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of Five Rings is a classic Japanese text of samurai sword strategy. Yet, it is so much more than just a manual on how best to wield a swo rd. The principles discussed in Miyamoto Musashi’s masterpiece can, in many respe cts, be applied to life as a whole. Even though most of us today may not carry around a samurai sword on a daily basis, a reader can still find great value in the observations of this great, innovative, and eccentric samurai. Musashi deve loped what is called ni to ichi ryu or the “two as one way.” In short, it is Musash i’s preferred way of fighting with two swords simultaneously, instead of the tradi tional, two-handed fighting style of Japanese samurai. We can find meaning in M usashi’s text beyond that of just sword fighting because, in both in Japanese and in other cultures, the sword is often used as a comprehensive metaphor for life. Musashi was born in 1584. According to legend, Musashi had a real knack for fig hting and killed his first opponent, a well-known samurai, when he was only 13 y ears of age. He cut down dozens more men by the time he was in his late twentie s. In one such altercation, Musashi was said to have single-handedly killed ove r thirty men in a single challenge. Perhaps mired by his constant killing, in 1612 Musashi made the decision to never use a real blade in battle again. He, i nstead, elected to use only a wooden sword (a bokken). It is thought by some th at he believed himself to be too good to fight others with a real sword. Perhap s out of mercy or a true compassion for life, he chose not to use a live blade. It just wasn’t fair to his lesser skilled opponents. It was also around this time that Musashi speculated that his undefeatedness was not due to his mastery of the sword, but perhaps only to natural talent, luck, or even divine intervention. So at thirty years of age Musashi then decided to dedicate the rest of his life to discovering the Principle, or as he called it, the Way of Strategy. It was not for another twenty years, at age fifty, that he had decided that he had truly discovered this Way. In 1645, at age sixty, Musashi isolated himself in a cave near Mt. Iwato on the island of Kyushu. It was there that he committed the Way of Strategy to writing . Allegedly, Musashi died only a few days after completing Go Rin No Shu, the B ook of Five Rings. Each book of the Book of Five Rings is titled after an eleme nt of nature; Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and, what Musashi calls, the Void. In this six part series, I offer my own thoughts and propose modern day interpre tations of this great master’s philosophy. I present excerpts from Musashi’s introd uction plus each of the five books that I found important in my own study of bud o. Please keep in mind that what I share here is strictly my own opinions and i nterpretations of Musashi’s writings. You, of course, are welcome to disagree and /or dismiss my interpretations in part or in whole as you see fit. I make to cl aim to know the true mind of Musashi. I believe that understanding Musashi’s writings requires an appreciation for the n otion of paradox. Many people could easily read his books and say that he const antly contradicts himself. I feel differently. Many paradoxes exist in his wri tings, but I don’t feel that they are necessarily contradictory because, after all , life is full of paradoxes. For example, Aikido is a very powerful martial art
, yet it can be practiced very gently without sacrificing power. To some this i s a contradiction. To others, it is merely a complementary paradox. A paradox being a statement where two facts appear to be in conflict with each other, but, in fact, are both true. This, of course, is congruent with some of the princip les of Chinese Taoism and Musashi appears to have an appreciation for such a phi losophical perspective. Introduction to Go Rin no Shu Before entering the first book, the Earth Book, Musashi acknowledges his place i n the Universe and demonstrates humility on the subject to which others claim hi m to be a master. “There is no fighter in the world today who understands the Way of Strategy completely.” Within this statement Musashi acknowledges that even he cannot claim complete ma stery over the Way. I think this statement demonstrates Musashi’s humility despit e sometimes appearing to be somewhat arrogant. I have found that sometimes, a h ealthy self-confidence is interpreted by others with less self-confidence as arr ogance. A modern day cliché or affirmation expressing a similar notion might be t he idea that “no matter how good you are, there is always someone better.” This, of course, may or not be true. You very well may be the best at something. Howev er, the acknowledgement of such a possibility is the admirable trait of humility . A similar saying is “There’s always room for improvement.” We can strive for maste ry in any calling, even achieve it to some degree, as long as we simultaneously recognize and respect the fact that there is no such thing as perfection; there is no such thing as absolute mastery. Indeed, there is very much a difference b etween mastery and perfection. One is achievable, one is not. “Even if a man does not have an inborn ability to fight, he can become a warrior by consistently practicing each of these Ways.” To me this statement simply means that we are all capable of reaching our own po tential. One of the most common things I hear when prospective students call ou r school in Castle Rock is, “I’m not sure I’ll be any good at Aikido. I’m really out of shape and I’m in my mid thirties.” Of course, when it come to Aikido, your age and your weight aren’t relevant. Virtually anyone can train Aikido at any age. We c an all become a warrior in any calling, on or off the mat, if we choose to make the decision to do so and take the persistent action necessary to become such. “The Way of the warrior is the brave acceptance of death.” This is often quoted in samurai bushido code and I think it tends to come across to many people as scary or morbid. To me, this quote doesn’t mean you need to be prepared to die in order to train martial arts. It really just means embracing life to the fullest and not taking this great gift we have for granted. Accept ing the notion of death is just a more macho way of saying to live fully… to live completely. It is only because of death that we, as humans, value life to begin with. It is the supposed contrast between these two that creates value. The f ictitious samurai, Katsumoto, in 2003’s film, The Last Samurai expressed a similar notion as “Life in every breath.” This is the brave acceptance of death. It is th
e willingness and the courage to experience life in every breath. This is somet hing most people never do. “The warrior is different because by studying the Way of Strategy he learns to defeat other men.” Here Musashi differentiates his Way of Strategy from that of mastery over other non-martial arts such as calligraphy, tea ceremony, carpentry, dance or even swo rd crafting. He contends that they are different, in many respects, because mas tery of, for example, the Japanese art of tea ceremony (sado) is the mastery of a system of self – or put another way, one defeats oneself. In warriorship, peopl e learn to defeat other people. Personally, I don’t recognize the difference Musa shi is trying to make, but, of course, I am not a samurai master! “The spirit which defeats one man is the same as that which defeats ten million men.” “If one masters the long sword, that one man can beat ten men.” Musashi appears to be a big believer in the idea that there is no such thing as size or scale. One is the same as ten. Ten is the same as one hundred and, of course, one hundred is the same as one. For a classic, pop-culture reference, I would relate this saying to that of the Yoda character in the Star Wars movies of the 1980s. Of course, many know that the character of Yoda (a Jedi master) w as probably influenced to one degree or another by ancient samurai masters, perh aps even Musashi. Nonetheless, Yoda, a creature probably less than two feet tal l was represented as having great strength and power despite his physical statur e. “Size matters not. Do or do not. There is no try,” is a famous saying of the li ttle master. Notice how Musashi states that it is the “spirit” that defeats one man or ten millio n men. He didn’t say it was the man, or the skill, or the weapon, but the spirit. This is essential in learning the Way of Strategy. A classic illustration of this principle is the infamous Japanese Tea Master Story. When the tea master met the samurai, he thought the samurai was a Ronin, and thi s insulted the samurai greatly. The samurai was so displeased that he challenged the team master to a dual the next morning. The tea master was terrified. He ra n to the only sword master he knew and pleaded with him to train him in one nigh t to become an able swordsman. But the tea master was a hopeless student. No mat ter how patiently the sword master tried to teach him, the tea master remained i nept. At last the sword master said to him, "Just approach your sword fight the way you approach your tea ceremonies," and gave up. The following morning, heavy hearted, his fate sealed, the tea master reluctantl y went to his appointment. When he faced the samurai on the misty hill he shut h is eyes tight, lifted the heavy sword above his head, then concentrated and cent ered himself the way he did when he performed his tea ceremonies. At that, the s amurai threw down his sword, got down on his knees, and begged the tea master fo r forgiveness. "If I had known you were such a great swordsman," he said, "I nev er would have challenged you!" (Source: http://www.planetjitsu.com/viewarticle.php?t=9223)
Musashi tries to communicate that large is small, and small is large. It is a ra ther holistic way of viewing the world, a world of sameness, likeness, and whole -partedness (if there is such as word). In my opinion, Benjamin Franklin made a very similar quote. “You can only grow to the size of your thoughts.” Think small and you will be small. Think big and you will be big. This also applies to other aspects of our lives. Think yourself fat and you will be fat. Think yourself tired and you will be tired. “The principle of strategy is the accomplishment of one thing, in order to accomplish ten thousand things.” I sum this notion up in one word: Focus. Musashi is firm on the notion of maste ring one thing in order to be victorious in every thing. It is only by masterin g one thing that we can learn how to master all things. Most people try to be g reat at a number of things before they have learned to be great at just one thin g. I contend that it is this misconception that keeps people from having the su ccess in their lives that they crave. What will you master? How will you learn the art of mastery? Aikido? Your job ? Another hobby? Your emotional state? Master one thing and you will be able to achieve great things because of what you learn in the process of mastery. Tr y to succeed at multiple things simultaneously without first learning the proces s and having the experience of mastery, and you will struggle indefinitely. “You must train day and night in order for you to be able to make decisions quickly.” Successful people from Napoleon Hill to Andrew Carnegie; from Henry Ford to Anth ony Robbins all say that the most successful people are those who make decisions quickly and change their minds rarely, if at all. The ability to make decision s quickly in battle, of course, can mean the difference between life and death. This is definitely a skill that must be acquired. But this skill very much spi lls over into other areas of life as well. To acquire this skill, you will be the recipient of heavy criticism. You may be called excessive, compulsive, stubborn, or even neurotic. However, these are o ften the criticisms of people less committed to their own success, growth, and m astery. I recommend that you ignore anyone who isn’t absolutely and completely su pportive of your attempts at mastery. Your training doesn’t end when you step off the mat – at least, not if you are payin g attention it doesn’t. If you’ve been practicing Aikido for even just a few months I’m certain you have already recognized how you actually are practicing Aikido ( or the Way of Strategy) 24 hours a day, seven days per week, even though you may only train at the dojo 2 or 3 times per week. You begin to see the Aikido in e verything, in every interaction, in every challenge you face. The more you prac tice Aikido the more you will find your intuition, your visceral body wisdom, an d the more you will be willing to trust and execute your instinctive decision ma king abilities. I believe this is what Musashi means about training to make dec
________________ The Earth Book The first book is called the Earth book because its purpose is to ground you in reality and to develop an acute and complete awareness of your life. In order t o be victorious in battle and in life, you have to live life at ever-increasing levels of consciousness. Simply remaining the same is a form of regression. Th is perpetual process requires constant self-examination and it requires having a n accurate perception of the world around you. It means not making stuff up, no t exaggerating, and not believing in things that simply aren’t true. It means thi nking for yourself and formulating your own opinions – not relying on dogma simply because it is easier to do so. Take this principle off the mat and into your daily life. See your life as it t ruly is. Don’t do what most people do. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t be dishonest. Dishonesty inhibits your development, your growth, and your evolution. “It is hard to understand the true Way just from use of the sword.” “If you know the Way widely, you will find the Way within everything. Each man must pursue his particular way.” I was pleased to read that Musashi does not see the sword as the only means to l earning the Way. He obviously is a proponent of diversity of study. He seems t o recommend knowing the world microscopically and macroscopically, and perhaps p aradoxically, Musashi probably sees very little difference between the two even though he values the contributions of each. In his later years, Musashi was qui te an accomplished artist. His paintings to this day are still some of the most popular in Japan. “When you are about to battle for your life, you must make full use of your weapon ry. It is false not to do this, and to die with a sword undrawn.” Translation: Go for it! Don’t hold back in life. This is your one shot to be gre at, to be everything you every dreamed of being. There is nothing you can’t do or achieve in this life if you “draw both swords” and utilize all of your inner resour ces and passion. Some Aikido students may wonder why then do we train with only one sword in weap ons class? Musashi goes on to say that, “when you have difficulty striking down y our opponent with one hand, you then should use both of your hands.” He recognize s that when we are beginners, we must learn to crawl before we walk or run. So, too, with the sword. “…you can be victorious with either a long weapon or a short weapon… The way of the ichi school is the sprit of victory, whichever weapon is used, wh
atever its size might be.” This statement echoes what was said in the introduction portion of the Book of F ive Rings. Simply put, spirit trumps weaponry, skill, or training. It reminds me of a great quote in the 2005 movie, Batman Begins, where one of the main char acters instructs a young Bruce Wayne, “The training is nothing. The will is every thing!” The next two quotes, in my opinion, reflect a similar sentiment. “When you have acquired the Way of Strategy, there will not be a thing that you can’t understand.” “…to master the long sword means mastering of yourself, and of the whole world, so the long sword becomes the basis of strategy.” Musashi sees himself as one with nature, in a way that is almost identical to th at of Aikido’s Founder, Morihei Ueshiba. Not surprisingly, both Musashi and Ueshi ba are often considered two of the most revered martial arts of Japan, if not th e world. Musashi is truly a holistic person, who recognizes the patterns, the g eometry, and the predictable rhythms of nature. Furthermore, he acknowledges hi s existence and place within those patterns and rhythms. At the same time, he r efuses to acknowledge himself as anything separate from nature. Perhaps it is b ecause of this groundedness and complete awareness that he was undefeated at the sword his whole life. Perhaps we can benefit from this acknowledgement as well . Musashi refers to masters of the long sword (katana) as “strategists.” He contrasts this with the name of masters of other weapons such as archers, spearmen, marks men, and scythe carriers. Despite being masters of their respective weapons, he does not seem to hold the same level of value for these masters as he does stra tegists. He specifically points out that masters of the long sword are not “longs wordsmen,” but “strategists.” Musashi appears to hold the sword in higher regard than these other weapons. It may have to do with the sword being a powerful symbol in historical, Japanese culture. The sword, in his mind, may be a metaphor for life itself and that is why he uses the term “strategist.” Bows, guns, spears, and scythes, to Musashi, are the supplemental equipment of his strategy. “There is a time and place for the use of every weapon.” You can’t approach every situation in life the same way and expect satisfactory re sults. Each situation is unique and may require a fresh approach or perspective . “When you use the indoor techniques, you will tend to narrow thinking, and you will forget the true Way.” Don’t get too comfortable with that which is comfortable. You will atrophy your s pirit and lose sight of what is important in life. Constantly reach, challenge your comfort-zone. It is in this section that Musashi recognizes the value of f
irearms. I was initially surprised to discover Musashi’s appreciation for firearm s. My own stereotypes about samurai made me assume that a samurai wouldn’t find v alue in firearms, but Musashi was an unusual warrior. “By practicing, you will be able to attain full mastery over your body and to influence men with your body.” “Just as a horse needs to be fit and strong and have no defect, so must the weapon.” Life is too short to go through it being unfit. Getting grounded in the Earth B ook is about assuming control of your life. Assuming control of your life means assuming control over your body. Stop making excuses and go handle that part o f your life. Remember: If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going t o live? POWER IS A PRODUCT OF CONTROL. IF WE LACK CONTROL OVER OURSELVES, WE CAN HAVE NO CONTROL IN OUR LIVES. “Timing exists in all aspects of the life of the warrior, in his successes and in his failures, when he is in harmony and when he drifts from his path.” The right thing, the right way, at the right time. For example, you may buy the right stock at the right time and make a fortune. Similarly, you may buy the r ight stock at the wrong time and lose a fortune. We all must learn patience. S uccessful people may make decisions quickly, but often that decision may be to N OT to participate in something because it may be the wrong time. Musashi summarizes his Way of Strategy in 9 steps. The capitalized words are my own interjections. 1.Do not think dishonestly and to adhere to the Way (PERCEPTION) 2.The Way is to train (ACT) 3.Have knowledge of every art (HOLISM) 4.Know the Way of all professions (COMPREHENSIVE COMPREHENSION) 5.Know the difference between profit and loss in worldly matters (ENTROPY) 6.Develop intuition and an understanding of all things (RECOGNIZE URE’S RHYTHM) 7.See that which cannot be seen (PERCEPTION) 8.Attend even to the seemingly insignificant (SCALE) 9.Do nothing which is useless (LIVE) “The most important thing is to immerse yourself completely in the strategy.” Stop fence riding. Piss or get off the pot. You can’t be a little bit pregnant. However you want to phrase it decided to commit yourself to a higher standard o f life; to demand more of yourself. If you’re being honest with yourself, I’m sure you can recognize that the only things you’ve been truly successful with have been those in which you have completely immersed yourself in. “…the man who comes out superior will be he who manages his underlings with flexibil ity…”
This was probably the most meaningful quote to my life in the Earth Book. To m e this is about conquering our lesser selves. I interpret this not as learning to control others, but as controlling the lesser characters of myself who someti mes (OK, often) emerge in times of stress. Sometimes I refer to these as my dwa rf selves, as in the Seven Dwarves – like greedy, selfishy, procrastinator, etc… My underlings are those traits of my personality that do not serve my highest good.
If you’d like to read more, be sure to read article three: The Water Book. Or, if you’re tired of reading my thoughts on the subject and would prefer to read Musas hi’s book directly, I would encourage you to do so. ________________ The Water Book The Water Book is the second of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. Musashi continues h is warriorship dissertation by describing why the second book is called the Wate r Book. “When water is at its base, the soul is like water. Water takes on the s hape of its vessel.” Musashi explores the virtue of ADAPTABILITY as it pertains t o warriorship. He uses the element of water as a metaphor for describing this v alue. The longest of the five books, the Water Book spends a great deal of time on spe cific techniques of sword fighting. Musashi discusses topics such as posture in strategy, proper gaze in Strategy, proper footwork and stances, and specific te chniques and principles such as no plan- no concept, running-water strike, and c ontinuous cut. However, Musashi also still finds time to promulgate philosophica l proverbs that can be extrapolated not only to Aikido training, but to daily li fe, in general. The virtue of adaptability that Musashi advocates (as implicat ed in the title The Water Book) is taken, by me, to mean adaptability in both ph ysical skill and in the willingness to think and perceive situations flexibly. In this article, I, once again, offer my own thoughts, opinions, and modern day interpretations of Musashi’s poignant philosophy. Again, you are welcome to disag ree with and/or ignore anything you read in this interpretative essay. The second book is called the Water book because like water we must possess ADAP TABILITY to our every changing lives and environment. This is pure Darwinism. Adapt or die. I find it of particular interest that Musashi, a samurai, appears to have truly embraced the virtue of adaptability. As beautifully depicted in the 2003 film, The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise, the samurai were virtually wiped out because of their unwillingness to grow, change, and adapt to their ra pidly changing environment. Of course, Musashi was a very strong individual. I ndividualism was/is not necessarily considered a positive attribute in tradition al Japanese culture. He was also rather eccentric. His school of Strategy Ni t o ichi ryu broke with traditional by proposing that the best way to battle was w ith two swords simultaneously – one held in each hand. This contrasted considerab ly from the traditional, two-handed sword style of traditional samurai. “You will not attain the Way of Strategy simply by reading this book. You must internalize the writings of this book… you must understand the principles with your body.”
Action, action, action! To know is not to do. To know and not to do is to not really know at all. Experience and results are what count. Of course, the Way cannot be comprehensively expressed in writing. Words, while valuable and diverse, are limited by their very nature. You cannot become a wa rrior of life just by reading books, watching movies or instructional videos, an d certainly not by playing video games! Get out there and actually do it! Aiki do is much the same way. You can’t learn just by watching (although you can learn a lot from watching an Aikido class, particularly when you are injured). “Your body should not relax in correspondence with your mind, and your mind must remain resolute when the body is calm.” Here’s another paradox much like yin and yang. At no time, according to Musashi, should your body and mind both be relaxed. Similarly, at no time should your bo dy and mind be over-tight. They should be at opposite ends of each other. Your body fit and your mind empty or you body relaxed and your mind at attention. “In all types of strategy, you must assume this combat posture and make it your regular posture.” Live presently. Be ready. The ultimate aim of awareness is not in the ethereal or the abstract, but in the present: here and now. Nothing exists in the past. The past isn’t real. Nothing exists in the future, it hasn’t happened. The only reality that exists is the present. Our posture, our body language, should at a ll times reflect the present and only the present. Look at people. Can you not see the lack of presence in their physical body? One who is tired isn’t living i n the present, but is trapped in either the past or the future. You can see non -present-ness in people’s eyes, in people’s posture, in people’s gait, in people’s skin tone, and in people’s body fat. If you can’t see this in others, you then must prac tice your own present-ness. There is nothing more present than the live blade of a sword and its inherent ab ility to cut. When was the last time you were completely in the present? Was i t when you cut yourself with a kitchen knife or dropped something heavy on your toe? Was it when you narrowly avoided a car accident? Physical danger is often a means of bringing us into the present. However, paradoxically, attracting ph ysical danger is often caused by non-present-ness. There are other, less dange rous, less risky ways of learning to be present in both mind and body. One such way is, of course, through the committed practice of Aikido (or other martial a rts or discipline). There is no need to attract danger to live presently with a combat posture. Think not only of your body carrying a combat posture, but thi nk of your mind as such. This is not to be confused with being paranoid or worr y that you always may be in danger. It just means to live presently, know where you are, and recognize your relationship is to everything else. “Use the eyes in a broad manner.” Musashi distinguishes sight as two things: seeing and perception. He views seei ng as weak and perception as strong. Seeing is done merely with the eyes. Musa shi views perception as more than just the physical sense of sight. To Musashi, perception means viewing with your eyes, ears, nose, and with your gut, your in
tuition, your internal “vibe.” See people, read people with all of your faculties, both physical and non-physical. Tap into that visceral part of you, which says “y es” or “no” to something, not from a place of logic or evidence, but from a place of y our gut or gut feeling. However, I would recommend that in order to trust your gut – your intuition – your vessel must be clear. The more polluted your body is wi th garbage like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, medications, fast food, etc… the less you will be able to use your eyes in a broad manner. “It is important to be able to see both sides without moving your eyes.” This quote is particularly important to me. It reminds me a lot of Stephen Cove y’s 5th Habit in his best selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Peopl e. Habit number 5 is: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The abili ty to see both (or multiple) sides of any set of circumstances is critical to ha ving successful relationships with family, spouses, colleagues, employers, or ev en enemies (or perceived enemies). When practicing the art of Aikido, this skil l is critical to the optimal execution of a technique. Only by seeing both side s of a confrontation, yours and your opponents/partners are you able to optimall y respond to an aggression. The people who are consistently victorious in comba t, business, or in their personal lives are those who acknowledge the importance of, and learned competence in, the ability to be able to see both sides without moving your eyes. Without moving your eyes is another way of saying without ha ving to use great effort. This comes only through repetitive practice. People have often said to me, “How come you are ou are able to figure out or resolve this issue is because I have recognized the importance of practiced it enough to be able to do it without such a good listener?” Or, “How come y so quickly?” I believe the answer seeing from both sides and have moving my eyes.
“When you pick up a sword, you must be intent on cutting down your enemy. There should be no change in your grip as you do so.” Practicing everything you do with intent and perfection in mind. Pay attention! Everything is important, even the little things. “When walking, walk. When sit ting, sit. But above all, don’t wobble.” When you are working, work well, work int ently. When you are exercising, be focused on the exercising. Do it well. Do it intently. Don’t read a magazine while exercising. When you are sleeping, slee p well. Make the room dark, quiet, and turn off the TV. Sleep well. When you are lying around on a Sunday afternoon watching television, just watch televisio n. Watch television well, really well. Try not to multi-task. Multi-tasking i s far over-rated. People think they are saving time or being more productive. It is my experience that the only thing multi-tasking makes you more proficient at is being less productive. It is my experience that people who multi-task get less things done, not more. “A fixed hand is a dead hand. A flexible hand is a live hand.” Jack LaLane frequently say, “Life is motion. If you want to stay alive, keep movi ng.” LaLane could be compared to Musashi in many ways. LaLane is as committed to his art of being forever fit and healthy as Musashi is to his perfection of the Way of Strategy. Both these masters encourage one not to get too stuck in your routines. Don’t become old. Stay young, by constantly growing and constantly adap ting.
“Encounter your opponent with the point of your sword aimed right at his face.” Be decisive. If you are going to engage with someone, do it directly; do it ope nly. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t gossip or go behind someone’s back. Confront your enemies directly, be they external or internal. Like an Aikido technique, enter the confrontation, blend and take it off the intended line of attack, and attempt to redirect the energy to a hopefully mutual and harmonious conclusion. “Attack the enemy at the exact moment he attacks you.” Don’t hesitate. Aikido student Kriss Myer introduced me to the acronym OODA. It m eans Observe. Orient. Decide. Act. While we may learn these steps sequentially, the master is one who appears to move through these four distinct steps instant aneously. This is a product of mastery, which is a product of repetition. The Aikido mat is a perfect place to learn these four steps viscerally and then take that sense of mastery into other areas of your life. “He who hesitates has lost” i s a popular secular proverb. In Musashi’s world, hesitation could mean death. Pe rhaps this still remains true today. Hesitation could be financial loss, injury , a career setback, the loss of a valued relationship or any other number of opp ortunities. A lack of clarity and lack of intent cause indecision. Napoleon Hi ll, author of the classic 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich! calls this “having a def initeness of purpose.” “Hit your opponent’s hands from below, as he attacks… concentrate on hitting his hands.” This is a big challenge for all of us. Cut your opponents hands and the threat of his sword vanishes. Similarly, a gun isn’t dangerous unless it is in someone’s h and. I take this to mean: Focus on what matters. Don’t get distracted by the fri lls. Avoid the shiny objects. I often use the shiny object metaphor to remind me to stay focused. I came up with it by watching my cat become completely dist racted by something shiny reflecting in the house. Address the foundation of yo ur challenges, the source of what ails you, not the symptoms! “You must come to know my style and general rhythm and harmony in order to anticipate the opponent’s sword direction.” “By seriously understanding (the Way), you will be assured of victory by discerning your opponent’s intent.” Practice centeredness. Know yourself and you will know nature’s rhythm. natural rhythm of things and your opponent’s intent will be revealed to race nature’s rhythm and you will find a path through your challenge (or Learn to step outside of your own interests and perspectives and you can o easily read and anticipate the actions, intentions, and motivations of Feel the you. Emb enemy). learn t others.
“If we are well aware of the path of the sword, we are able to handle it with ease .”
Repetition is the mother of skill. We only get good at the things we do repeate dly. If you spend your time on things that benefit you, you will get good at th ose things. If you spend your time on things that harm you, you will get good a t those things, too. So, spend your time on things that benefit your body, mind , and spirit and you will be able to handle challenges with relative ease. “If you try to wield the long sword quickly, you will be mistaken in the Way.” Be present. Focus on where you are. Be mindful of the future, know exactly wha t you want to be, do, or have in the future, but don’t try to live in the future b ecause the future doesn’t really exist. And, when it does exist it will not longe r be the future, but then will be the present. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to “succeed” at something otherwise you may find that your alleged success unfulfillin g. Remember: if it feels like you are cutting corners, if it feels easier, if i t feels like it’s cheating, then it is. “The way you hold your sword must be that which makes it easiest for you to cut the enemy well.” Leverage. Live your life at a level of awareness, at a level of honesty that al lows you to leverage your skills and assets in such a way that you optimize your time, your effectiveness, and your results. Don’t create artificial prisons, men tal prisons that hold you back in life. Avoid being sucked up into socially-con ditioned beliefs that limit our happiness and sense of integrity. “The most important principle when taking a sword into your hands is to cut down your enemy by whatever means need to be applied to this end.” Be decisive and act! The more clearly you know and feel your outcome, the faste r you will achieve it. The most successful people in the world make decisions q uickly and change those decisions very rarely, if ever. Unsuccessful people cal l this stubborn. Successful people call this committed. “You must think first and foremost about performing the motion which will bring about cutting him.” Begin with the end in mind. Focus on your objective, your ideal outcome, while maintaining your awareness of the present and you will find that your obstacles are not really obstacles. Some say that the shortest distance between two point s is a straight line. If you can vividly identify these two points (Point A – whe re you are now, and Point B – where you want to be), that straight line will revea l itself. If you don’t know one or both of these two points, no map will help you . “When your enemy tires, you must expand your body and your spirit, and cut him… using your power like that of water from a flowing stream.” Everything has momentum. Success has momentum. Failure has momentum. Health h
as momentum, and sickness has momentum. When our enemies (such as laziness, sel f-doubt, fear, etc.) begin to tire, begin to lose its momentum, we must seize th e moment and expand our power, our commitment to your advantage. We must never allow our enemies to rest and regain their momentum. The art of Aikido teaches us how to do this. “Cut quickly and strongly with your hands, body, and legs. If you practice well you will be able to cut with great force.” “The Cut and the Slash are distinct from each other. The cut is decisive, and done with a brave spirit. The slash is simply a touching of the enemy.” Nothing great happens when you only committed part way. If you commit only half of your resources to any effort, you often only get half a result... sometime e ven less! If you want great results, you must commit completely with your entir e spirit. So ask yourself, are you really cutting in your life? Or are you jus t slashing? “When you are fighting against many… you must crash the enemy together, as if you were tying a line of fish.” What often looks like many problems in life is often just one problem. Do not s eparately identify one problem as many, for it will overwhelm your spirit. Try to identify what the one problem is that is in your way from succeeding and then cut it down decisively. Defeat the one, and you will discover that the other p roblems may seemingly vanish. The ability to discern the one from the many is l argely a matter of perceiving your challenge from a perspective of intensive hon esty. Honesty is most often the “skeleton key” to solving most problems. “You will be able to win using the One Cut… If you practice well in this way, strate gy will flow from your mind and you will have the ability to win according to yo ur will of mind.” Get really good at one thing and you will find that the other things often fall into place with great ease. Be just average or mediocre at several things (by n ot being focused) and your life will feel mediocre and cluttered, at best. Jack of all trades, masters of none are usually the most unsuccessful, least happy p eople. Develop mastery at something and succeed in that endeavor before you ven ture on to the next interest. Spread yourself too thin and unhappiness will fin d you quickly. Remember: avoid the shiny objects. “You make a journey of a thousand miles by taking step after step.” There are no shortcuts that lead to success. So, stop searching for them. If y ou find such a shortcut, it will likely be short-lived. Perhaps by taking bigge r steps or by walking more in a straight line may shorten your journey, but thos e physical steps still have to be taken. Remember, you may begin with the end i n mind, but you still have to actually get there by taking the physical steps in reality. Beginning with the end in mind just makes the journey more enjoyable, it doesn’t substitute for taking the steps.
________________ The Fire Book The Fire Book is the 3rd book in the Book of 5 Rings. “I refer to fighting as fire.” Musashi refers to the Fire Book as the “fighting” chapter. Obviously, one could vie w “fighting” as a metaphor for life. Though, I don’t recommend it. If your perceptio n of life is a “fight,” it will likely create anger and frustration inside of you. Personally, I prefer to think of “challenges” instead of fighting. “People tend to think of the less important aspects of strategy… They become expert at the insignificant matter of dexterity, and concentrate on minor aspects…” Personal effectiveness consultant, Stephen Covey, says, “be sure you don’t major in minor things.” Instead, focus on the things that move you forward in life. Hire out or delegate those things that keep you from being productive and waste your number one asset…time! For example, I hate taking care of my yard. To me, taking care of my lawn is a minor thing. I don’t want to spend my time taking care of a lawn. Plus, I’m no goo d at it. I don’t have the knowledge or patience to maintain a healthy lawn. For the past three summers I have tried to take care it myself and each year and eac h season my yard gets worse and worse. One of my mentors said to me, “You’ve got to stop spending time on things that frustrate you and don’t make you money. Hire s ome one to take care of your lawn.” So this summer, I hired a professional lawn c are company to service my lawn. Within 3 weeks, I had the best-looking and argu ably healthiest grass on my block. Surprisingly, I spent less on the profession al lawn care than I had doing it poorly myself. I grew up being taught by others how to do things myself to “save” money. Now, I kn ow that that’s wrong. Doing things myself, in the overwhelming majority of tasks, simply wastes my time and my money. This is just one simple example of where I have taken Musashi’s advice of not focusing on the less important tasks of strate gy and not wasting my energy on insignificant matters. I would encourage you to explore this yourself. “Stand with the sun behind you… so that there is no obstruction to your rear… (and) look down at your opponent by standing in a slightly higher place.” Translation: Set up the game to win. Don’t deliberately, knowingly, put yourself in disadvantageous situations at work, in traffic, in nature, in social circles, and, of course, on the Aikido mat. For example, when on the Aikido mat practic ing “randori,” be sure to position yourself in such a way that you only have to take on one opponent at a time. If possible, try to throw one opponent into another . Expend only as much energy as is necessary. Take this strategy into your per
sonal life as well and take advantage of the principle of leverage in every aspe ct of your life. For example, so don’t waste time and hard-earned money on things like renting apartments or houses. Do whatever it takes to become a home owner . If you buy right, homes can make you a lot of money in tax-free capital gains . Renting, on the other hand, does nothing but makes you poorer. In most cases , when you rent, you have no leverage. As Musashi says, be sure to “stand with th e sun behind you” so that you don’t have to squint your way through life. “Chase your enemy to uncomfortable places… (and) always chase your opponent into places of awkward footing.” Translation: Defeat the monster while it’s small. Don’t let up. Put off procrastin ation. Do it now. Defeat your weaknesses now. If you have a challenge such as being overweight or a problem with a personal relationship, address it now whil e the problems are small. Take corrective action now while the pain is modest. Don’t wait until you are 50 pounds overweight. Don’t wait until you are on the bri nk of divorce. And, once you’ve addressed the problem, set up rules for yourself t o maintain the correction. Don’t let that weight slip back on. Chase it to an un comfortable place. Never let it be welcome in your body. “It is possible to be victorious quite quickly if you take the lead at the beginni ng.” Translation: Know what it is that you want and act now! Be decisive. Don’t waver . When walking, walk. When sitting, sit. But, above all, don’t wobble. Remember the golden rule of your life: You are in control. Power cannot exist without co ntrol. Therefore, you cannot have or exhibit power in your life if you are not f irst in control of your life. If you feel out of control of your life, start fi rst by looking in the mirror and fixing the issues there. If you can learn to c ontrol and master your body, you will have a much easier time getting the rest o f your life under control. This is a physical universe and the human experience is largely a physical one. Take the lead of your physical self now and it will be much easier for you to be victorious in your life. “…attack with a calm mind and spirit, strongly maintaining the feeling and the intention of victory…” Translation: Always know your outcome ahead of time. Begin with the end in mind . See your goal with clarity and align your mind and body with that intention. Then, act decisively! In other words, if your mind wants something, but your b ody hesitates, or vice-versa, you’ll be hindered in its attempted execution. A “cal m mind and spirit” are an aligned mind and spirit. The sign of a calm mind and sp irit is when your body (or your physical action) moves with confidence. Your bod y moves with confidence because your mind and spirit are aligned. There is no h esitation because there is symmetry between the physical and non-physical aspect s of your intention. “You do not always need to be the first to attack. You must assess each battle accordingly.” Translation: Don’t just do something… stand there! Often, we over-respond in life t o things that don’t require a big response or don’t require a response at all! Some
times, when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Be sure not to treat every situation in your life the same way. Every enemy (inne r enemy) is different. The way you quit smoking or overeating may not be the be st way to work through anger issues or client-relation issues. Many years ago, when I was a teenager, there was a classmate who loved to push m y buttons. He would find things to tease me about. I always attempted to go he ad-to-head with him. That is, he’d offend me and I would do my best to offend him back. But, truth be told, he was far more talented at spontaneously crafting o ffensive quips than I was. When I shared this with my father and asked him for help, my father turned away from me and ignored me. I asked again and my father ignored me once again. Finally, after asking for a third time, I shouted, “Hey! Answer me!” My father turned to me and said, “Bothers you doesn’t it?” “Doesn’t what?” I said. “Being ignored. Try that and see what happens.” Though doubtful, I gave it a shot. The next time my classmate tried to goad me, I simply ignored him. I didn’t response. He tried harder to offend me. I conti nued to ignore him. Within one day, he’d given up on me and had moved on to someo ne else. I learned that I had been giving him what he wanted by responding. He like the attention he got from me. He enjoyed knowing that his efforts were pr ovoking a response. He was an attention seeker and I was giving him exactly wha t he was after. As soon as I stopped responding, he got bored with me and moved on. We must learn to asses each battle accordingly and recognize that we do no t always have to be the first to attack (or retaliate). Some things do, in fact , go away if you ignore them. “The main thing in strategy is to disallow your opponent’s efficient actions.” The more you understand your personal weaknesses, the more aware you are of them , the less they can control you and the more likely you can be successful in you r life. For example, when I work with people on weight loss I tell them that “dis cipline occurs at the grocery store, not in front of the refrigerator at 3am.” Wha t I mean by this is you can set the game up to win by demonstrating discipline w hen shopping for food. That way, when you are weaker, such as when you are tire d and can’t sleep at 3am, you are not tempted to eat something unhealthy in your p antry or refrigerator because you were strong enough not to buy it at the grocer y store. This is one way to disallow your opponent’s actions. “There are many events in a lifetime where a man is required to “cross over.” You must sail across (a body of water) even though it means leaving your friends behind… If you achieve this spirit, you will use it in all of your dealings in life. You must always have the intention to cross over.” This metaphor is quite poignant and its principle is quite possibly one of the m
ost difficult lessons adults experience in life. In short, it means you must al ways be willing to change. When I was in practice (as a doctor), I found “change” t o be one of the most feared things in a patient’s world and this is precisely what kept them from healing in many instances. Children have far less difficulty wi th this concept than adults do. When children move to a new town or state, they may miss their old friends, but they very quickly make new friends and the sens e of loss fades. Adults, however, often never believe that they will make new f riends, or, as the metaphor implies, they may never find a new relationship, job , career, hobby, or regain their health. “Crossing over” requires a faith and trust in oneself. Change is an unknown that is better embraced as exciting, instead of shunned as frightening. Musashi utilizes this metaphor as being willing to c ommit and fully attack an enemy at their weakest point. Perhaps in your life th is may mean consciously recognizing at a time of great weakness, an adverse habi t or behavior of yours that needs to be “crossed over.” “It is not possible to be victorious when attacking only in reaction to the enemy’s slash of the long sword.” You can’t win in life by always taking a back seat and just reacting to what happe ns to you. You must know what you want, inquire how to get it, and take at leas t one action toward its attainment every single day. So many people wait until they have been attacked by someone or something like a colleague, spouse, or disease before they take an action. Then, the action the y take is inappropriate to the attack: it may be excessive or it may be ineffect ive. Instead, if we can practice being calm in mind and in spirit, if we can le arn to observe our lives with honesty and integrity, we can often head off an at tack and, much like in Aikido, we can promptly enter, blend, and redirect the at tack’s energy in to a non-attack. For you left-brainers, this simply means “be proa ctive.” Musashi also calls this “Stamping on the sword” “Becoming the enemy means thinking of yourself as if you are in the opponent’s body.” Learn to see things from other people’s points of view and you’ll be surprised at ho w many people start to think that you are a psychic! This, in my opinion, is on e of the most valuable skills in effective communication and, ironically, is one of the easiest to acquire. It simply requires self-awareness and the strength of character to be willing to step outside of your ego – your vantage point – and tr y to perceive a situation from another’s value system or perspective. “In single combat if you have arrived at a four-hands situation (or stalemate) you must change your frame of mind, and switch to a proper technique as befits your situation.” Stephen Covey would call this: “The way you see the problem, is the problem!” Change the way you fundamentally “see” the problem and a new solution will suddenly presen t itself. For example, many of us could easily and quickly solve the chronic cha llenges we face in our daily lives if only we mustered the courage to choose to perceive the challenge differently than we have in the past. I have benefited i mmensely from this in many areas of my life.
“There are many things which are infectious, such as a yawn… If the enemy seems rush ed or agitate, you must not be infected by this. Behave with complete calm, and act unaffected. The enemy will see this and become relaxed also. Now that you have successfully infected him with relaxation, you can defeat him by moving dec isively.” Many things in life are infectious. Musashi’s use of the word infectious could be substituted today for the word: persuasion. However, in my opinion, one of the most infectious things is negativity of one’s attitude or disposition. That is w hy I have not watched or listened to the news for more than a year now. And, wh at do you know! I feel much better, I’m more productive, and I’m generally much mor e positive and optimistic than I have ever been. “Many things cause us to lose our balance. Some of these are fear of danger, being in a difficult position, and fear that something is about to creep up from behind.” As Aikido students, we know this principle well. We, of course, do not try to d isarm or defeat our opponent/partners until we have broken their balance. Musas hi acknowledges fear as a primary means of losing one’s balance. Metaphorically, we can see this in many areas of our lives. I think we can all agree that the t hings we engage in that we’re most successful at are those in which we do not exhi bit or harbor fear within us. Conversely, more often than not, those areas we f ind ourselves lacking in are those in which we carry fear. Many injuries in Aik ido originate as fear in the body, which, in turn, manifests as rigidness, and u ltimately leads to injury. “In battles involving many as well as in one-on-one combat, you can often win by u sing knowledge of being absorbed, if you are careful to remain engaged and not t o disentangle which would cause you to be defeated.” In Aikido class, Albright Sensei frequently speaks of ‘musubi’ or connection. He em phasizes how important it is to maintain a connection with your opponent/partner in the proper and efficient execution of each technique. Many newer students a re often perplexed by such a concept because Aikido is a martial art and martial arts are for self-defense, which by most people’s understanding, means to keep an opponent at bay. Of course, Aikido is different. It is a much more intimate a rt based on the principle of “blending” with the energy of an attack. To blend anyt hing together requires that at least two elements be mixed together; mixed toget her, of course, means that things are going to touch one another. Musashi recog nizes this principle of ‘musubi’ and describes it as “to be absorbed.” He noticed that you can win a battle by absorbing with your enemy, but is then careful to say “if,” “i f” you are careful to remain engaged and not disentangle. I believe this is what Albright Sensei means by “maintaining connection” in each technique. “When trying to move something heavy, you will have difficulty if you push directl y against it. You must ‘injure the corners’ in order to make progress.” Again, this is very reminiscent of another Aikido principle of “getting off line” to an attack. Albright Sensei teaches us that in order to blend with the energy o f an attack we must first get off line of the attack – or “injure the corners.” Getti ng off line, not only protects us, but then places us in the position to throw t he enemy off balance (a Musashi principle discussed earlier in this essay). Met
aphorically, getting off line now grants us the opportunity to “see” the attack from the other person’s perspective (another principle discussed earlier “becoming the e nemy”). Sometimes, this, in and of itself, can lead to a peaceful resolution to a civil conflict. In social or work environments, “injuring the corners” can also be applicable. Best selling author of the 1939 classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie refers to this approach as “calling attention to people’s mistakes indirect ly. Think about how you could “injure the corners” to make more progress in some “hea vy” area of your life. “Shouting before, during, and after battle is important. Your voice is a vital element. The shout has energy.” In Japanese martial arts, the shout Musashi refers to is called a ‘kiai’ (pronounced ‘key’-‘eye’). In my opinion and experience, the volume and frequency of a person’s shout is directly proportional to their confidence in themselves. When used honestly , it is often (but not always) an accurate measure of one’s capabilities. This ap plies in the work place also. For example, people who possess a commanding voic e are often perceived to be a person of charge or authority even if they are not . A commanding voice is a product of personal confidence. That personal confid ence manifests in the body as erect posture, shoulders back, chest out, and chin up (not dissimilar to that of an opera singer). As a result of this physical posture a strong, commanding voice, shout, or “KIAI” is the product. Believe it or not, published medical research and sociologic rese arch has documented that people with strong, erect posture are perceived as tall er, more charismatic, in charge, and have even been shown statistically to make more money than those with poor posture and poor voice command. On the Aikido m at, a strong ‘kiai’ can mean the difference between an effective and an ineffective technique. “Attack the enemy’s force in one area… and then, after having gotten into a rhythm, at tack one after the other of his strong points.” Although touched upon in a previous essay, Musashi takes the time to re-emphasiz e the importance of attacking one area at a time, not two, not three, but one. Trying to fight wars on multiple fronts is a frequent mistake nations make. Com panies frequently collapse because they try to expand too rapidly. The infrastr ucture deteriorates, they never truly define their market, and the demise of the company shortly follows. People do this, too, in their personal lives. We all want so much out of life that we often try to do it all at once, instead of get ting good at one thing first – then moving on to the next thing. A friend of mine once told me to remember that sometimes, slow is fast. That is, what may initi ally seem like the slow route is often the route that will produce the most last ing, most rewarding effect. The fast route sometimes feels good, at first, but ultimately burns out way too soon like a one-hit-wonder rock band from the 80s. Musashi states, “after having gotten into a rhythm” you can then attack another area . What he is referring to is momentum. When we try to do too much too soon – all at the same time – we often end up producing nothing of value, although we may ap pear quite busy. Busy and effective are not necessarily the same thing. We may have an attractive “story” about all of the fancy, exciting stuff we are involved i n, but little of it really has any substance behind it. For example, if you wer e training three different martial arts at the same time, you may sound very pos
h, but do you really think you will ever attain mastery over any of them if you are not full, 100% committed to each of them? Certainly, not. “Mountain and sea means that you should not repeat the same thing over and over wh en fighting your enemy. (Instead) while your opponent thinks about mountains, yo u should attack like the sea; while he thinks of the sea, you must attack like a mountain.” Many people are lazy. They do the same things over and over again. They never change, never grow, never learn something new, and then one day they wonder why they’ve suddenly become irrelevant. For example, I rarely feel sorry for the indu stry employee who finds himself without a job after technology has rendered his skills obsolete. If that employee had been paying attention to their environmen t, he very likely could have seen it coming. Who planted it in his mind that yo u learn a skill and then will do nothing but that skill for the rest of his life ? Some call this job security. But job security, in general, is a fictitious i llusion. We must all be able, willing, and ready to change; to learn, and to do something different when the occasion presents itself. To think otherwise is t o ignore reality. This is directly applicable to the Aikido mat as well. If you do nothing but th e same technique over and over again, without diversifying your skills, without growing, your opponent/partner will very quickly learn to defeat your techniques , thus rendering you irrelevant and ineffective. “If the enemy’s spirit is still strong, you may defeat him only shallowly, while he remains undefeated deep beneath the surface. When this happens, we must use the strategy of Hitting Bottom in order to undo his spirit and demoralize him to th e very depths of his being.” I liken this concept to defeating our personal, inner demons and life challenges . It is not enough to simply practice techniques aimed at modifying an adverse personal behavior. We must get to the very root of our demon, understand it emo tionally, at its deepest levels, and identify how it is that we on some level of our psyche believe this demon actually serves an emotional need to some extent. Only then do we possess the capacity to defeat it. Whether it is a habit such as over-eating or reverting to anger any time we feel uncomfortable or threatene d, we must hit bottom in our own personal challenges before they will no longer hold us prisoner over our own lives. If we can hit bottom and come up from it, we no longer need crutch-like “techniques” to just “get by.” “You must consider the enemy as if he is one of your own soldiers. As such, you w ill command him to move around according to your intentions.” After “getting off line,” after “blending with an attack” and seeing the attack from you r opponent’s point of view, after “throwing your enemy off balance” we must then, as M usashi refers to it, understand the principle of “The Commander Knows the Soldiers .” We must remember that we are in charge of our lives, not our spouses, not our parents, not our children, not our employers, but we – and no one else. We must a cknowledge that no matter what our predicaments, it is ourselves who got us here . It is our responsibility and it is our fault. We should want it to be our fa ult, because that means that we have control over our lives. If we shun respons ibility, if we refuse to accept fault, then we do not possess the capacity to ch ange our circumstances. Any enemy we have within ourselves, such as a substance
addiction such as food, alcohol, or prescription drugs, we must own it and trea t it as Musashi suggests “as if he is one of your own soldiers.” Only then do we ha ve the capacity to conquer it and win. We are in charge, not the vice. “There are several aspects of Letting Go of the Hilt. (For example), there is the spirit of winning while not holding a sword.” Victory does not always require a sword. Sometimes it is the very absence of a weapon that can lead to victory. There are many examples of this in history and in literature. Mahatma Ghandi was a developer and practitioner of civil disobe dience. His “Letting Go of the Hilt” paved the way for India regaining its independ ence from Britain occupation. In fiction, characters John Galt, Dagny Taggart, and Howard Roark created by philosopher Ayn Rand are other examples of “letting go of the hilt.” “When you have completely understood the Way of Strategy, you will have the abilit y to become as if your body is a rock. You will be stuck, and untouchable. Thi s is the Body of a Rock.” Musashi’s language here is different than perhaps we would use in Aikido. In Aiki do, we value fluidity and flexibility. However, the context in which Musashi he re uses the metaphor of a rock, he is symbolically saying that when you embrace the Way of Strategy it becomes a permanent part of you. It becomes a fixed prin ciple in your life. A rock you can always rely on being there, unchanging and u nwavering, forever dependable. ________________ The Wind Book Musashi is quite redundant in his writings. However, while many editors may sug gest that such is a sign of a poor writer, I would disagree. In my opinion and in my experience, the most redundant teachers/authors are often the most success ful and the most powerful. For example, Robert Kiyosaki, author the Rich Dad, P oor Dad book series has been criticized as being terribly redundant and poor wri ter. Yet, his first book is one of the best selling books of all time! How bad a writer could he be then? The same holds true for Napoleon Hill’s classic, Thin k & Grow Rich! That book is ridiculously redundant, yet it too, is one of the b est selling books in history. So, perhaps, the notion of redundancy gets a bad r ap and may be in need of reevaluation. Perhaps Musashi’s redundancy is deliberate and holds deeper significance than may seem on the surface? “Part of Strategy is being familiar with the Ways of other schools… We would not be able to fully understand my Way of Strategy without knowing the other traditions.” Translation: Perspective. Perspective is the product of at least two points. Yo u cannot know where you are with out at least one other point of view. While I think it is critical to first become competent in one style of martial arts, ear ning at the very least a black belt in that art before venturing off to another art, I very much recognize that without at least two experiences, it is difficul t to gain any perspective.
For example, I don’t care much for firearms. I’ve always been nervous around them a nd have never been at ease with the fact that with a firearm, the weakest, most out of shape person is capable of instantaneously defeating the strongest of opp onents. However, I recently decided to acquire my concealed carry permit for fi rearms. Why? Because I think it is critical to understand firearms. I have no intention of actually carrying a firearm with me, unless I am traveling, but I s till thought it would be a good idea to get to know the martial science of firea rms that I have had such reservations about.
“Schools that prefer to use the extra-long sword… do not uphold the principle of defeating the enemy in any way possible. They believe that its length will a fford them a win while maintaining a distance from their opponent... One should not have a preference for a certain length of sword.” In many martial arts the strategy is to keep an opponent at bay with long, exten ded kicks and strikes. In Aikido and other arts, very much the opposite idea is embraced of having to fully ‘enter’ the space of our perceived opponent. As such, we do not rely merely on one strategy to keep us safe. That is why in Aikido we train both left and right stance, techniques, and falls equally. In Aikido, we all train to be ambidextrous. There is no strong side, weak side, or preferred stance. I believe this approach approximates what Musa shi is saying in this passage. His criticism of the preference of a certain len gth sword reminds me much of the axiom, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything else starts to look like a nail.”
“Do not believe in the saying: the strongest hand wins.” What I love most about the art of Aikido is that the physically stronger person definitely does not always win. In fact, if you both are practicing correctly, you both will win! Musashi recognizes that strength is not the only virtue in m artial science. In Aikido, an understanding of anatomical physics and leverage, an appreciation for decisiveness, and a demonstration of patience are all virtu es that can lead to victory. We can apply this in other context, as well. In a non-martial context, strength does not always win either. Especially today, with technology as valued as it is, intelligence is perhaps more valuable and more important than strength. Of course, one could argue that intelligence, be it emotional intelligence, intelle ctual intelligence, logic or rational intelligence, is, in fact, the new measure of strength.
“Do not pay attention to unimportant details. Remain intent on using your wisdom and knowledge.” Don’t let details prevent you from taking necessary action. Don’t create reasons to procrastinate. Don’t major in minor things. I call this the “yeah, but” syndrome. So many people avoid taking action in their lives because they are always lookin g for the exception, the “yeah, but,” if you will. “Yeah, buts” are not real objections to taking action. They are procrastination devices that people use to rational ize and justify their reasons for not making necessary changes in their lives th at they simply don’t want to make. Ironically, people who are full of “yeah, buts” of ten have big butts because they are always sitting around doing nothing, jabberi ng about all the reasons why they are unable to change or take action. Know what your objective is and focus your attention upon it. Address details l ater, if necessary.
“Other schools teach evading and retreating as if it was the usual thing to do. (S tudents then) become used to these actions, and allow their enemies to command t hem.” Although not a prominent passage in the text, I found this statement particularl y poignant. There are lots of “gurus” out there teaching techniques in daily life t hat are so focused on evading techniques. For example, there are lots of “experts” advocating financial savings as a way to attain financial independence. However , I have never met or heard of anyone who “saved” their way to financial riches. I seriously doubt that teaching people how to financially “evade” and “retreat” by saving can really make some one wealthy. There are principally two ways to improve one’s financial circumstances. One way is to make/earn more money. The other is to save more money. However, one of t hese paths can be practiced in an infinite fashion. The other is limited. You can only “save” so much. You can’t “save” more than 100%. However, you can make/earn an infinite amount of money. If you focus entirely on saving, cutting back, living on less, you eventually reach a point where more saving can’t help you. For example, if you make $50,000 a year, then you can theoretically only “save” up t o $50,000 per year. At this point, you cannot improve your financial position a ny further because you have “saved” one-hundred percent of what you make. On the ot her hand, if you instead focus on making more money or earning more money, you c an exponentially improve your financial circumstances. If you focus on making m ore money you could make, say, $500,000 per year or ten times what you could hav e saved! In the first scenario your maximum savings in $50,000. In the second scenario you maximum earning is $500,000. Even if you saved nothing, and perhap s spent twice as much as you saved in scenario one (or $100,000), you are still left with a $400,000 net profit. Which of these scenarios would you rather part icipate in?
A teacher once said to me, “You can’t be in growth and fear at the same time.” That i s, you can’t both be in a state of expansion and contraction simultaneously. I wa sn’t completely certain that I agreed with him at the time. But as the years pass and my experiences deepen, I have come to recognize that he may, indeed, be rig ht. By learning how to focus on expansion, instead of contraction, I have learn ed that, paradoxically, expansion is often the best form of protection. As Musashi discusses, if you focus on evading and retreating (what I see “saving” as ) you spend your time and energy on a very limiting endeavor. You may become ex hausted retreating/saving and then wonder why you can’t get ahead in life. This i s why I love Aikido. Instead of crouching down, hunkering down, covering up, an d protecting oneself when attacked, Aikido teaches us to expand, to grow, to bec ome like a giant tidal wave and drown out any threat. I equate this by “making mo ney” instead of “saving money.” The truth is, if you make enough money, the size of y our expenses is virtually irrelevant. So if you are going to spend your time an d energy trying to improve yourself (in this analogy, your financial circumstanc es), do so by growing what you have and what you do. Don’t try to horde what you have. Don’t try to just save.
“Twisting, bending, and jumping are completely useless for cutting the enemy. In my Strategy, the body and mind are straight, and the enemy should be made to twist and bend.” Translation: Stick to your fundamentals. Focus on results, not busy-ness. Don’t confuse flashiness for sophistication in martial arts or in daily life. Also, i n daily life, don’t confuse busy with effective. Don’t confuse busy and energetic a s successful. These are not necessarily the same things. I am always amazed at how busy, yet unproductive some people are. These people “h ave no time” for things they say are important to them, yet they don’t seem to be ma king much progress in life. Everyone on this planet gets 24 hours per day. We all have the same time. We simply choose to spend those 24 hours differently fr om one another. In my experience, those who are extremely busy often need to si t still, breathe, calm themselves and re-evaluate how they are spending their ti me. If you are extremely busy, you had better be getting the results you want i n life. If you’re not, you have to make some changes. Some people make $5 per hour and some people make $5,000 per hour. It is exactl y the same amount of time between these two people. It is just that one person has chosen to spend their time differently than the other person and that is wha t accounts for the difference between these two people. If you feel like you ar e twisting, bending, and jumping through your life and are frustrated with the r esults you have (or don’t have), then perhaps you need to reevaluate the way you a re choosing to spend your time. Remember: nothing else matters but results – what ever they may be. Personally, I find myself reevaluating my own time and choice s several times each year.
“Thinking about approaches will put you in a position waiting to be attacked… In the Way of Strategy, you must always take the initiative.” The reason why we practice our Aikido techniques thousands of time – over and over again is to program our nervous systems to respond to situations instinctively. Often, on the mat, Aikido instructors will say, “Stopping thinking, and just do the technique.” Japanese might refer to this as “mushin” or having no mind-ness. Thi nking when you should be responding locks up the body and creates paralysis, or at the very least stagnation. You cannot be in your head and in your body at th e same time. It must be one or the other, unless, of course, you have successfu lly integrated the two, which very few people in our society have. This is wher e the phrase, “He who hesitates has lost,” comes from. Hesitation is a conflict bet ween mind and body. Thinking is the wrench tossed into the gears of a body mach ine. We remove thinking from our lives through daily practice and endless repet ition. The removal of thinking is what I believe causes the profound stress rel ief experienced in Aikido class. We can take this off the mat and into our dail y lives as well.
“In my Way, I have the spirit of approach-no-approach, which means no approach needs to be taken.” This philosophy is very reminiscent of Taoism, which Musashi certainly had been exposed to. To me, this spirit reminds me of a favorite epigram of mine from a famous doctor, “Do what is right, not expedient, and wash your mind of all comprom ise.” This is how we run our Aikido dojo in Castle Rock. We operate the way we f eel is right, not necessarily expedient, popular, or common. We do not employ a pproaches or techniques. We simply be. And, we believe this is why we continue to attract students from up and down the front range of Colorado. I try to tak e this similar approach in other areas of my life and I am steadily producing si milar results. We do not employ “techniques” or “strategies” but merely “be” who we are and “offer” what we offer. As a result, we attract the most wonderful people to train with us. We cannot express enough how rewarding it is to us to produce these re sults simply by doing what we believe is right.
“If you choose one place to fix your eyes, you can become confused, and your art of strategy will be compromised.” This has been touched on in previous chapters. If you stand still, the world wi ll pass you by. To remain is to regress, to improve is to progress. There are many sayings that reflect the same sentiment. But, in essence, if we become too fixed on a single system, a single method, and fail to evolve we will inevitabl y fall. Life is motion. Change is constant and inevitable. Keep moving. One, static vantage point will always have disadvantages and will eventually produce compromise.
“Speed is not an aspect of the Way of Strategy… A man who masters Strategy does not appear fast.” A friend of mine in a financial mastermind group I once participated in shared w ith the group, “Sometimes slow is fast.” What he meant by this is that if you push t oo hard to be too fast at something you often end up stagnating the process and actually slow down your progress. For example, let’s say you go out on a date wit h a man or a woman and within 30 minutes of the date you turn to the person and say, “Will you sleep with me?” There is a good chance that will be the end of the d ate and there isn’t likely to be another one with that person. Pushing too hard, saying the right thing at the wrong time, and being too eager to succeed, often leads to an unattractive sense of desperation, which ultimately slows your progr ess. So remember, sometimes slow and steady is superior to fast and erratic.
“Even an unskilled runner may run all day, but without going very far.” This touches on what we discuss earlier about the difference between efficient a nd effective, and is also very similar to the above discussion regarding speed. Still, it’s a good quote. “If you do try to cut quickly, you will fail to cut at all.” Speed is not necessarily a virtue. In Aikido, force is not a virtue, but power is. Many students stall in their training because they keep trying to “force” techni ques instead of patiently learning the physics and mechanics of each technique. The irony is that so much less “work” is required if you don’t force each technique. This, of course, holds true for many things in life.
“In this world, if you are in the mountains, and you wish to go further into the d epths of the mountain range, you will come out through the entrance again!” This quote I found particularly humorous, as I think Musashi intended. It remin ded me of a riddle I learned in elementary school: If you run directly into the center of a forest, how far can you run until you are no longer running into th e forest? The answer, of course, is half way – because after that, you would be r unning out of the forest! Here Musashi tries to disillusion students from think ing that there are deeper layers and deeper worlds to the martial arts. He deem phasizes what he calls “interior” and “exterior,” or secret traditions. He says, “…in comba t, there is no such thing as dueling on the surface or cutting and opponent’s inte rior.” What I think he is trying to say is that there are no shortcuts or secret t
ricks to learn martial arts. It takes one and only one thing – diligent training.
The Void Book Without a doubt, The Void Book is the most ambiguous, esoteric, and perhaps the most perplexing of the 5 books in The Book of 5 Rings. It is also the shortest of all the other books, perhaps because how does one endlessly elaborate on some thing called the void? Nonetheless, I ll give it a shot Knowing what Musashi calls “the void” provides contrast for knowing what “is.” Without knowledge, acceptance and awareness of the void Musashi asserts that there is co nfusion. What “is” and the void (what “is not”) produce clear contrast. Not acknowledg ing the void produces camouflage and ambiguity. summarize this book simply as: humility. I believe that it is important that we all be consciously competent of that which we do not know. That is, we should all be humbled by the fact that no matter how hard we train and no matter how mu ch we learn there will always be a vast universe of things we do not know and do not understand. In light of this great ignorance, we will still need to be abl e to function in this collective sea of the unknown. Therefore, we, as Musashi suggests, should embrace the void, merge with the void, blend with the void, so as to successfully live as we must, at times, within the void. “The Void is where there is nothing or any form. Man cannot have knowledge of the Void because it is nothing. Since we have knowledge of what is, we therefore kn ow what is not. That is the void.” After reading the opening paragraphs of the Void Book several times and trying t o wrap my head around this concept, I kept hearing Vizzini from the movie, The P rincess Bride in my mind say, “So, clearly I cannot choose the wine in front of me !” In my opinion, the void is much like the sub-conscious mind. It is not located anywhere because the mind is intangible and we can’t see or definitively say the s ubconscious exists because if we could then it wouldn’t be sub-conscious, it would be conscious. But, we can theorize and deduce that the sub-conscious exists, a nd, therefore, it does exist, at least as far as a discussional device. Similarly, we know what “is not” through contrast and deduction. Acknowledging the void, by deducing its existence, allows us to make subjective decisions that oth erwise cannot be made without some kind of arbitrary value. When we can tell wh at is from what is not, perhaps then we stand the best chance to know ourselves. For now we can, in our own estimation, “definitively” say who we are and who we ar e not; what we are and what we are not. “Make sure you base your practice on a wide foundation, and learn a large number o f martial arts. This way, you will understand the Void as the Way, and you will see the Way as the Void.”
As we train and study a diversity of martial studies, we are constantly humbled and directed to the Void by acknowledging how much we still do not know. In thi s context, again, conscious ignorance, then, may, in fact, be the true Way. Per haps another way of expressing this would be to say that at one time we may have been consciously ignorant. That is, we were fully aware of how much we did not know. Perhaps then, knowing the true Way, as Musashi articulates it, means tha t we become consciously, humbly ignorant, in that we are now aware and in awe of how much we do not know and smile at that fact because it means that we never h ave to experience boredom, we never are “finished” with our studies. “The void is good. It contains no evil.” Musashi closes this book with the notion that the void is good and contains no e vil. This, of course, is a common human condition: the reconciliation between t he known and unknown. Most people fear the unknown and find certainty and safet y in the known. But, of course, too much of the known can lead to boredom, whic h many people call a prison. Others choose to embrace the unknown as freedom an d find comfort in the variety the unknown brings to life. I believe Musashi is asking us to reconsider our dependence on the known and to embrace the unknown – t he void – as a source of freedom. The Void is freedom. The Void is good. The Wa y is good. From Musashi’s perspective, the Way and the Void are two sides of the same coin. And, to know the Way and not to know the Void, is to not really know the Way at all. Is your head spinning yet? Mine is. I’ve got to sit down now.
Universal Concepts from the Book of Five Rings That Can Benefit You Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings is an incredible book. The concepts you will find within its pages can be applied to a diverse range of areas in your life. Personally, I ve read it several times, and every time I read it I picked up som ething new or gained a deeper understanding. So I want to strip away the mystici sm and give you a little head start on absorbing the knowledge that the book con tains. To Restrain the Pillow The simple takeaway here is that you should never allow a bad situation to progr ess to its worst possible outcome because of inaction. In competition for exampl e, your goal should be to stop an opponent at the very beginning of their attack and then take the initiative away from them. Another way to think of it is that it’s just far easier to deal with any situation at its onset than at its later stages. If I put it in the framework of Brazilia n Jiu-jitsu, it would be like someone had a grip that leads to a choke with a fe w more steps. Breaking that grip initially is easier and safer than trying to es cape the choke that’s on the way. One of my teammates at Evolve Academy taught me an intuitive way to think of thi s whole concept . She broke it down into traffic lights. The green, yellow, and red lights, you know. So at green, everything’s fine. At yellow, it’s time to act, a nd then at red, it’s too late. Crossing the Expanse This whole concept is likened to actually traveling over dangerous terrain. In t he process of moving from point A to Point B there will come times when the jour ney gets rough and obstacles seem to be popping up everywhere.
Here Musashi advises that you should exert all of your focus and energy towards obliterating any obstacle in your path because once done the rest of the journey will be easy in comparison. Another way to think of it is like climbing a hill. The upward climb may be roug h as I don’t know what, but once you hit the top and starting going the downhill, it’s a breeze. To Know Collapse Pretty simple concept here, just think of it as the firm belief that you should seize opportunities whenever possible. In the book, it’s presented in the framewor k of competition or life-and-death combat situations, but it really is that simp le. For example, in competition there are moments when your opponent breaks down eit her momentarily to take a breather or because their will is broken. Musashi advi ses that you seize that opportunity and don’t relent in your onslaught. To Injure the Corners The simple way to look at this one is to think that when faced with a difficult problem, you should approach it first from its weakest points. There are a lot o f ways where this can be applicable. Here’s an example. In fact, I won’t use a competition situation. Let’s say you have a math problem you have no idea how to solve, but you understand some points. If y ou separate it into parts and solve what you can, then re-evaluate the whole aft erward, the problem will become easier to understand. Now for competition, it s best to think of it as attacking the weak links in the chain. By the weakening the corners or support structures, you can weaken the w hole, and thus make it easier to overcome a opponent. It’s simply a matter of divide and conquer. Easy concept, I know. Mountain and Sea Change The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expec ting a different result. Apparently that s a universal concept since Musashi is clearly advising against insanity in this section of the book. He states that using the same tactic twice in a roll is sometimes unavoidable bu t three times is inexcusable. So change it up and take your opponent by surprise . Force them into situations which they are not prepared for, and they will be m ore likely to stumble and make mistakes. One way to think of this concept in a context other than combat or competition i s to go back to the whole idea of insanity. Becoming so set in your ways that yo u are unwilling to deviate from course even though it s clear that you are heade d straight for a glacier is insane. So if any course of action does not lead to the desired outcome after multiple attempts, switch gears and approach it from a different angle.
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