15 Quotes from Miyamoto Musashi to Help You Crush It
The beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate brought many things to Japan, most of them good. The Sengoku Jidai (‘Warring States Period’) was brought to a violent end and peace became the norm. But with peace came Shugyosha, vagabond swordsmen with no war to fight.
During this period, martial artists took to mastering the sword. To build their reputation, they would challenge schools to a duel. Someone in that school would have to accept or they would be branded as cowards and no one would attend there.
They took their swordplay and honor pretty seriously.
Then there was Miyamoto Musashi, who cared far less about honor, at least in the traditional sense. He was a Ronin (‘Masterless Samurai’) who had sworn off any master — some correlations to modern entrepreneurs could be made there. Musashi was a writer, philosopher, and strategist, but what he is most well-known for is his skill with a sword.
Musashi had scored his first kill against an experienced swordsman when he was 13 years old. Later, Musashi would go on to win 60 duels before retiring, setting the record that had never been broken and earning him the title of Kensei (‘Sword Saint’).
During one of those duels, against the Yoshioka Sword School, Musashi was ambushed by the entire school (scholars differ on the numbers, but set them somewhere between 30 and 100 opponents). He defeated them all, ending the school by literally destroying its membership.
Musashi was undefeated, created a new style of sword fighting, and wrote about how he did it in his book, Go Rin No Sho (‘The Book of Five Rings’). His way of strategy has been studied by self-made entrepreneurs of every industry even before ‘entrepreneurship’ was a thing.
Use his most popular quotes, taken straight from The Book of Five Rings, to crush your opposition and win your day.
1. Look Within
There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.
Too often, we search for a guru or mastermind to give us the answers we need to move forward. This is often an excuse for not getting started because when you reach the crossroads, you’ll know which is the right way to go. But you have to get there first, and that requires taking the first step.
2. Don’t Lie to Yourself
Accept everything just the way it is.
There are injustices in the world. Inequality, bad circumstances, politics…they’re not going away. Regardless of your situation, whether it is advantageous or not, you have to live your life. You can only start from where you are.
3. A House Divided Cannot Stand
Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
This one is a double-quote. The heading was Abraham Lincoln, but it describes Musashi’s meaning so well. If you take are not all in, don’t move on it.
Let’s make this one a triple-quote: When you strike, strike as a boulder falling off a cliff. — Musashi. Be so all in that when you move, it’s impossible to turn around and go back.
4. It’s About Perspective
Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
Your reputation, money, friends…they could all be taken from you on a single bad day. If you understand the way the world works — as it is, not how you think it should be—then you can always find success, even after tragedy.
5. Do All the Things
Do not regret what you have done.
At the end of their lives, people don’t regret the things they did, but the things they didn’t do. Musashi fought for the wrong side of the last battle of the Sengoku Jidai, then hid from the politics for a few years before dominating the martial arts landscape as a Shugyosha.
The only regret people have for actions or words they said are those that drove away friends or family.
6. Concern Yourself Only With Yourself
Never be jealous.
Enjoy the successes of others, especially your enemies. In their accomplishments, they have revealed the way, either to achieve it yourself or to defeat them.
Apple would never have been a player against Microsoft if they had dwelled in self-pity and jealousy.
7. People Come, People Go
Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
When people leave your life, it’s often for a good reason. Maybe you had to drive away a negative influence, or someone decided that you were a negative influence on them. If you had kept every person who ever entered your life, you would not grow; you would be strangled by all of their drama.
If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. There are a lot of other people and tribes to mingle with. Look forward, not backward.
8. Suffer in Silence
Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
Complaining about your situation is wishing for someone to come and save you from it while blinding yourself to the solution. Stop, determine where you are and what the best way forward is, then get moving.
9. Don’t Be Biased
In all things have no preferences.
If you care too much that your food is organic, there could come a situation where you cannot eat.
When a client comes my way, I don’t turn them down because they aren’t the potential client I’ve been marketing to. I show no preference, take on their job, and make some damned money. I can still chase the other client in my part-time.
10. Be Grateful for Any Roof
Be indifferent to where you live.
Musashi was a vagabond who lived outside during the years he built his reputation. Where you live doesn't matter nearly as much as what you are doing there.
11. Pack Rats Don’t Prosper
Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
You are a slave to what you acquire. New car, now you have to wash and maintain it. New house, you need to concern yourself with landscaping and repairs.
Be mindful of the things you allow into your life because each one will take up a portion of your time and energy that you could be spending elsewhere.
12. Consider Tradition, Don’t Follow It
Do not act following customary beliefs.
If Musashi cared about honor and tradition, he never would have become great. Sometimes, the common way of doing things is a necessity (can’t be a writer if you don’t write), but don’t hold to tradition if it stifles your creativity or you think you have a better way. Trust your intuition and forge your own path.
13. The Circle of Life
Do not fear death.
Death is a necessary part of life. No matter what you accomplish, you always have death to look forward to. Don’t fear the inevitable — embrace it. Knowing that it’s coming is an incredible motivation to get moving.
14. Don’t Be Selfish
Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
You can’t take your fancy house and bank account with you when you die. Early in life, you take pride in achieving things. Later in life, you don’t have the energy to chase things, and if you sit on them you will only be miserly. Achieve early so you can help out by giving later.
15. No One Is Coming to Save You
Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
This is not a jab at religion. Musashi’s opening line in his book details his fondness of the Buddha. No matter how religious you are, there is no evidence that someone will come and accomplish your goals for you, no matter how much you ask. If you are so inclined, pray, be reverent, think positively…but then get your ass up and get to work.
If you want to learn more about the philosophy of history’s greatest swordsman, check out his treatise: The Book of Five Rings.
Like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, business executives and warriors alike have been using Musashi’s words to crush their opponents, whether that’s on the field of battle or across a boardroom table.
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