The Maxims of Miyamoto Musashi

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Often it is a warrior like Miyamoto Musashi who is more applicable to the everyday person than a philosopher or monk. It is not that we need a more adversarial viewpoint or that they give us a better insight than say, a German philosopher like Ludwig Wittgenstein or Taoist poet Chuang Tzu. Warriorship is philosophy delivered through a code of living — which is much easier to implement. Especially for a generation that no longer sets aside time for deep-thinking, rules work better. Then it is not surprising that people are naturally drawn to the words of the warrior class. They demand we follow their code, whether we understand it or not. But it works better if we spend some time reflecting. (After all, we read the books of warriors, but what did they read? Philosophy and poetry.)

The Maxims of Musashi (c. 1584 – June 13, 1645)

Legendary Japanese actor Toshirô Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi

Legendary Japanese actor Toshirô Mifune as Miyamoto Musashi

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, richer, stronger, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.
Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
If you wish to control others you must first control yourself.
Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.
All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this.
Victory is certain when the enemy is caught up in a rhythm which confuses his spirit.
You should not have a favorite weapon. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well.
I dislike fixedness in both long swords and hands. Fixedness means a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand.
You can only fight the way you practice.
Be detached from desire your whole life long.
Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
Accept everything just the way it is.
You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor. Never stray from the Way.
Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
Step by step walk the thousand-mile road.
It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.
From one thing, know ten thousand things.
The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.
No man is invincible, and therefore no man can fully understand that which would make him invincible.
In battle, if you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.
It is difficult for large numbers of men to change position, so their movements can be easily predicted. An individual can easily change his mind, so his movements are difficult to predict. You must appreciate this.
All men are the same except for their belief in their own selves, regardless of what others may think of them.
It is difficult to know yourself if you do not know others.
This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.
Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
The Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.
Do not regret what is done.
Do nothing which is of no use.
The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions.
Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
(Hotei - God of Fortune, Watching Cock Fighting, painted by Miyamoto Musashi)

(Hotei - God of Fortune, Watching Cock Fighting, painted by Miyamoto Musashi)

Enact strategy broadly, correctly, and openly. Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.
In strategy, it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.
In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance.
Both in fighting 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 be influenced by your spirit.
It is difficult to realize the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.
There is no one way to salvation, whatever the manner in which a man may proceed. All forms and variations are governed by the eternal intelligence of the Universe that enables a man to approach perfection. It may be in the arts of music and painting or it may be in commerce, law, or medicine. It may be in the study of war or the study of peace. Each is as important as any other. Spiritual enlightenment through religious meditation such as Zen or in any other way is as viable and functional as any Way.
There are four Ways in which men pass through life: as gentlemen, farmers, artisans, and merchants.
You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain.
Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.
Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man.

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