Miyamoto Musashi is regarded as the best Japanese swordsman/Samurai holding an undefeated record in his 61 duels. He not only was a wandering swordsman (ronin), but a writer and philosopher. He was the founder of the Niten-Ichi-Ryu-School, a style of swordsmanship where two swords are used. In his later years he wrote The Book of Five Rings, in which he “defends his thesis: a man who conquers himself is ready to take on the world, should the need arise.” (from the blurb on the back). The Book of Five Rings is considered alongside The Art of War, by Sun-Tzu, as one of the few books that cover the laws combat and more than that cover the laws of life. Here are my 5 takeaways from this classic.
- Know not only your abilities and limitations, but those of others.
Knowing your limitations means you can also know your strengths. So, you know when to ask for help or speak up when you don’t know how to do something. Musashi relates carpentry to the way of the sword, “The foreman should take into account the abilities and limitations of his men, circulating among them and asking nothing unreasonable. He should know their morale and spirit, and encourage them when necessary.” However, this can be applied across life. When you ask for the help of others, or when you are in a leadership role, you can organize people into roles in which they will thrive. This can also work in going against someone else. They will be defiant in their beliefs and will hold strong in opposition to them, so to know their limitations or weaknesses that will allow you to come at them from a different angle.
- Have the ability to view both the details and the big picture, be able to switch between the two.
Being able to detach and look at the big picture enables you to take stock of what you have done, what you are currently doing, and what you have to do. Giving you the overall picture, not only that but letting you really think about what you are doing and how to make it easier to achieve your next task or overall goal.
“What is big is easy to perceive: what is small is difficult to perceive. In short, it is difficult for large numbers of men to change position so their movements can be easily predicted. An individual can easily change his mind, so his movements are difficult to predict.”
Look at big goals, they are easy to understand, but the smaller you go the harder you must think about how it pieces together with other goals and tasks. However, when you can focus on the task at hand you are able to complete it quickly, whereas the larger goals need to be done over a longer period of time.
- Winning or success requires constant small improvements.
Throughout the whole book, Miyamoto finishes a lot of his paragraphs with lines like this:
“You must learn this through repetitive practice.” Or “You must study this well.” Or “With detailed practice you should understand it.” or “You must train constantly.”
So, it’s fair to say that he believes in constant and detailed practice, it might be a technique or strategy, but he really harps on this point. To get the desired results, you must put in the constant hard work. “Men must polish their particular way.” This can be applied in all aspects of life, you want to be better at your job, or you want to build a successful stock portfolio, or you want to lose 10kgs. Constant small improvements will determine if you succeed in achieving your goal.
- Live life fully. Don’t hesitate.
“This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet drawn.” Miyamoto is talking about when in a swordfight you want to use everything you can at your disposal, however, life could be viewed as a swordfight. You could look at your potential as your weapon in life, and why wouldn’t you want to see yourself using your highest potential. Giving all you have to whatever task is in front of you.
Of course, not unlocking your potential or waiting for the opportune time is not good either. “Waiting is bad.” As above, you need to work on it constantly, “step by step walk the thousand-mile road.”
- Train your body, mind, and spirit.
Keep your mind sharp so you can perform in stressful environments, keep your body strong to be able to move how you want, and the spirit or heart must be able to push through the challenges you will face. Go to the gym, read books, study philosophy, write out your goals, listen to podcasts, meditate, whatever you have to do to improve yourself. Back to the constant improvement, just a little at a time.
“Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm.”
Of course, if you lack training in one of these three, you will not be able to perform at a higher standard. You could be strong and have a large spirit or will, however, you could be bested by a person with a sharper mind. Conversely, if you are smart and strong you could be bested by a person with more will. It is like in jiu-jitsu, you want to have both strong defense and strong offense, if you lack in one, you will not be able to transition to your stronger aspect.
Hope you enjoyed my 5 takeaways from Miyamoto Musashi, like always I left a lot out, even though this book is less than 60 pages. I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from this classic.
“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”
Thanks for reading.
See you on the mats.