The most famous of his battles took place on Ganryu Island. Having been challenged by Sasaki Kojiro, a swordsman of great reputation, Musashi spent the night in town and overslept. When a messenger was sent to remind him, he leisurely took a slow boat to the island. He wrapped a dishtowel around his head, and on the way amused himself by carving a crude bokken out of a spare oar.
Sasaki was beside himself for this insult, and was no doubt fuming by the time Musashi arrived. To show his resolve to fight to the death, he drew his sword and threw his scabbard into the surf. Mushashi said, "You won't need that anymore!"
Sasaki and Musashi met. Musashi cracked his skull with his carved oar; Sasaki died later. Mushasi's dishcloth was cut- that is how close he timed his strike. In retrospect, we can believe that Musashi wasn't kidding about his 60 duels.
Another story involves Musashi and the famed zen monk Takuan. As they were meditating in a remote mountain setting, a viper crawled into their midst. It payed no attention to Takuan, but recoiled in horror at Musashi and fled. Musashi found this disturbing, as he had developed his aura to the point where he was so fearsome that all were afraid of him. He lamented over this, and was encouraged by Takuan to continue to develop his aura to be like his, where, being in tune with nature and thereby no threat, the viper would ignore him as being part of the natural order of things.
Wether these stories are all true or not- the battle was documented, but Musashi is the stuff of legend- the are certainly inspiring. What Mushashi left for us is the Book Of five Rings- Gorin no Sho, and Dokkodo, a manifesto of his personal martial philosophy.
Dokkodo is as follows:
1. Do not stubbornly rebel against the ways of the world.
2. Do not seek pleasure for it's own sake.
3. Do not rely on any half-hearted feelings.
4. Think deeply of the world and lightly of yourself.
5. Remain detached from desire.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous of others.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Abandon resentment and complaint.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by feelings of love or lust.
11. In all things have no preference.
12. Accept your dwelling and living conditions.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hoard treasures or hold on to things you do not need.
15. Do not mindlessly follow the ways of the world.
16. Do not become obsessed with weapons or fighting.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not accumulate goods and riches for your old age.
19. Respect the Gods without relying on their help.
20. You can abandon your body, but never let go of your honor.
21. Never depart from the Way.
All in all, a formidable list. Who can follow all these precepts? And, how much validity do they have for us today? As this is a Warrior blog, I have decided to look at Musashi's code and see how it can apply for me, today- or not. I have used several translations, as it is sometimes difficult to get the correct nuance for the modern reader. In particular, some knowledge of feudal Japan is helpful in understanding what he meant.
In this first installment, let us look at #1: Do not stubbornly rebel against the ways of the world. Another translation I found said: Accept things the way they are. But, why? do we not want to make the world a better place? Hasn't most progress been made by those that have decided to buck the established order of things and experiment, often going against the grain? Well, yes. but we must understand Musashi was not interested in building a better light bulb. In the context of east versus west, we must look at ideas of improvement. If a bow won't pierce enemy armor, build a better bow. In the east, they would build a better bowman. So it does Musashi no good to develop anything that does not flow with the established order of things, and would take a great deal of energy and still not accomplish much.
Saul Alinsky wrote a book back in 1971 called Rules For Radicals. He did not advocate marching, slogans, or any other dramatic approach. He called for change from within. That is, join the system to change it. You disagree with government, you get involved. The Clintons were advocates of this approach, and credited the book with the initial desire to enter politics.
So, for Musashi's code, do not waste time trying to fight something bigger than you. And, as we discovered in Iraq, what happens when you have no real solution after a dramatic change? Would it be just as bad, or worse? Would not that be the Ruling Ring approach? (For all you that are not Lord Of The Rings fans: the Ring was powerful but evil, so even if you used it for good, it would change you to evil- just another problem.)
So- accept things for what they are, but look for ways to make things better. You can best do this by working on what I call my Zone. The idea first came to me while playing wargames. When you move a piece, the spaces around you have a zone of control- that is, if an enemy unit moved into that space, your weapons, depending on range, can strike him. Your zone reaches as far as your longest ranged weapon. My theory was that, since I cannot change the world overtly, I must change my zone, the area I affect. This means I will create a zone of peace, compassion and encouragement at home, in the workplace, and when I drive and go into the community. I can do some good here. If it spreads, the world will become a better place. Therefore, I do not rebel against the ways of the world. It was here first, it will run according to it's flow. But, I can redirect that flow just a little. You are personally responsible for what you create in your zone.