling (or blown) feather perfectly in half.

What things must be cut with a sword possessing such a degree of sharpness?  Desires, delusions, attachments and more.  There are so many things in the world today that must be cut apart decisively and cleanly.  We must become free by cutting the Gordian knot and all these shackles.

We must always have in our hearts a sharp sword expressly for this purpose.  And, at the same time, this sword is a double-edged sword that wounds us if we make a slight mistake.

Incidentally, in a poetic verse by a Zen priest referred to as the King of Great Light (大燈国師 1282-1337A.D.), there is a phrase “Cut off from the Founder of Buddhism and  always polish the Blown Feather (Sword).”  Because no matter how sharp the Blown Feather Sword, it becomes useless if it ends up rusting.  This means that the sword must always be kept polished so that, at any given moment or situation, it is sufficiently sharp to make a clean and complete cut.  In other words, no matter how excellent or innately talented a person may be, it is impossible to demonstrate (or realize) true strength if one does not always cultivate and polish one’s character with diligence.

Thus, carry a sword that is sufficiently sharpened and then cut, cut and cut strongly.  If this is done, then, in the end, the sword also will no longer be needed.  During the period of cutting, because there remains things to be cut, (the sword is still needed).  However, unless one cuts to the point where there’s nothing left to cut, the Blown Feather Sword then has no true meaning.




それほど鋭い剣で切らなければならないものとは何でしょうか?  煩悩、妄想、執着心、まだまだあります。一刀両断にズバリと断ち切らなければならないものが、今の世の中には非常に多い。快刀両断乱麻,すべてのしがらみを断ち切って、和たちは自由にならなければなりまん。


どころで、大燈国師(だいとうこくし)の遺偈(ゆいげ)に、「仏祖(ぶっそ)を截断(せつだん)して、吹毛常に磨(ま)す」という句があります。これは、いくら鋭利な剣 (吹毛) でも、それが錆びついてしまっては役に立たない。いついかなるときでもスパッと切れるように、常に磨いておかなければならないという意味です。つまり、どんなに優秀な人材でも、常に切磋琢磨して、個性を磨かなければ、真の力を発揮することは出来ないということです。

そして、十分に研ぎ澄まされた剣でもって、切って切って切りまくる。そうすれば、最後には、その剣も要らなくなる。切っている間は、まだきるものがあるわけで もうきるものもない、というところまでいかないと、「吹毛剣」の本当の意味はない。二字の「忘筌」(ぼうせん)のところでも述べたように、「剣」はあくまでも手役であって、目的ではない。



[KendoInfo_Shikai] Geoff Salmon, “The four sicknesses “shikai” – is there a cure?” KendoInfo.Net, April 13, 2015.

[KendoNotes_EigaQuotes] “Some Quotes from a Documentary on Eiga Sensei and Mushin-no-Waza (無心の技),”, Oct 15, 2018.

[KendoNotes_Quotes] “Kendo-related Quotes,”, Nov. 8, 2017.

[KendoNotes_SemeQuotes] “Quotes on Seme (攻め),”, Nov 4, 2018.

[BlueCliffRecords] “The Blue Cliff Record,” Translated by Thomas Cleary and J. C. Cleary, Shambhala, 2005 (PDF, 690 pages).







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