I often write about what I am thinking when I’m out walking or riding. Being alone in a grand place allows me to contemplate the things that have influenced my thinking throughout my life. This process helps me to try to sort out the loss of Arthur and try to understand what was going on in his mind to make him choose the action that he did. I’ll probably never know, but trying to understand is part of the process. Arthur was just beginning his long path to understanding the Way of the Sword.
A continuing part of Arthur’s legacy is photography; it was something that we did together and that he had a talent for. So enjoy the photographs that follow and if you are so inclined go outside and take some of your own, it will do you well. Try to see the small and the large of things.
“Pay attention even to trifles”
-Kensai Miyamoto Musashi
Often in life we are caught up in the demands of work, family, or social interactions. This often overshadows our perceptions of what is actually going on around us in both the macrocosm and in the microcosm. You can easily fall into the trap of believing in falsehoods and deceptions and raising unimportant things to the status of Great Importance that are just someone else’s agenda to gain power over others or push an unappetizing idea for their own nefarious purposes and personal gain.
Many times people do this simply because they fear to offend those they are close to and choose to not look at things too closely on their own to form their own opinions. This fear is the root cause of things like prejudice, injustice, and hate. Pay attention to what you are thinking and believing; take some time to contemplate whether you need to re-think what your worldview is.
When you are out in nature take time to look at the small things as well as at the grand scheme of the world as a whole. Seek the beauty in a tiny insect or a small plant growing from a crack in a rock, listen to the birds sing, look at the tracks of the animals and try to figure out what they have been up to. Then place this in the greater context of the area you are in, and the world we live on. As I have said before everything, and I mean everything, is connected in some way or another whether you can see it or not.
Miyamoto Musashi, arguably the greatest swordsman to ever live, was such because he understood intimately the connections of all things to each other. Not only was he a great swordsman, he was a magnificent artist, craftsman, poet, teacher, and strategist among other things. You may not think that the thoughts of an obscure (to westerners) 17th century Japanese swordsman have much bearing on how we should think today, but that would be a mistake.
Read a short piece of his writing on his philosophical outlook and see what you think. Keep in mind this man fought over sixty duels and a major battle and was never defeated. In the last half of his life he fought with nothing more than a bokken, a wooden training sword. He is the only Japanese Master to be called “Kensai” which roughly translates as Sword Saint.
“This is the way for men who want to learn my strategy:”
- Do not think dishonestly.
- The way is in training.
- Become acquainted with every art.
- Know the ways of all professions.
- Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
- Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
- Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
- Pay attention even to trifles.
- Do nothing which is of no use.
– Miyamoto Musashi, 1642
Master Musashi left our world on the 19th of May, 1645. At the end of is life he retired to a cave and wrote the Go Rin No Sho, (Book of Five Rings). Many older samurai wrote philosophical or practical guides when they felt that their lives were coming to an end. Many of these are simply written as advice to a son about how to behave or run a household, some are teachings on bujitsu, (the Way of the Warrior), and some are masterfully written haiku poems summing up an honorable life.
The Go Rin No Sho is none of these. It is one of those rare works that the more that you study it the deeper it goes. On the surface it is a manual of swordsmanship, but as you contemplate it more it becomes a guide to strategy. The strategy of life, through a very disciplined and focused vision of kenjitsu, (the Way of the Sword). As Master Musashi put it, if you can defeat one enemy, you can defeat ten, if you can defeat ten you can defeat one hundred, if you can defeat one hundred… I have been studying this book off and on for over thirty years and still learn new things when I read it.
Master Musashi understood what he was giving to the world, understood that his teaching could easily be abused and turned to evil use. No one knows for sure what happened at this point, records are scarce. Musashi did allow his last student and disciple, Terao Magonojo Katsunobu, to read it, possibly with the caveat that he would destroy the manuscript afterwards. As the story goes, Katsunobu did this, but he also allowed another student and close friend to read it and this man had a photographic memory. This is, possibly, the reason why we have the Go Rin No Sho today, the lessons of strategy Master Musashi taught evidently were not lost on these two men.
Is the Way of the Sword applicable in modern times, you ask? Yes, but it is certainly not for everyone, it is a difficult Way, but the lessons learned are not just about using a sword. They are about perseverance, hard work, leadership, responsibility and most importantly about how you perceive and interact with that great complex dance we call life. These lessons can and should be passed on to others. It has been said that if you can truly master the Way of the Sword, you can master anything you choose to do. At some point on the path the “Way of the Sword” becomes “the Way of Life”.
There is a balance to all things and it is vitally important that this simple fact is recognized. Harmonious behavior in our society is desirable but we should never shy away from a fight if it is necessary whether it is intellectual, metaphorical, or physical. Strive to eliminate your fears, as Frank Herbert so aptly said it in the novel Dune: “Fear is the mind killer…”. You can never expiate all of your fears, but the simple fact of trying makes you a better and more capable person, and more importantly, makes you a good example for others who may be struggling.
The concept of stewardship not only applies to keeping our wild places safe but it also applies to ourselves; we need to look out for each other. If we don’t do it, who will?
Think lightly of yourself and think deeply of the world.
– Miyamoto Musashi
Trent Carbaugh, February 2019
If you are interested in Kensai Musashi’s school of thought the Go Rin No Sho (the Book of Five Rings) it is available from many publishers. (I have a pocket copy bound together with Sun Tzu’s Art of War, they do complement each other.)
There are many books about Musashi, but I think that the definitive one, from the martial artist’s standpoint at least is Miyamoto Musashi, His Life and Writings by Kenji Tokitsu, 2005, Shambhala Publications.