A view of life and death, motion and stillness
Let’s take another example. This picture was drawn by Miyamoto Musashi who was famous master swordsman in the 17th century. He expressed a win-lose situation that is decided in the blink of an eye. A shrike perched on a dead tree. The bird is dignified. His eyes peering out makes him seen like a master swordsman. But try to look at the branch in detail. You can see something else on it. It is a worm, crawling up to the top. If the worm gets caught by the bird, this peaceful and silent atmosphere might be destroyed instantly. You can see the quiet and hustle and bustle, the law of the jungle, the gap between life and death in this picture.
From another perspective, the worm is Miyamoto Musashi himself, and it shows his willingness to succeed. The worm never crawls fast but slowly goes up to the top of the martial art with passionate, yet fragile, devotion. Despite the steady progress, your life may be taken away in the blink of an eye. Musashi may want to show that his life stands on the precipice.
Showing some contrasts such as life and death, energy and silence in the picture means there is religious thought behind the Japanese arts.
Here is a short video of Japanese “iai”, or Japanese sword training. You’ll see what it involves for the first four minutes.