Heralded as the greatest samurai ever, master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi is one of Japan’s most revered cultural icons.
Musashi lived through a turbulent period – amidst feudal wars and a declining shogunate – yet managed to stay undefeated despite countless duels.
In his autobiography ‘The Book Of Five Rings’, Musashi chronicles the way of becoming a legendary samurai and his philosophy of combat.
As a lifelong martial artist, this book has been a companion to my growth and development in life and craft.
Here are my four major takeaways from ‘The Book Of Five Rings’.
Be A Master Of Your Craft
Just like Sun Tzu in ‘The Art Of War’, Musashi is hailed as a master strategist. He left no stone unturned in his quest to become the greatest swordsman in the country.
Musashi meticulously studied all his opponents and sought to perfect every single detail of sword fighting. He so mastered the art of kendo that by the time he reached 30 years old, Musashi relinquished his blade and duelled with just a wooden sword.
What struck me as incredible was how Musashi became such a master of his craft, to the point that he could still win despite being so severely disadvantaged.
Be Absolute And Decisive
Unlike in the movies, Musashi explains that real life duels are quickly decided. It is the man who has the first step who possesses the advantage in a sword fight.
The importance of absolution is reiterated in the section The Book Of Ground, where Musashi states “Generally speaking, the way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
It implies to me that the pursuit of one’s goals is a commitment till the end and that no other outcome is desirable. I can relate to this idea, since failure is something that we all struggle with.
Be All Knowing And All Seeking
Though Musashi is a man of introspection, he also thirsts for knowledge outside the realms of his ability.
He states “It is difficult to realize the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.”
This speaks to me because I’ve held the belief that you are only as good as your weakest link. You need to put the same effort into the smallest things as you do the biggest things in life.
Also, it is important to understand all things, just like Musashi tried as he became an artist, calligrapher, scholar, philosopher and samurai. True mastery is an endless journey as is the quest for knowledge.
Be Simple Yet Effective
Musashi details the minute principles and maneuvers of sword fighting throughout ‘The Book Of Five Rings’. He speaks of five attitudes but emphasizes that ‘the one purpose of all of them is to cut the enemy. There are none but these five attitudes.’
With so much to learn and absorb in the world today, sometimes we overburden our minds unnecessarily.
Musashi favored substance over style. I applied this in my MMA career as I was never the flashiest fighter or had an amazing repertoire of submission moves. I simply focused on the fundamentals and tried to be great at them.
Doing the simplest things the best is far more effective than performing the greatest of tasks in a mediocre way.