Miyamoto Musashi’s Senki Battle Spirit

Miyamoto Musashi's Senki Battle Spirit - By Master Japanese Calligrapher Eri Takase

“Senki – Spirit of Battle”

This scroll by Master Japanese Calligrapher Eri Takase is a variation of a famous work by the renowned swordsman and artist Miyamoto Musashi 1584 AD – 1645 AD. Miyamoto Musashi’s Senki Battle Spirit piece has two elements: The main characters are 戦氣 (read senki) meaning “Batle Spirit” or “Spirit of Battle” and the subtext is part of a Chinese poem that Miyamoto Musashi felt captured his approach to battle and therefore is the essence of senki.

The subtext is 寒流帯月澄如鏡 which is part of a poem by Chinese poet 白居易 (haku kyoi in Japanese) also known as 白楽天 (haku rakuten in Japanese) 772 AD – 846 AD which appears in the anthology 和漢朗詠集 (read wakan roueishuu).

The Japanese translation of the poem is 寒流月を帯びて澄めること鏡の如し which is read kanryuu tsuki wo obite sumeru koto kagami no gotoshi.

There are several translations of this phrase which roughly go “The moon on the cold stream like a mirror”. The problem I have with these translations is that the subject is the “cold river” and the object of the verb is “the moon.” Further, this is not a mere stream being referred to but the Yangtze River – a very large, deep river.

In this analogy the warrior is the cold river – or literally the cold current – and for this one must picture the warrior as a clear, wide, deep river flowing in the darkness. The moon represents the enemy. So the imagery is the enemy’s movements, the enemy’s intentions are perfectly clear in the warrior’s mind – clear without distortion – clarity untainted by emotions – calm, cold. Like the moon reflected in a cold river. Perfect clarity. Like a mirror.

So my suggestion for the translation is “The cold river reflecting the moon with clarity like a mirror”.

Kanji Romaji English
寒流 kanryuu cold current; cold river
帯びる obiru (1) to wear (sword, decoration, etc.); to carry; (2) to be entrusted (e.g. with a mission); to take on; (3) to have a trace of; to be tinged with;
tsuki moon
澄める sumeru can become transparent (is able to become transparent). From the verb 澄む sumu meaning “to clear” (e.g. weather); to become transparent
如し gotoshi like, as if, the same as
kagami mirror
One translation of 帯びて澄める is 澄み切っている or “perfectly clear”