“Do nothing which is of no use” – this week’s scholar and/or rogue: Miyamoto Musashi

Posted on May 14, 2007

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In battle, if you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.

If you have ever been involved in business negotiations with Japanese businessmen, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with this situation: you walk into the conference room and, almost inevitably, the most senior businessman is seated furthest from the door. If you’re lucky, there will be several chairs located away from the door for your senior negotiators, but if you’re a lowly aide, you’re either sitting behind your senior person (and not at the table at all) or you’re sitting down at the far end of the table with your back to the door. And it’ll be obvious that you’re the low man in this particular pecking order.

Generally speaking, this is a modern outgrowth of the medieval Japanese samurai code of conduct, Bushido. But another big piece of this is the Way, codified in The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) in 1645 by our latest scholar and/or rogue, Miyamoto Musashi.

All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this.

Musashi Miyamoto was a swordsman and samurai during Japan’s unification period (early 1600’s) and the author of one of the founding books on swordsmanship, Go Rin No Sho. In the book, Musashi claims to have fought and won over 60 duels, and it is known that he fought several battles on the losing side against forces of the unifier of Japan and eventual Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In addition to writing The Book of Five Rings and being a master swordsman, Musashi is known for being a master of not less than nine different weapons and multiple samurai art forms, including calligraphy and ink painting.

Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.

While The Book of Five Rings is known as a book of swordsmanship, it was written so broadly that the Way described within it is directly applicable, as I alluded to above, to both business and politics. Just as Sun-Tzu’s Art of War may be directly applied outside of military strategy and tactics (the idea of taking the high road vs. the low road comes directly from the Art of War), so to has The Book of Five Rings been absorbed by the general culture, especially in Japan.

As an example, Musashi commands that followers of the Way understand when different weapons are best employed and to use the best weapons called for under the circumstances, that timing attacks for greatest effect and striking when the enemy is down are sure ways to victory, to always be prepared for battle for it may come at any time and any place, and to use your postion to best effect (among a great many other things). Each of these commands may be directly applied to politics or business, where your weapons are linguistic frames, money, networks or political parties, and dirty tricks instead of swords and spears. The weapons change, but the tactics and strategies remain constant.

Aspire to be like Mt. Fuji, with such a broad and solid foundation that the strongest earthquake cannot move you, and so tall that the greatest enterprises of common men seem insignificant from your lofty perspective. With your mind as high as Mt Fuji you can see all things clearly. And you can see all the forces that shape events; not just the things happening near to you.

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