Saturday, January 29, 2011

Walking with Musashi

I have spent the last week re-reading The Book of Five Rings (五輪書, Go Rin No Sho) as well as looking over The Way of Self Reliance, both by Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese swordsman from the Late Warring Period and the early Tokugawa period (15th-16th centuries).  He is most famous for his duel on April 13, 1612 on the island of Funajima. Musashi faced an opponent wielding an impressive long sword known as a nodachi.  Legend has it that on the ride to the island, he carved a bokken (wooden sword) from a boat oar that was longer than his opponent’s weapon.  The duel was short and Musashi walked away the victor.  It would be in his later years of life that he would collect his knowledge into the works we now call The Book of Five Rings.
The book is a work devoted to his style of martial art and the philosophies from a lifetime of combat and study.  Musashi was a master of making the other opponent out think himself.  He would show up late or early to duels, used bokken to duel instead of blade, and generally changed his approach to each confrontation or conflict as needed based on the situation.  The mental skills and his application of knowing the thoughts of others must have been truly impressive.  There are lessons to be had by studying his work.
Let me be clear before we go any further; I am no Musashi.  In my line of work, I must look into grievances in the workplace and attempt to informally resolve these conflicts before they can escalate into serious matters.  It requires a lot of mental focus and knowing the habits and cultural backgrounds of a diverse group of employees.  I put aside quiet periods of the day for mental focus, whether it is at 4 am when I rise, on the bus ride home, moving meditation as I run my few miles a day to work or the Go-Gyo forms that form the basis of the martial art I now study.  Everyone should do some mental training daily.  I am sure Musashi, and history recounts this, spent hours refining his mental prowess.  We should continue his example in our daily lives, whether it is a devoted block of meditation, a quiet moment to settle the thought process, a pause before replying to a question, or a moving meditation during exercise.  These moments assist in the clarity of the heart and ensure we are proceeding as we should when faced with the sword.   Just as we stretch our bodies to develop fluidity and flexibility, we should stretch our minds to develop the ability to adapt to any situation that confronts us.  Strive to keep an open mind and understanding of your surroundings; how your actions, reactions and no actions will affect the environment you find yourself in the here and now.  Miyamoto Musashi did.  We should strive to walk along side him.

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