Miyamoto Musashi’s (1584 – 1645) timeless lessons for life have never ceased to inspire martial artists and students of life alike. Many believe that he was the greatest swordsman who ever lived, but it’s his philosophy of life that continues to resonate into the 21st century.
Musashi won his first duel at the age of 13 and cut down more than 60 opponents before retiring to a life in solitude. He was well-known as a swordsman, philosopher, strategist, writer, and Rōnin by the practitioners of classical Japanese swordsmanship.
It was the 1935 eponymous epic novel by Eiji Yoshikawa that propelled Musashi’s legendary status way and beyond the martial arts community.
Japanese people acknowledge him as the Kensei, the sword-saint of Japan. His thoughts on combat, strategy, and timeless lessons for life have been studied across society, from martial artists and military to business leaders.
The Book of Five Rings – Learning Combat and Everyday Life
Scholars frequently name Musashi’s Go Rin No Sho – Book of Five Rings (1645) as a milestone of early writings on strategy alongside the Roman Emperor Marco Aurelio’s Meditations; the Chinese General Sun Tzu on The Art of the War (456 BC); and the book The Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli written in the sixteenth century.
The approach to combat and everyday life should be the same as Musashi repeatedly states in the Book of Five Rings ‘Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm.’
Fighting has all the same rhythms as music, timing is essential. So at times, the battle is to stand off and let the adversary wear himself out mentally before attacking.
With the right training, wrote Musashi, a warrior should be able to beat ten men with his spirit alone. Mental training is as essential as is physical training and requires vigorous exercise and practice.
Timeless Lessons for Life in the Book of Five Rings: The Nine Principles of the Martial Arts
Musashi lays out nine principles of the martial arts for men, who want to learn his strategy.
1. Do not think dishonestly.
2. The Way is in training (not in thinking).
3. Become acquainted with every art (not only with one).
4. Know the Ways of all professions (not only one’s own).
5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6. Develop intuitive judgment and understanding of everything.
7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
8. Pay attention even to trifles.
9. Do nothing which is of no use.
Dokkōdō – The Way of Walking Alone
At the end of his life, Musashi spelled out his concluding thoughts on life and combat in a composition he called Dokkōdō, which translates to ‘The Way of Walking Alone.’ He dedicated the Dokkodo, as his famous Book of Five Rings before that, to his favorite student Terao Magonojo.
Timeless Lessons for Life in the 21 precepts of the Dokkōdō
Accept everything just the way it is.
Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
Be detached from desire your whole life.
Do not regret what you have done.
Never be jealous.
Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor for others.
Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
In all things, have no preferences.
Be indifferent to where you live.
Do not pursue the taste of good food.
Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
Do not act following customary beliefs.
Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
Do not fear death.
Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
You may abandon your own body, but you must preserve your honor.
Never stray from the way.