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A Life Lesson From Miyamoto Musashi

A Life Lesson From Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi is someone who is revered by the Japanese as the greatest swordsman who ever lived. He has been given the honorific Kensei which translates to “sword saint”, a term that denotes him as a master with unparalleled skills.

He wrote a treatise on his “way of strategy” that you may have heard of, called, “The Book of Five Rings” or “Go Rin No Sho” in Japanese.

In the past 50 years this book has in my view, been woefully mischaracterised by, well marketers I suppose, as an essential management text.

It has also been equally mischaracterised by martial arts enthusiasts as book that is so deep “it would take more than a lifetime of study to fully understand”.

Frankly this is a load of rubbish by the way. Musashi himself in this very book decried the martial arts schools of his day that sold “secret inner teachings”. He was a very direct man. The book is mostly concerned with how to brutally deal with an opposing swordsman. Sadly, in this day as well as his, bullshit sells.

Anyway, with that introductory preamble over, let me discuss what I consider to be an excellent idea to assist with every day life. The mindset with which you approach life fundamentally affects your quality of life.

So without further ado, I shall recount what Musashi said, and then I will explain the benefits of keeping this at the forefront on your mind every day.

“In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased.”

Now as I have already explained and as you can see from what is written, Musashi’s writing was mostly concerned with combat. However, as you can plainly see, Musashi considered that there was no difference between the “spiritual bearing” you adopt in a combat situation and that which you adopt as you go about your day to day business. By the way, the term “spiritual bearing” does not reflect anything spiritual as we in the west would understand it. It is clear from the context that demeanour or mindset would be equally suitable words in the passage.

So calm and determined is the demeanour you must adopt throughout your daily life. Sounds a bit captain obvious doesn’t it? I bet there are a lot of people reading this who might say, “Yeah, I’m calm all the time”, but are you?

I know I personally am terrible on the roads for example. I’m be driving along and there will be a car in front of me going at 10 kms below the speed limit and I’m going, “What the fuck is wrong with you, you bloody dickhead?” I know that I’m not alone in allowing frustration to get to me when driving.

The thing is, when I took and applied that advice and made it a fundamental tenet of my behaviour I could no longer allow myself to get frustrated on the road. It is a framework for your behaviour and if you remind yourself daily that this who you are, that you are always calm yet determined, it fundamentally changes how you will allow yourself to react to many stress inducing situations.

So we have analysed the importance of calmness, but what about determination? Well once you absorb this passage, you can reflect on determination and realise what a powerful concept the word determination signifies.

Someone who is determined is someone who has goals and will not allow things to get in the way of achieving those goals.

Next Musashi says “Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly”. It is this advice that shows the strength of the combination of calmness and determination.

Firstly, “Meet the situation”. What situtation? Well any situation that you encounter. You are faced daily with all sorts of situations. This is how you handle all of them.

“Without tenseness yet not recklessly” This is an entreaty to make sure calmness and lack of tension do not morph into complacency and a lack of readiness. It is a reminder that the calmness and determination go together. The calmness can be likened to the skin of a tent, which without the hard frame of determination supporting it simply collapses. Without determination, calmness can be passive.

In the world of combat you need to be loose and fluid, yet when you are sword fighting one wrong move and you are dead, so recklessness is deadly.

“Your spirit settled yet unbiased”. This explains the power of the combination of calm determination. When you approach any situation with a calm demeanour as a matter of habit, you find it much easier to make situation appropriate decisions.

If we go back to my former driving habits, perhaps when I was not as calm as I am now, I might try to get past the slow driver at the earliest opportunity. Sometimes that may cause me to do something that could potentially be unsafe. In this example my spirit had a bias; a bias of impatience. Approaching the situation with calm allows you to choose a more appropriate course of action.

So there you have it. Sage advice from a 400 year old book. If you reflect on what I have written and use it yourself, you will find that you have have a very powerful framework in the ideas that these two words encapsulate that can in time be life changing.


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