Eugen Herrigel


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A German philosopher who, when visiting Japan, took up archery as a way of understanding the philosophy of Zen, in which the everyday mind must be attuned to the Unconscious. In Zen, aesthetic or artistic practices can be seen as a way of training the mind, of bringing the mind into contact with what is seen as the ultimate reality. In 1936 Herrigel gave a lecture to the German-Japanese society in Berlin, on ‘The Chivalrous Art of Archery’. This circulated in translations in numerous languages and, asked to agree to a reprint of the paper, Herrigel expanded his thoughts into the little book Zen in the Art of Archery (1953), talking therein of swordplay as well as archery. The core claim in the book is that technical knowledge of how to practise an art or a sport is insufficient in order to master the art: the practitioner must, repeatedly, time and time again, ‘take the road to the artless art’, in a process of constant rebirth. Herrigel's reflections may seem irrelevant or fantastical to the calculating competitive athlete or coach, but the notion of shooting or combat being a form of training of the mind has much in common with Western assumptions about the values of games and physical education; and the idea that physical activity can be a matter of entering a particular spiritual state is important in certain psychological approaches to performance such as the notions of flow and peak performance, or popular appeals to self-actualization such as the inner game.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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