© 2012 niall. All rights reserved.

wind forest fire mountain

Wind Forest Fire Mountain 風林火山 (furinkazan) was the motto of Takeda Shingen.

Takeda was a Daimyo in the warring states period of Japanese history. He was also known as the Tiger of Kai. He had a legendary rivalry with Uesugi Kenshin – the Dragon of Echigo – and fought him five times in battle and once in single combat (Takeda used a tessen – an iron fan – against Uesugi’s katana). Takeda Shingen is still enormously admired and popular in Japan (in fact they both are). You can still go to onsens – hot springs – where he went to recover after battles – the minerals in the water are supposed to help sword wounds to heal faster.

His motto, which was on his war banners, was: swift as the wind, silent as a forest, fierce as fire, immovable as a mountain (move as swiftly as the wind, be as silent as a forest, attack as fiercely as fire, defend as immovably as a mountain).

The phrase originally came from the Art of War by Sun Tzu. They were Takeda Shingen’s principles of strategy – long-range planning – and also his principles of tactics – how to fight in a battle.

These four concepts have parallels with the elements. In Buddhism the elements were considered to be earth, water, fire and air. Surprisingly these four elements (with the addition of ether) are the same as the elements in classical Greek thought (and the same four elements were associated with the four humours or personality types: melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric and sanguine).

Japanese culture historically also used these same four elements, earth, water, fire and air, and similarly included one more subtle element – or lack of element: void or emptiness. For example Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings – Go Rin No Sho – is divided into these five books.

We use that idea of void or emptiness in budo in advanced concepts like mushin or mushin no shin, the mind of no mind, munen, no thought, muso, no reflection, and mugamae, a free stance – or lack of stance – quite different from a formal stance. So freedom is important – our minds should never be fixed or stuck.

In Takeda Shingen’s phrase immovable as a mountain there are echoes of fudoshin – immovable mind or calm determination. It is not a contradiction of mushin. The zen monk Takuan discussed these concepts in his letter to the sword master Yagyu Tajima no kami (Yagyu Munenori) on zen and swordsmanship (The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Soho). The mind has to be free and fluid but at the same time for ever centred. Incidentally Takuan in another letter about zen and tea (cha-no-yu) talks about the five Chinese elements (wu xing): fire, earth, metal, water and wood, and living in harmony with nature (mountains, rivers, rocks and trees).

Silent as a forest is perhaps less relevant to budo. And for fierce as fire, in a lyrical and elemental mood, here is a twentieth century poet’s vision of two elements at the end of the world:

Fire and ice, by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Finally, many samurai wrote death poems and Uesugi Kenshin’s death poem is particularly impressive and cool:

「四十九年一睡の夢 一期の栄華一盃の酒」

yonjukyu nen issui no yume ichigo no eiga ippai no saké

forty-nine years – one night’s dream a life of glory – a cup of saké

In the end what has all this got to do with budo? Simple. We always have to go back to Takeda Shingen’s first principle:




background articles


photo: Fu Rin Ka Zan by Kars Alfrink

This post was first published on the aikido site aikiweb

Aqui la traducción en español.

Hier die Deutsche Übersetzung.

© niall matthews 2010

Leave a Reply