The Mind of the Form

I'm getting a lot of mileage out of The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts. I was re-reading this lovely book recently and found yet another pearl that has stuck with me.

In the tale of "The Transformation of the Sparrow and the Butterfly" we read about how the sparrow envies the butterfly, for the butterfly has transformed from a lowly worm into a beautiful, free-flying butterfly, while the sparrow expects to transform from its current free-flying state into a clam, with no power of movement and forced to exist in the mud and filth of the ocean floor.

Predictably, the butterfly scoffs at such worries, and chides the sparrow for trying to project its current mind into its future form. The butterfly says:

"The mind of the form follows that form. When the form is extinguished, the mind of the form disappears, too."

When I read this most recently, I thought of how the kata we study are composed of a series of forms -- postures or actions. And how often I will have my mind in either the form ahead or the form behind the form I am currently presenting. If I make a mistake, I berate myself through the next several forms, paying little attention to the forms I carry on with. Likewise, if I know a difficult move is coming up, I will anticipate it several steps ahead, reminding myself to get ready, and often moving too soon or without proper mindfulness.

But this is why I practice. The "mind of the form" will come, if I learn to correctly take the form. If I practice my body, my mind will follow. I cannot practice Katori by imagining, or by reasoning, or by any mental process whatsoever. Only practice will bring my mind to the correct place. And once the form is completed, spending any further mental energy on that form is futile. The mind of the form has disappeared.

This is why questions in the dojo are so often unhelpful. It is rarely the case that new information will improve a student's form. Practice is what is required. Until the form is correct, the mind of the form cannot be grasped.

Photo by Lida Rose