Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Lessons From A Book of Five Rings

Below is an excerpt from an article published at The Martialist, entitled Seven Lessons from Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings. Here's a link to an online version of The Book of Five Rings.

Gabe Suarez, whose work in the field of self-defense I quite admire, wrote an article for the May 2004 issue of Black Belt magazine in which he analyzed the five scrolls of Musashi’s Book of Five Spheres and discussed their relevance in modern times. My Wing Chun Kung Fu instructor thought so highly of Gabe’s article that he discussed it in class. This prompted me to go back to my well-worn copy of the text to reread it. In the course of that I thought I might try to distill some of the lessons I’ve taken from it. These aren’t necessarily the most important thoughts Musashi relates in the text, but they’re the ones I’ve taken most to heart in the context of my martial development and the ongoing task of self-defense.

1. Be a Pragmatist.

According to translator Thomas Cleary, Musashi wrote deliberately in a clear, almost crude style lacking the flowery subtext of his contemporaries. His prose carries the tone, at least when rendered in English, of someone tremendously confident in the remarkably simple principles he is relating – principles that can be applied to different spheres of human activity. He saw only four walks of life and he saw martial skill as essential to life. He did not believe in overcomplicating things. “When you attain a certain discernment of the principles of mastering swordsmanship,” he wrote, “then, when you can defeat one opponent at will, this is tantamount to being able to defeat everyone in the world.”

2. Be a Skeptic.

Musashi, writing hundreds of years ago, decried empty commercialization and poor teaching in words just as relevant then as to today’s martial arts community. “The field of martial arts,” he said, “is particularly rife with flamboyant showmanship, with commercial popularization and profiteering on the part of both those who teach the science and those who study it.” The self-defense industry today is rife with McDojos, strip mall money pits, fly-by-night “fear no man” schemes, and desperate but ridiculous attempts to be different in a market flooded with just-invented combat systems claiming fictional historical roots. It seems the 17th century was not terribly different than the 21st – for good reason. Human nature has not changed in the intervening years. We’d all do well to remember Musashi’s warnings as we seek qualified and effective instruction.

3. Nothing Worth Doing is Easy.

“The long sword seems heavy and unwieldy to everyone at first,” Musashi wrote, “but everything is like that when you first take it up.” That’s the lesson I remember most often in my daily life. Musashi understood, hundreds of years ago, something that too few of us remember today. When you start something new, it’s difficult at first. You have to stay with it or you will never accomplish anything worthwhile. I spent the first three months of my Wing Chun Kung Fu training wondering if I should quit, but I remembered Musashi – and I resolved to stick with it. When I finally started to “get it,” I was glad I had not given up.


Pancho said...

It is such a wonderful book. Very "crude" and direct in style.

I would say, it has even a very elaborated sense of humor.

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