Today, I’m continuing my examination of The Book of Five Rings, which is known by many martial artists, but has implications for all areas of life. In case you missed the first part, I’ve linked it below.
The second part of the Book of Five Rings is titled “Water”. Musashi talks about being the same person in all endeavors. He advises that we should be able to peacefully acknowledge all things without letting them distract us from what should be at the center of our focus. We should be able to maintain a state in between relaxation and alertness at all times. It’s like he’s saying we shouldn’t be locked in fight mode, but we shouldn’t be so relaxed that we are unprepared for a fight.
How might that translate in the day-to-day life of an office worker? Always be looking at what other job opportunities are out there and continually learn new skills even if you love your job. This means you will have no trouble if the company suddenly goes bankrupt or your division gets down-sized. I learned this lesson the hard way.
In your love life, this suggests to me that you never get lazy. Always show your appreciation for your partner because you both deserve someone who puts the effort in that strong, healthy relationships require. Always be willing to talk about anything that may come up, but never assume your partner won’t get upset. At the same time, sometimes tears and anger do more for strengthening a relationship. Don’t ignore things that are annoying you, but don’t nitpick either.
Musashi considers water to be the foundation of his Two-Heavens style. He says it’s important to be aware of the body of the big man and the small man. We should always be aware of the good and bad in all things, but don’t let them distract you from completing your objective. He again recommends studying the arts and even when in the midst of a hectic battle, you must keep your mind calm. Battle in today’s world could be applied to the political climate.
Observation is strong, seeing is weak, he says. I think what he means is that observing something takes your full attention and seeing doesn’t necessarily. When you observe something, it is a process of active learning. Seeing is passive. If you have observed, you will be able to predict your enemy’s attacks even if they’re hiding their sword. If you only see, you wait until you see the sword and by then it will be too late. He says we must see both sides simultaneously. He recognizes this is hard when thrown into chaos, but the master does not change their eyes under any circumstances. If you cannot see beyond your side’s position, you are not objective and we must be in order to make the best decisions.
Musashi then talks about Niten strategy and says to leave your sword where it is after you miss. He advises waiting for the opponent to make their next move before you do anything else. At other times he advises to deliberately open yourself up to attack and let your opponent think they have an advantage.
Musashi advises to practice these things daily. He also frequently says we need to investigate everything thoroughly.
Then comes the story of the warrior Musashi can tell is different than the others. The man sleeps with a sword suspended above his bed with the tip aimed at his head to never forget the fine line between life and death. When you keep that as a focus, you know what to spend your energy on and what is just noise. But living this way attracts praise from those in power and envy from your peers. It takes much courage to endure the lies that spread so easily. Torture may come in the form of a false arrest, job loss, denial of funding grants, and more.
Put all of this into action and you will be better today than you were yesterday. Musashi says to practice for 1000 days and refine with 10,000 days of training. Practice is learning the dance steps and training is knowing how to apply them in different situations. For fun, I calculated how many days there are in 80 years. It came out to 29,200. This means that anything that you want to excel at will take many years and much of your life. No one is guaranteed any days. Be careful what you choose to spend your time on. It’s too valuable to waste.