“Unripe martial arts are the root of serious harm.”
– The Book of Five Rings. Miyamato Musashi (1582-1645) –
Miyamato Musashi was perhaps the greatest samurai in Japanese history and certainly one of the last samurai warriors who saw actual combat. Musashi was introduced to combat at the early age of thirteen when he, “…struck down an adherent of the Shintō-ryū name Arima Kihei.”1 In the later stages of his life and up until his death in 1645, Musashi spent a great deal of time reflecting on his life as a swordsman and his philosophical musings culminated into the creation of his legacy, ‘The Book of Five Rings’.
Musashi, having lived in a time when Japan morphed from what was a landscape of feuding war lords, to a time of relative peace, developed a very interesting perspective regarding what he perceived as the changing landscape of his trade. He predicted that the “flower”2, or the essence of Martial arts was being diluted. This is an interesting insight. It’s important to remember that Musashi’s “Way” was born of necessity. He had to perfect his technique – because his life quite literally depended on it. In contrast, the post-conflict “profiteers” as he called them, peddled their technique to make money. Indeed their primary motivator was not survival, but rather enterprise.
If you read Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, one consistent message makes itself abundantly clear: Training is everything – literally everything. Training trumps rank, lineage (remember, Musashi was largely self-taught), political standing, and any other sociocultural construct. From Musashi’s perspective, all that mattered was perfecting your technique through constant, unwavering training. Why? Because when it comes to duelling to the death, nothing can save you except your technique. In that moment, just before the critical blow is dealt (or received), you have nothing to fall back on except your training. In other words, when you boil away the impurities, what is revealed is the pure nucleus of martial arts: your training!
With this in mind – it’s important to set one’s goals appropriately. One should begin by asking themselves, “Why do I train?” Be honest with yourself and listen to your inner, unobstructed voice.
Some honourable reasons to train might include:
- To improve physical fitness
- To become a more balanced individual
- To perfect technique
- To train as hard as possible
Some dishonourable reasons might include:
- To make profit (if you’re a dojo owner)
- To get a black belt
- To learn how to be violent
- To increase social standing
- For recognition
- For vanity
Remember, martial arts was derived from the necessity of self preservation. Think of how profound that statement is. If you’re to train in martial arts, you have to consider the motivations of those in history who have trained and be respectful of this.
It is always recommended that you reflect on this and constantly examine your motivations. Give this idea its appropriate amount of thought.
Jason Pennell. Matsubayashi Shorin-ryū Karate and Kobudo Association.
- The Complete Musashi The Book of Five Rings. pg. 63
- Musashi describes that in post-war Japan, “…colourful displays of technique are flaunted in these martial art “Ways” to force the flower into bloom”. The Complete Musashi The Book of Five Rings pg. 67.