Miyamoto Musashi is perhaps Japan’s most celebrated swordsman. He is a historical figure whose exploits have reached mythic proportions. He defeated his first opponent at the age of thirteen and won all subsequent duels; it is said that he even defeated one master with a bokken (wooden sword) he fashioned from the oar of the boat which carried him to a remote island for this very match. Musashi was also a teacher, a vassal, a ronin, artist and calligrapher. In the latter part of his journey he became a hermit, living in a cave until his death. In this cave, he completed a manuscript which has been translated the world over –– The Book of Five Rings.
Many English translations of The Book of Five Rings exist, some translations are better than others. The Book of Five Rings covers parts of Musashi’s life and experiences, including his philosophy on why he never lost a duel –– a fascinating account for anyone to apply to their daily lives and chosen fields of endeavour. Musashi emphasizes a strong work ethic and the importance of transcending thought. In other words, if you have trained well, you react without thinking, your sword an extension of your own body.
My favourite part of The Book of Five Rings comes at the very beginning of the 1974 edition (though some subsequent editions have omitted it) –– a list entitled, “The Winning Strategy”. Musashi’s strategy is a guide for any life, at any stage of personal and professional development, for student and master alike. In my experience, No.5 of the list is particularly relevant for those in the creative arts. Without further interjection, I leave the final word to Musashi:
1. Do not harbor sinister designs.
2. Diligently pursue the path of two-swords-as-one.
3. Cultivate a wide range of interests in the arts.
4. Be knowledgeable in a variety of occupations.
5. Be discreet regarding one’s commercial dealings.
6. Nurture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters.
7. Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.
8. Do not be negligent, even in trifling matters.
9. Do not engage in useless activity.
Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel on sale now: maggiemaccormack.com