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Traditional Japanese Martial Arts for Adults
Musashi is quite redundant in his writings.  However, while many editors may suggest that such is a sign of a poor writer, I would disagree.  In my opinion and in my experience, the most redundant teachers/authors are often the most successful and the most powerful.  For example, Robert Kiyosaki, author the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book series has been criticized as being terribly redundant and poor writer.  Yet, his first book is one of the best selling books of all time!  How bad a writer could he be then?  The same holds true for Napoleon Hill’s classic, Think & Grow Rich!  That book is ridiculously redundant, yet it too, is one of the best selling books in history. So, perhaps, the notion of redundancy gets a bad rap and may be in need of reevaluation.  Perhaps Musashi’s redundancy is deliberate and holds deeper significance than may seem on the surface?

“Part of Strategy is being familiar with the Ways of other schools… 
We would not be able to fully understand my Way of Strategy 
without knowing the other traditions.”

Translation: Perspective.  Perspective is the product of at least two points. You cannot know where you are with out at least one other point of view.  While I think it is critical to first become competent in one style of martial arts, earning at the very least a black belt in that art before venturing off to another art, I very much recognize that without at least two experiences, it is difficult to gain any perspective.

For example, I don’t care much for firearms.  I’ve always been nervous around them and have never been at ease with the fact that with a firearm, the weakest, most out of shape person is capable of instantaneously defeating the strongest of opponents.  However, I recently decided to acquire my concealed carry permit for firearms. Why?  Because I think it is critical to understand firearms.  I have no intention of actually carrying a firearm with me, unless I am traveling, but I still thought it would be a good idea to get to know the martial science of firearms that I have had such reservations about. 

“Schools that prefer to use the extra-long sword… do not uphold the principle
of defeating the enemy in any way possible.  They believe that its length will afford them a win while maintaining a distance from their opponent... One should not have a preference for a certain length of sword.”

In many martial arts the strategy is to keep an opponent at bay with long, extended kicks and strikes.  In Aikido and other arts, very much the opposite idea is embraced of having to fully ‘enter’ the space of our perceived opponent.  As such, we do not rely merely on one strategy to keep us safe.

That is why in Aikido we train both left and right stance, techniques, and falls equally.  In Aikido, we all train to be ambidextrous.  There is no strong side, weak side, or preferred stance.  I believe this approach approximates what Musashi is saying in this passage.  His criticism of the preference of a certain length sword reminds me much of the axiom, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything else starts to look like a nail.”

“Do not believe in the saying: the strongest hand wins.”

What I love most about the art of Aikido is that the physically stronger person definitely does not always win.  In fact, if you both are practicing correctly, you both will win!  Musashi recognizes that strength is not the only virtue in martial science.  In Aikido, an understanding of anatomical physics and leverage, an appreciation for decisiveness, and a demonstration of patience are all virtues that can lead to victory.

We can apply this in other context, as well.  In a non-martial context, strength does not always win either.  Especially today, with technology as valued as it is, intelligence is perhaps more valuable and more important than strength.  Of course, one could argue that intelligence, be it emotional intelligence, intellectual intelligence, logic or rational intelligence, is, in fact, the new measure of strength.

“Do not pay attention to unimportant details.  
Remain intent on using your wisdom and knowledge.”

Don’t let details prevent you from taking necessary action.  Don’t create reasons to procrastinate.  Don’t major in minor things.  I call this the “yeah, but” syndrome.  So many people avoid taking action in their lives because they are always looking for the exception, the “yeah, but,” if you will.  “Yeah, buts” are not real objections to taking action.  They are procrastination devices that people use to rationalize and justify their reasons for not making necessary changes in their lives that they simply don’t want to make.  Ironically, people who are full of “yeah, buts” often have big butts because they are always sitting around doing nothing, jabbering about all the reasons why they are unable to change or take action.

Know what your objective is and focus your attention upon it.  Address details later, if necessary.

“Other schools teach evading and retreating as if it was the usual thing to do. (Students then) become used to these actions, and allow their enemies to command them.”

Although not a prominent passage in the text, I found this statement particularly poignant.  There are lots of “gurus” out there teaching techniques in daily life that are so focused on evading techniques.  For example, there are lots of “experts” advocating financial savings as a way to attain financial independence.  However, I have never met or heard of anyone who “saved” their way to financial riches.  I seriously doubt that teaching people how to financially “evade” and “retreat” by saving can really make some one wealthy.  

There are principally two ways to improve one’s financial circumstances.  One way is to make/earn more money.  The other is to save more money.  However, one of these paths can be practiced in an infinite fashion.  The other is limited.  You can only “save” so much.  You can’t “save” more than 100%.  However, you can make/earn an infinite amount of money.  If you focus entirely on saving, cutting back, living on less, you eventually reach a point where more saving can’t help you.  

For example, if you make $50,000 a year, then you can theoretically only “save” up to $50,000 per year.  At this point, you cannot improve your financial position any further because you have “saved” one-hundred percent of what you make.  On the other hand, if you instead focus on making more money or earning more money, you can exponentially improve your financial circumstances.  If you focus on making more money you could make, say, $500,000 per year or ten times what you could have saved!  In the first scenario your maximum savings in $50,000.  In the second scenario you maximum earning is $500,000.  Even if you saved nothing, and perhaps spent twice as much as you saved in scenario one (or $100,000), you are still left with a $400,000 net profit.  Which of these scenarios would you rather participate in?  

A teacher once said to me, “You can’t be in growth and fear at the same time.”  That is, you can’t both be in a state of expansion and contraction simultaneously.  I wasn’t completely certain that I agreed with him at the time.  But as the years pass and my experiences deepen, I have come to recognize that he may, indeed, be right.  By learning how to focus on expansion, instead of contraction, I have learned that, paradoxically, expansion is often the best form of protection.  

As Musashi discusses, if you focus on evading and retreating (what I see “saving” as) you spend your time and energy on a very limiting endeavor.  You may become exhausted retreating/saving and then wonder why you can’t get ahead in life.  This is why I love Aikido.  Instead of crouching down, hunkering down, covering up, and protecting oneself when attacked, Aikido teaches us to expand, to grow, to become like a giant tidal wave and drown out any threat.  I equate this by “making money” instead of “saving money.”  The truth is, if you make enough money, the size of your expenses is virtually irrelevant.  So if you are going to spend your time and energy trying to improve yourself (in this analogy, your financial circumstances), do so by growing what you have and what you do.  Don’t try to horde what you have. Don’t try to just save.  

“Twisting, bending, and jumping are completely useless for cutting the enemy.  
In my Strategy, the body and mind are straight, and the enemy 
should be made to twist and bend.”

Translation: Stick to your fundamentals.  Focus on results, not busy-ness.  Don’t confuse flashiness for sophistication in martial arts or in daily life.  Also, in daily life, don’t confuse busy with effective.  Don’t confuse busy and energetic as successful.  These are not necessarily the same things.  

I am always amazed at how busy, yet unproductive some people are.  These people “have no time” for things they say are important to them, yet they don’t seem to be making much progress in life.  Everyone on this planet gets 24 hours per day.  We all have the same time.  We simply choose to spend those 24 hours differently from one another.  In my experience, those who are extremely busy often need to sit still, breathe, calm themselves and re-evaluate how they are spending their time.  If you are extremely busy, you had better be getting the results you want in life.  If you’re not, you have to make some changes.  

Some people make $5 per hour and some people make $5,000 per hour.  It is exactly the same amount of time between these two people.  It is just that one person has chosen to spend their time differently than the other person and that is what accounts for the difference between these two people.  If you feel like you are twisting, bending, and jumping through your life and are frustrated with the results you have (or don’t have), then perhaps you need to reevaluate the way you are choosing to spend your time.  Remember: nothing else matters but results – whatever they may be.  Personally, I find myself reevaluating my own time and choices several times each year.  

“Thinking about approaches will put you in a position waiting to be attacked… 
In the Way of Strategy, you must always take the initiative.”

The reason why we practice our Aikido techniques thousands of time – over and over again is to program our nervous systems to respond to situations instinctively.  Often, on the mat, Aikido instructors will say, “Stopping thinking, and just do the technique.”  Japanese might refer to this as “mushin” or having no mind-ness.  Thinking when you should be responding locks up the body and creates paralysis, or at the very least stagnation.  You cannot be in your head and in your body at the same time.  It must be one or the other, unless, of course, you have successfully integrated the two, which very few people in our society have.  This is where the phrase, “He who hesitates has lost,” comes from.  Hesitation is a conflict between mind and body.  Thinking is the wrench tossed into the gears of a body machine.  We remove thinking from our lives through daily practice and endless repetition.  The removal of thinking is what I believe causes the profound stress relief experienced in Aikido class.  We can take this off the mat and into our daily lives as well.  

“In my Way, I have the spirit of approach-no-approach,
 which means no approach needs to be taken.”

This philosophy is very reminiscent of Taoism, which Musashi certainly had been exposed to.  To me, this spirit reminds me of a favorite epigram of mine from a famous doctor, “Do what is right, not expedient, and wash your mind of all compromise.”  This is how we run our Aikido dojo in Castle Rock.  We operate the way we feel is right, not necessarily expedient, popular, or common.  We do not employ approaches or techniques.  We simply be.  And, we believe this is why we continue to attract students from up and down the front range of Colorado.  I try to take this similar approach in other areas of my life and I am steadily producing similar results.  We do not employ “techniques” or “strategies” but merely “be” who we are and “offer” what we offer.  As a result, we attract the most wonderful people to train with us.  We cannot express enough how rewarding it is to us to produce these results simply by doing what we believe is right.  

“If you choose one place to fix your eyes, you can become confused, 
and your art of strategy will be compromised.”

This has been touched on in previous chapters.  If you stand still, the world will pass you by.  To remain is to regress, to improve is to progress.  There are many sayings that reflect the same sentiment.  But, in essence, if we become too fixed on a single system, a single method, and fail to evolve we will inevitably fall.  Life is motion.  Change is constant and inevitable.  Keep moving.  One, static vantage point will always have disadvantages and will eventually produce compromise.  

“Speed is not an aspect of the Way of Strategy…  
A man who masters Strategy does not appear fast.”

A friend of mine in a financial mastermind group I once participated in shared with the group, “Sometimes slow is fast.” What he meant by this is that if you push too hard to be too fast at something you often end up stagnating the process and actually slow down your progress.  For example, let’s say you go out on a date with a man or a woman and within 30 minutes of the date you turn to the person and say, “Will you sleep with me?”  There is a good chance that will be the end of the date and there isn’t likely to be another one with that person.  Pushing too hard, saying the right thing at the wrong time, and being too eager to succeed, often leads to an unattractive sense of desperation, which ultimately slows your progress.  So remember, sometimes slow and steady is superior to fast and erratic.

“Even an unskilled runner may run all day, but without going very far.”

This touches on what we discuss earlier about the difference between efficient and effective, and is also very similar to the above discussion regarding speed.  Still, it’s a good quote.

“If you do try to cut quickly, you will fail to cut at all.”

Speed is not necessarily a virtue.  In Aikido, force is not a virtue, but power is. Many students stall in their training because they keep trying to “force” techniques instead of patiently learning the physics and mechanics of each technique.  The irony is that so much less “work” is required if you don’t force each technique.  This, of course, holds true for many things in life.

“In this world, if you are in the mountains, and you wish to go further into the depths 
of the mountain range, you will come out through the entrance again!”

This quote I found particularly humorous, as I think Musashi intended.  It reminded me of a riddle I learned in elementary school:  If you run directly into the center of a forest, how far can you run until you are no longer running into the forest?  The answer, of course, is half way – because after that, you would be running out of the forest!  Here Musashi tries to disillusion students from thinking that there are deeper layers and deeper worlds to the martial arts.  He deemphasizes what he calls “interior” and “exterior,” or secret traditions.  He says, “…in combat, there is no such thing as dueling on the surface or cutting and opponent’s interior.” What I think he is trying to say is that there are no shortcuts or secret tricks to learn martial arts.  It takes one and only one thing – diligent training.  

The Classic Japanese Text on 
The Way of Strategy 
by Miyamoto Musashi 

Part 5 of 6

by Sean Hannon