Sword and Brush

Sword and brush: the spirit of the martial arts
Dave Lowry
Shambhala, 1995
Purchase from Amazon (paid link)

In this collection of reflections, Dave Lowry elegantly addresses many of the same issues that I often rant about. “The observable in a culture travels easily. The underlying spirit is most difficult to export” (p. 69). Lowry takes constructive action to aid in the export process by offering his meditations and calligraphy to illustrate some of the Japanese words and concepts that have no precise English equivalents. Many will be familiar with some terms, such as Do, Ki, Rei, Uke, Omote/Ura, and perhaps less so with others like Hyoshi, Kan, Den, Yoyu, Kage. Lowry presents each of these, beginning with a calligraphic expression (in the freeform shosho style) of the kanji, then explains the term in a two to three page essay, putting it into historical and cultural context (virtually all arise from classical martial traditions).

Delving into the very roots of the characters themselves in his search for meaning, Lowry unearths tidbits of interest to even those who are already familiar with his subject. His description of the kanji for kata as “[a] lattice grid with rays of sunlight penetrating it,” is both poetic and thought-provoking.

Despite a few quibbles (that really aren’t even relevant enough to mention, but having to do with how I would have published the book were I the publisher), I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with a more than superficial interest in any Japanese martial art. Why? Because there’s a whole lot of information in here that you simply must know if you hope to plunge beneath the surface in your training. I’ll close with my favorite, from the essay on Shugyo. “Too early in the morning? Get up and train. Cold and wet outside? Go train. Tired? Weary of the whole journey and longing just for a moment to stop and rest? Train.”

Diane Skoss

Copyright ©1995 Diane Skoss. All rights reserved.