Miyamoto Musashi’s Nine Principles for Strategic Living

Ink Painting by Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi: the master swordsman, the incomparable strategist, and the ultimate loner, a ronin or masterless samurai, who roamed Japan, spending  many of his years living off the land.

Through rigorous training he made his body as hard as the steel of his blade and his mind as sharp as its edge. Yet, he knew the value of soft words, and as an artist, he could wield a gentle brush.

His Way was Heiho, the Way of Strategy, which he explained in The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy still studied today, not only by martial artists, but throughout the business community, as it is considered a classic text on Japanese management.

To Musashi, strategy was the path to awakening. He said, “Having awakened to the the principles of strategy, I apply it to various arts and skills.”

These principles were crafted for warriors. We are all warriors and the battle we are engaged in is the battle to win over ourselves.

1. Do not think dishonestly.

2. The Way is in training.

3. Become acquainted with every art.

4. Know the ways of all professions.

5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.

6. Develop the ability to see the truth in all matters.

7. Learn to perceive those things which are not obvious.

8. Pay attention to even small things.

9. Do nothing which is of no use.


The Wisdom of Strategy

I watched the closing rounds of the US Open at Pebble Beach on Sunday. I’m not much of a golf fan. I don’t follow it regularly. I used to play a little golf but found it too frustrating. I watched on Sunday solely to see Tiger Woods.

Even though I haven’t anything invested in Tiger, not having followed him in action that much, I am satisfied when I hear those who are supposed to know these things say that he and Jack Nicholas are the two greatest players of all time.

I do have some sympathy for Tiger. I wish people would leave him alone. I don’t judge him because of his sex life. It’s nobody’s business and should be left between him, his wife, and the other parties involved. Hell, if I was his age (or even now) and I was world famous and had tons of beautiful women throwing themselves at me, I would find that hard to resist. Tiger’s human. Not perfect. Big deal.

Now a lot has been made about the fact that Tiger Woods is Buddhist. I’d like to know more about it but there isn’t much to go on, just these few statements:

I practice meditation – that is something that I do, that my mum taught me over the years. We also have a thing we do every year, where we go to temple together . . . In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life. It is all about what you do and you get out of it what you put into it. So you are going to have to work your butt off in every aspect of your life.

That is one of the things that people see in what I do on the golf course but that is just one small facet of my life – I am always continuing to work.

-Quoted in Reuters, March 27, 2008

I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.

-The so-called “confession” Feburary 19, 2010

Well, I had gotten away from my core values as I said earlier. I’d gotten away from my Buddhism. And I quit meditating. I quit doing all the things that my mom and dad had taught me. And as I said earlier in my statement, I felt entitled, and that is not how I was raised.

-ESPN Interview, March 2010

The Tiger Woods-Buddhism connection has generated a lot of comments recently, some of it quite negative, or what I consider negative, such as Brit Hume’s remark that Woods should turn to Christianity [Hume, by the way, can be a rather caustic fellow. I recall watching him make a highly inappropriate remark following Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s acceptance of the nomination to the Supreme Court, which incensed (rightly so) then President Clinton. If my memory serves me well, it cost Hume his job at ABC News.] , and most of the focus on Tiger’s Buddhism has revolved around the issue of redemption, forgiveness, and such questions as “Can Buddhism cure Tiger Wood’s sex addiction?”

I’m not particularly interested in any of that. What I’d like to know is if Tiger has applied any principles of Dharma in his playing, or how meditation affected his mental attitude, his strategy and so on. And, if Buddhism and/or meditation is playing a role in his comeback.

From what I’ve read, it seems that Tiger has a winning combination of aggression and control. I have the impression that in the past he has displayed a certain amount of calm on the golf course. He didn’t seem calm Sunday. He was inwardly seething when a television interviewer ask him what was positive about his performance that he could take with him. Tiger replied, “Not a whole lot. I told Stevie [his caddie] that I made three mental mistakes today and all it did was cost me the Open.”

Tiger needs to get his mojo back. He needs to get back in the Zone. Since everyone from Hume to the Dalai Lama has offered Tiger some advice, I don’t want to feel left out, and I’d like to give him some advice too. However, as I indicated above, I was as a miserable failure at golf, so I don’t feel qualified. Instead, here’s some words by Miyamoto Musashi, the great Japanese samurai and kendo master, who knew a thing or two about aggression and control. This excerpt is from The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy still studied today by folks in all walks of life. I changed a couple of words, from “fighting,” “the enemy” and “battlefield” to what I’ve put in italics:

Mifune as Musashi
Toshiro Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi

In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in playing and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken. Do not let your spirit be influenced by your body, or your body influenced by your spirit. Be neither insufficiently spirited nor over spirited. An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. Do not let your opponents see your spirit . . .

Do not be misled by the reactions of your own body. With your spirit open and unconstricted, look at things from a high point of view. You must cultivate your wisdom and spirit. Polish your wisdom: learn public justice, distinguish between good and evil, study the Ways of different arts one by one. When you cannot be deceived by men you will have realised the wisdom of strategy.

The wisdom of strategy is different from other things. On the golf course, even when you are hard-pressed, you should ceaselessly research the principles of strategy so that you can develop a steady spirit.