Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵, c. 1584 – June 13, 1645), was born Shinmen Takezō, then also went on to become called Miyamoto Bennosuke, and also by his Buddhist name Niten Dōraku. In the year 1644, he penned what is the one and the only primer that a man: preparing for the hot war of open and honest violence, the cold-hearted subterfuge of corporate warfare, the battlefield of modern-day social dynamics, or simply focusing on how to become a better man will ever need.
Collectively, there are several books that can accomplish the same goal, but they are loose branches strewn on the ground. Musashi offers us the entire tree, chopped, bundled, bathed in oil, and ready to be set alight.
After reading what I have written here, I encourage you to read the entire text. A Book Of Five Rings is a masterpiece because everything he wrote then is relevant today, as the nature of men does not change!
As with How To Win Friends and Influence People and The 48 Laws Of Power, I am not going to try unraveling his text in one writing. It would be taxing and possibly disrespectful to a book that has had such a monumental impact on me, my mentors, the men that I have become a mentor to, and most of the men that have put A Book Of Five Rings, and its lessons, into practice on the road to success.
“My first duel was when I was thirteen, I struck down a strategist of the Shinto school, one Arima Kihei. When I was sixteen I struck down an able strategist Tadashima Akiyama. When I was twenty-one I went up to the capital and met all manner of strategists, never once failing to win in many contests. After that I went from province to province dueling with strategist of various schools, and not once failed to win even though I had as many as sixty encounters. This was between the ages of thirteen and twenty-eight or twenty-nine. When I reached thirty I looked back on my past. The previous victories were not due to my having mastered strategy. Perhaps it was natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other schools’ strategy was inferior.”
–Miyamoto Musashi, A Book Of Five Rings, 1644
This is the greatest introduction to any piece of prose or story ever told!
Musashi unapologetically tells you what he is, who he is, and the single-minded pursuit that qualifies him to give advice on life.
To be resoundingly clear, he is with utmost modesty telling us that between the ages of thirteen and sixty, he killed more than sixty men!
By every credible account, this is a low estimate that only included duels. Not major battles or skirmishes that involved many men.
He allows the reader to decide for himself, at the beginning of the relationship that he proffers to we students, separated by the centuries, whether or not we want to sit at the feet of this particular master.
Today, let us sit down with his lesson on wood, and what we can learn from a master carpenter
Comparing the Way of the Carpenter to Strategy
“The comparison with carpentry is through the connection with houses. Houses of the nobility, houses of warriors, the Four houses, ruin of houses, thriving of houses, the style of the house, the tradition of the house, and the name of the house. The carpenter uses a master plan of the building, and the Way of Strategy is similar in that there is a plan of campaign. If you want to learn the craft of war, ponder over this book. The teacher is as a needle, the disciple is as thread. You must practice constantly.
Like the foreman carpenter, the commander must know natural rules, and the rules of the country, and the rules of houses. This is the Way of the foreman.
The foreman carpenter must know the architectural theory of towers and temples, and the plans of palaces, and must employ men to raise up houses. The Way of the foreman carpenter is the same as the Way of the commander of a warrior house. In the construction of houses, choice of woods is made.”
In my travels and explorations, I have amassed a fortune in friends; all different, and all talented. Everyone has a skill they have learned or a talent that they have developed. I challenge myself to discover them and complement them with my own.
That’s how successful alliances are forged.
I introduce people into my circle of friends and business cohorts based on what they are able to do, not what I need. In that way, I can connect people to each other successfully and build my standing in all of the disparate communities that I am a part of.
My friends range from savages in silk ties that can dissect what true motivations occupy our minds, to bombshells that use beauty to distract us from their cognitive skill.
I would not ever have known these things had I not looked for the similarities between the houses, to follow the metaphor, that they have built for themselves and the houses that I am building right now.
“Straight un-knotted timber of good appearance is used for the revealed pillars, straight timber with small defects is used for the inner pillars. Timbers of the finest appearance, even if a little weak, is used for the thresholds, lintels, doors, and sliding doors, and so on. Good strong timber, though it be gnarled and knotted, can always be used discreetly in construction. Timber which is weak or knotted throughout should be used as scaffolding, and later for firewood.
The foreman carpenter allots his men work according to their ability. Floor layers, makers of sliding doors, thresholds and lintels, ceilings and so on. Those of poor ability lay the floor joists, and those of lesser ability carve wedges and do such miscellaneous work. If the foreman knows and deploys his men well the finished work will be good. The foreman should take into account the abilities and limitations of his men, circulating among them and asking nothing unreasonable. He should know their morale and spirit, and encourage them when necessary. This is the same as the principle of strategy.”
Owl, a dear contemporary said:
“Friends fit into my life like puzzle pieces, each unique. Instead of forcing the wrong piece into a certain space, I let each piece fit into the position it is best suited to. So the puzzle fits naturally and comfortably, not rocky, unstable, or forced.”
I take this to its most radical conclusion and actively seek out specific shapes that I can fit into my mosaic of life. With each new, oddly shaped piece I am better able to understand more and more about the diversity of the human condition so that I can continue to weave my complex tapestry.
I encourage you to do the same!
“The Way of Strategy
Like a trooper, the carpenter sharpens his own tools. He carries his equipment in his tool box, and works under the direction of his foreman. He makes columns and girders with an axe, shapes floorboards and shelves with a plane, cuts fine openwork and carvings accurately, giving as excellent a finish as his skill will allow. This is the craft of the carpenters. When the carpenter becomes skilled and understands measures he can become a foreman.”
The best friends that I have are the types of friend that I, myself, want to become. Someone who can seamlessly incorporate people into each others lives with trust and confidence.
The carpenter’s attainment is, having tools which will cut well, to make small shrines, writing shelves, tables, paper lanterns, chopping boards and pot-lids. These are the specialties of the carpenter. Things are similar for the trooper. You ought to think deeply about this.
The tools I carry with me are created from experience, I sharpen and refine them by constantly trying to become better at learning, through observation, contrast, and comparison, who or what someone is.
The attainment of the carpenter is that his work is not warped, that the joints are not misaligned, and that the work is truly planned so that it meets well and is not merely finished in sections. This is essential. If you want to learn this Way, deeply consider the things written in this book one at a time. You must do sufficient research.
John “Jocko” Willink and “Echo” Charles provide excellent contemporary examples of Miyamoto Musashi’s advice!
Skip to minute 7:50 to get to the Musashi discussion, though the entire episode is worth listening to!
YusefWateef (at) Gmail (dot) com