The Mirror in the Heart of Master Swordsmen (and Jedi Masters) – Quotes

Many master swordsmen and revered kendo teachers mention the importance of having a heart with a clear mirror.  That with such a mirror, one can intuit the heart and intention of an opponent.  And respond to any situation with calmness.  This ability – displayed also by the Jedi Master characters from Star Wars – has a quasi-magical and superhuman quality about it.

The purpose of this article is to help understand this mirror and our true nature that it represents.  To that end, I have compiled a set of quotes and resources below.   The first set are from master swordsmen and kendo teachers. The second set, from meditation-related authors and teachers.  The third set are on the very related expression of “Mind Like Water” by various authors.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • The Mirror of Master Swordsmen – Quotes
  • The Mirror as a Metaphor – Quotes
  • “Mind Like Water” – Related Quotes
  • References

In terms of resources, there are many articles and websites cited in the references and, in particular, the following three.  The first [Kendo-Guide Meikyo] provides a nice, brief overview of the mirror.  The second is a lecture by Morishima Tateo (Hanshi, 8th dan) who discusses this topic – as translated by George McCall sensei [Kenshi247 Morishima4] [Kenshi247 Morishima5].  His words are like gold.  The third [KendoNotes Awareness] (including [KendoNotes_Self-Inquiry]) serve as a companion to this article and covers Awareness and “Who is this ‘I’?” which is intimately related to this mirror.

Finally, teachers often mention in writings or in person a perhaps surprising feature of this mirror.  That we each have it and that it has always been present.   Even if the mind may think otherwise.

May you re-discover the clear mirror in your heart!

Updates – Added additional quotes by Yamaoka Tesshu and Katsu Kaishu on Jan 14, 2020.  Added “Related Quotes on ‘Mind Like Water'” on Oct 22, 2019.

The Mirror as Described by Master Swordsmen – Quotes

  • Yagyu Munenori (16th Century Swordsman) [Yagyu_SwordMind]
    • A mirror, always clear, with no form or shape of its own, distinctly reflects whatever faces it.  The mind of a man of the Way is like a mirror; because it has nothing and is clear, it is “mindless,” and is lacking in nothing.  That is the mind in a natural state.  Someone who does everything with his mind in a natural state is called a master. p. 75
    • Give special attention to the movement of your opponent’s eyes.  It is even said that you must make it your own.  Unless you can follow your opponent’s eye movement with absolute calm, whatever you may have learned about sword handling will be of no use. p. 71.
  • Yamaoka Tesshu (山岡 鉄舟19th century swordsman),
    • I seek to master swordsmanship because through it I seek divine principle.  If once I attain this, my heart will be as still water, calm and quiet, like a clear mirror lucid and bright, able to cope instantly with any situation. For when faced with any incident my spirit will react of its own.  Of what comes to pass, my comprehension of it will be instantaneous.  To truly attain this plane is to be one with the Way of Heaven. [Noma, PDF p.9]
    • If your mind is empty, it reflects the ‘distortions’ and ‘shadows’ present in others’ minds.  In swordsmanship no-mind allows us to see the perfect place to strike; in daily life it enables us to see into another’s heart. [Stevens_NoSword, p. 28]
    • Year after year I practiced.  On March 30, 1880, I reached the state of no-enemy.  I cannot describe my great joy at that time.  [Stevens_NoSword, p. 129]
      • The traditional, rightly transmitted teaching is kind and true; there is no doubt about it.  I was then forty-five years old.  As I recalled my previous notions of skillfulness and ineptness, fighting and no-fighting, I realized that those dichotomies have nothing to do with the opponent; all those things are creations of one’s mind.
      • If there is self, there is an enemy; if there is no self, there is no enemy.
      • If we are enlightened to the truth of this principle, skill-ineptitude, weakness-strength, child-adult, and so on are no longer seen as two separate entities.  This is “Lovely snowflakes falling one by one nowhere else” – a marvelous place.
  • Katsu Kaishu (勝 海舟, 1823-1899)
    • When I was young, I learned that the secret of swordsmanship was to keep your mind clear and serene like a bright mirror (meikyo-shisui); [Stevens_NoSword, p. 114]
      • (T)he secret of successfully conducting foeign affairs is no different.  Most diplomats plan in advance how to react to certain situations and set inflexible standards of response.  That is a great mistake.  It is better not to have some particular scheme in mind and not stick to abstract principles. 
      • Abandon all limiting ideas and do not allow illusions and misconceptions to cloud one’s vision.
      • Keep the mind clear and serene lilke a bright mirror and regradless of what occurs, one will be able to deal with it in a natural, suitable manner.
  • Mochida Seiji (持田 盛二, 1885-1974) (10th dan)
    • When I became 70 years old, the entire body became weaker.  I found that the next step was to practice the discipline (shugyou) of not moving one’s spirit when practicing kendo.  If one’s spirit is immovable, your opponent’s spirit will become reflected in the mirror here in you.* I strived to achieve a calm and immovable spirit at this stage in my life.
    • Original text in Japanese: 七十歳になると身体全体が弱くなる。こんどは心を動かさない修行をした。心が動かなくなれば、相手の心がこちらの鏡に映ってくる。心を静かに動かされないよう努めた。[Wiki_持田 盛二]
  • Comments on Mochida Seiji by others:
    • Mochida [10 dan] sensei’s spirit had become a clear mirror – if you thought about striking him that thought would be reflected in his heart and in that instant he would strike. – Morishima Tateo (8th Dan Hanshi) [Kenshi247_Spirit]
    • …through hard and long shugyo, eventually coming to an understanding of himself …, he (Mochida sensei) then polished and refined “jiri-itchi” (technique and principle as one) before finally completely losing his ego.  This is called “reaching full enlightenment…” – Ogawa Chutaro (9 dan, Hanshi)  [Kenshi247 OgawaMochida]
  • Morishima Tateo (Hanshi, 8 dan)
    • If you are thinking about some sort of ideal or worldly thoughts then you can’t move freely.  If your spirit is like a mirror you will be able to respond to your opponents movements and execute techniques freely [Kenshi247_Morishima4]
    • (B)y the cultivation of mushin (free from obstructive thoughts) and muga (selflessness, removal of the ego), and by being free of possessions (permeable or otherwise), you can arrive at a situation where your heart and mind are like a clear mirror. [Kenshi247_Morishima5]
    • … at the end of the day you should be facing your opponent in kamae and have “arrived at a situation where your hear(t) and mind are like a clear mirror” – this is the essence of kendo. [Kenshi247_Morishima5]
    • are you putting KIAI (i.e. your full effort) into your daily pursuit?  If you do your utmost at all times then the mirror in your heart will surely open. [Kenshi247_Morishima5]
  • Noma Hisashi (1910-1939) [Noma, pp. 50-51]
    • When  one  possesses  Kan,  chances  for  attack  project  themselves  as  though they were reflected in a mirror. An important condition for developing and sustaining Kan is the possession of a clear and unsullied mind, uninhibited by unnecessary thoughts and intentions that will only mar its effect and its magical  power  will be lost.
  • Ishihara Tadayoshi (石原忠美, Kyoshi 8 dan) [Imoto_Ishihara, p. 1]
    • Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵) describes that you can see (an) opponent’s heart simply (by) looking at your polished mirror, using Kan-no-me (観の目), the image (of what) your opponent is going to do.
    • [W]hen he (Ishihara sensei) reached (the age of) 70, he stopped waving Shin (心) and became Mushin (無心), nothingness in his heart; namely, clear mind like a polished mirror without clouds.  That is a much higher level of kendo.
    • He says there are two kinds of Metsuke (目付け); namely, Kan (観) and Ken (見). 
      • He teaches Kan-no-me Tsuyoku (観の目強く) and Ken-no-me yowaku (見の目弱く).
      • Editor’s note:  I’d word the text after this as:
        • Strengthen seeing with the polished mirror of intuition.  Weaken seeing with the physical eyes.**  Seeing in this manner is called Kan Ken no Metsuke (観見の目付け).***
  • Kanzan (poet) from [Hisashi, PDF p.54].
    • In that world of no thought or intention there is neither sound nor smell, neither gods nor devils. Take for example the mirror, as the mirror reflects what is before it, so does the heart, and thus it is known as the heart-mirror. When the heart of the opponent is observed in the mirror of ones own heart, one cannot be struck,… 
  • Morihei Ueshiba [Leap_Ueshiba]
    • I become completely transparent, the opponent is transformed into their ethereal body and I am possessed by my guardian spirit. The other person disappears and I am just attacked by their hands and form. The more that the other person’s Shugyo has progressed the greater their ethereal body and the guardian spirit, so I must also become greater.
    • In any case, the state of my heart when facing an opponent is as transparent as a mirror, so in this state the other person’s spirit is perfectly refelected.


* For clarification just in case, the original text in Japanese 相手の心がこちらの鏡に映ってくる that I translated as “your opponent’s spirit will become reflected in the mirror here in you” does include the word “mirror” 鏡 (kagami).  However, this word “mirror” appears to have been dropped in other translations such as that in [KendoInfo_Marathon] with “your opponent’s spirit will manifest itself to you.”

** This reminds me of J. Krishnamurthi’s words “[T]here was a seeing, not the superficial seeing with the eyes, but seeing through the eyes from behind the head.” [KendoNotes_SoftEyes]

*** The original translated text is:  meaning that it is strong to look through the mirror intuitively, and it is weak to look at physically with your naked eyes.  That is called Kan Ken no Metsuke (観見の目付け).

The Mirror as a Metaphor – Quotes

  • The true nature of mind is mirror-like awareness, always just reflecting what’s happening, whether we notice this or not.  It never shuts off or stops functioning, even when we’re completely engrossed in conceptual thinking or strong emotions. A mirror just receives whatever object is placed before it, neutrally and naturally. –
  • Osho [Osho_Ming]
    • A mirror simply mirrors whosoever comes before it – it has no judgment.  If your eyes have no mind behind [them], … they simply look, they don’t say, ”This is good and that is bad.”  [T]hey don’t condemn, they don’t appreciate.  [T]hen everything is as clear as it can be, nothing is to be done. p. 27
    • The nature of consciousness is to be just a mirror. The mirror has no choice of its own. Whatsoever comes in front of it is reflected, good or bad, beautiful or ugly – whatsoever. The mirror does not prefer, it does not judge, it has no condemnation.  p. 50
      • A child is born; he reflects whatsoever comes before him.  He does not say anything, he does not interpret.
    • The moment interpretation enters, the mirror has lost its mirror-likeness.  Now it is no [longer] pure. Now it is filled with opinions, disturbed, many fragments, divided, split.  …
      • If you stop making discrimination(s), … – choosing this against that, liking this, disliking that – if you drop out of these divisions, the mind again becomes a mirror, pure consciousness.
    • Once you are centered in this eternal, non-changing, unmoving absolute, then your quality changes.  Then … you have become a mirror.
      • In that mirror, reality is mirrored. But first you have to become a mirror.
      • [If] [y]ou are waving, shaking so much, you cannot mirror anything – you distort.  Mind distorts the reality and consciousness reveals it.  p. 58
    • [T]he mirror has no opinion. The mirror simply mirrors – it is its nature. p. 61
      • A photographic plate hidden behind a camera also mirrors, but only once.
      • Mind is just like a photographic plate: it mirrors, then it clings to the reflection; then it carries the dead information; then … always it will carry the same information.
      • A mirror mirrors and again is empty… again it is ready to receive.  A mirror is always fresh to receive because it never clings. A mirror has no opinion. Mind has opinions,…, and through this thick wall of opinions you will never be able to reach truth. p. 61
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn [Kabat-Zinn-Awareness]
    • So the field of awareness, like a mirror but in many more dimensions knows, detects, feels sees and senses whatever moves, whatever arises, whatever it lingers, whatever dissolves.
      • So resting in awareness itself, in the choiceless, boundless, vast, spacious quality of awareness itself. 
      • If sound predominates in some moment, then sound is known. If the thought follows on the sound, then the thought is known as thinking now. Conceptually it’s recognized, known, felt neither pushed away nor pursued, neither condemned nor extolled.
    • Awareness functions (as) an open, empty, spacious mirror, empty and full, able to contain anything and needing nothing to complete itself. Undisturbed, imperturbable, never not here.
      • Like the sun always shining even when clouds obscure it.
      • And even if we become irritated or vexed, this boundless and accepting field of awareness embraces irritation and vexation, grief, joy. Anything and everything: pain, discomfort, agitation, boredom, depression, sadness.
  • Han Shan (1546-1623) [HanShan] 
    • I took a walk. Suddenly I stood still, filled with the realization that I had no body or mind. All I could see was one great illuminating Whole – omnipresent, perfect, lucid, and serene.  It was like an all-embracing mirror from which the mountains and rivers of the earth were projected … I felt clear and transparent.
    • Poem: 
      • When the mind keeps tumbling / How can vision be anything but blurred? / Stop the mind even for a moment / And all becomes transparently clear! / The moving mind is polishing mud bricks.  / In stillness find the mirror!
  • From [ConsciousReminder]:
    • You can’t “become” the changeless mirror as “pure awareness”. Whatever is done in terms of practices, meditation and inner inquiries; will never cause a reflection to become a mirror.
      • The thought of being “someone” is a reflection. The sense of being a “seeker” is a reflection. No matter what practices or efforts the “someone” as a “seeker” engages in, they can never transform the “seeker” as a reflection into becoming a mirror.
    • One moment “you” were a reflection looking for the empty clear mirror in which you were appearing, and in the next moment, suddenly you are the clear aware emptiness in which all appearances are appearing.  Rest there.
  • Chuang Tzu
    • The perfect person employs the mind as a mirror.  It neither grasps nor rejects; it receives, but does not keep.
  • Ken Wilber [Wilber_Awareness]
    • The mirror effortlessly receives its reflections, just as you effortlessly see the sky right now, and just as the Witness effortlessly allows all objects whatsoever to arise. All things come and go in the effortless mirror-mind that is the simple Witness. –
  • Arthur J. Deikman [Deikman_Observing]
    • [T]he observing self – cannot itself be observed … Its fundamentally different nature becomes evident when we realize that the observing self is featureless;   it cannot be affected by the world any more than a mirror can be affected by the images it reflects.
  • “Me”:
    • The mirror accepts everything it sees.

“Mind Like Water” – Related Quotes

Here are some related quotes using water as a metaphor of the mirror expressed as “Mind like water,” (水の心, mizu no kokoro), “Mind like the moon,” (月の心, tsuki no kokoro) or “Water holding the moon” (水の月, mizu no tsuki).

  • From [Ashland Water]:
    • Calm water is like a mirror and gives a picture of all that is around. Conversely troubled waters only reflect the turmoil within. When a person approaches a problem with calm and composure then like the reflection on calm water he sees everything. – Sensei Takayuki Mikami
    • Sensei H. Nishiyama
      • Mizu no kokoro (Mind like water) refers to the need to make the mind calm, like the surface of undisturbed water. To carry the symbolism further, smooth water reflects accurately image of all objects within its range, and if the mind is kept in this state, apprehension of the opponent’s movements, both psychological and physical, will be both immediate and accurate, and one’s responses, both defensive and offensive, will be appropriate and adequate.
      • On the other hand, if the surface of the water is disturbed, the images it reflects will be distorted, or by analogy, if the mind is preoccupied with thoughts of attack or defense, it will not apprehend the opponent’s intentions, creating an opportunity for the opponent to attack.”
    • Dr. Terrence Webster-Doyle
      • (I)f there are thoughts of winning or losing, or what technique one should use, these thoughts are like clouds that pass in front of the moon blocking the light (of awareness).
      • Still water reflects only what is there. Thoughts are like dropping pebbles into that water, causing ripples in the mud. The distracted mind cannot respond accurately and immediately to what is happening.
      • The challenges of living demand accurate and intelligent responses. When the mind is clouded or disturbed by waves of anxious thinking, then one’s response is diminished and therefore one is not capable of meeting the challenge fully.
  • The top martial artists seem to have an ability to almost “read somebody” before they even move.  How can they know what attack is coming and prepare for it or counter it, almost before the attack is even launched?  It comes back to that intuition.  It comes back to the unconscious mind detecting those almost unperceivable subtle shifts in the opponents weight, breathing, body tension, etc; which are too small for the conscious mind to register.  But if the mind is quiet, then those unperceivable signals will be detected (mind like the moon) and fed back into an instinctive reflex counter (mind like water),… – Charlie Wildish [BunkaiJutsu_Water]


[Ashland Water]  “‘Mizu No Kokoro; – Reflections on ‘Mind Like Water,'” Ashland Karate Academy, Sept. 12, 2016.

[BunkaiJutsu_Water] Charlie Wildish, “Mind Like the Moon & Mind Like Water,”, Feb 2012.

[ConsciousReminder] “Instant Enlightenment by Realising the Nature of Your Own Mind,”, Apr. 14, 2017.

[Deikman_Observing] Arthur J. Deikman, “Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy,”

[Fuliot] Pascal Fauliot, Samurai Wisdom Stories – Tales from the Golden Age of Bushido, Shambhala, 2017.

[HanShan]  “The Autobiography & Maxims of Chan Master Han Shan 1546-1623,” Translated by Upasaka Richard Cheung.

[Imoto_Ishihara] “Pursuing Life Time Kendo” by Ishihara Tadayoshi (石原忠美) and Okamura Tadanori (岡村忠典) sensei (先生),(from a book titled” Ensō no Fūkō (円相の風光) from KendoJidai (剣道時代) magazine – Pleasant Chat (歓談)), 1998, (PDF, 4 pages) Translated by Ted Imoto sensei.

[Kabat-Zinn-Awareness] Jon Kabat-Zinn, “A Meditation for Resting in Awareness,”, Mar 7, 2019.

[KendoInfo_Marathon]  Geoff Salmon, “Kendo – More a marathon than a sprint!”,, May 24, 2011.

[KendoNotes_Awareness] Young, “Awareness and Who am I?”, April 14, 2019., 

[KendoNotes_Self-Inquiry] “Self-Inquiry and “Who Am I?” – Quotes and Resources,”, October 28, 2019.  

[KendoNotes_SoftEyes] “‘Soft Eyes,’ A Way of Seeing and Being – Quote and Resources,”, December 21, 2018.

[Kendo-Guide_Meikyo] Masahiro Imafuji, “Meikyo-Shisui”,

[Kenshi247_OgawaMochida] George McCall, “Volume, quality, transcendence,”, Feb 18, 2019.

[Kenshi247_Morishima4] George McCall, “From “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 4),”, March 30, 2011.

[Kenshi247_Morishima5] George McCall, “From “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 5),”, March 30, 2011.

[Kenshi247_Spirit] George McCall, “Pursuing the spirit and modern kendo (part 3),, Mar 2011.

[Leap_Ueshiba] Christopher Li, “A Leap of the Spirit – Moritaka (Morihei) Ueshiba,” Feb. 8, 2015.

[Osho_Ming] Osho, “Hsin Hsin Ming: The Book of Nothing – Talks on the Faith Mind of Sosan” (PDF, 142 pages).

[Samurai_Tesshu] Romulus Hillsborough, “Yamaoka Tesshu”,

[Satrakshita_Mirror] “Your Consciousness is a Mirror,”

[Stevens_NoSword] John Stevens, The Sword of No-Sword:  Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu, Shambhala, 1989.

[Wiki_持田 盛二] Wikipedia, 持田 盛二 (in Japanese)

[Wilber_Awareness] Ken Wilber, “Always Already:  The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness, Integral Life, Dec 10, 2016.

[Yagyu_SwordMind] Yagyu Munenori, The Sword and the Mind (Heiho Kaden Sho), Translated by Hiroaki Sato, Fall River Press, 1985.

[Yamaoka_20Teachings] “The Twenty Teachings of Yamaoka Tesshu,” (山岡鉄舟二十訓) Asai Shotokan Association International.


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