One cut

January 19, 2011

by .Mitch

There’s a famous quote from Musashi Miyamoto’s Book of Five Rings:

You can win with certainity with the spirit of “one cut”. It is difficult to attain this if you do not learn strategy well. If you train well in this Way, strategy will come from your heart and you will be able to win at will. You must train diligently.

So, the question is, what does that mean? What is “one cut”? I asked my Sensei, and he gave me his interpretation, which I now give to you, filtered through my understanding (which is to say, any errors are mine and not his!)

“One cut” means continuity of intent, continuity of action. You don’t stop your intent in the middle of a cut. You don’t change your mind, decide to do something else. You cut; if the circumstances change, you do something else, but the cut occurred. The spirit of “one cut” means treating all your actions as if they were a single cut, with no breaks in intent. Your intent flows smoothly from one action into the next, with no suki (gaps or disconnections). There’s never a point where you can be interrupted, rerouted, distracted.

According to Sensei, “one cut” doesn’t refer to a particular sequence of motions. It doesn’t refer to a single opponent, or a single fight. Your “one cut” starts when you wake up in the morning, and doesn’t end until you go to sleep. In this way, your entire life flows smoothly; if a fight should occur, it’s just part of the flow, to be dealt with in the same intent as any other obstacle.

I’m not accomplished enough to say that I truly understand this. However, it seems to be related to the Zen concept of spontaneity; if you can truly avoid attachment, then all your actions will flow directly from your immediate context, and therefore will always be correct for their circumstances. Errors arise from incorrect perceptions, “illusions” – if you always see what you’re looking at, you’ll never delude yourself into seeing something else, so your actions will always suit the situation. This is what Musashi refers to when he says “strategy will come from your heart.” (Disclaimer: my grasp of Zen is rudimentary – if that sounds like gibberish, more so than Zen normally does, it probably is.)

“One cut” is, indeed, a formidable strategy, and one that is “difficult to attain”. The only mechanism I know of to achieve it is consistent training with focus, and meditation. Proper focus is almost impossible to maintain in a class setting, since you’re always having to stop what you’re doing to follow the sensei’s instructions, which makes solitary practice even more necessary. One more New Year’s resolution for you…and for me.



  1. […] Click here to read entire article. […]

  2. I have never heard of One Cut. Good stuff, thanks for putting this up!

  3. […] on his neck. All of this can be done as a single continuous movement (Musashi’s “one cut“), starting from outside combat range and ending with your opponent on the ground, your foot […]

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