Japan’s greatest master swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, was born in 1584 to a dysfunctional family and abusive father. He became orphaned by the age of 10, and was then raised by monks until the age of 16.
Although he detested his father’s flaws, he was determined to follow in his footsteps to become a Samurai, albeit a more honorable one. So he left the monastery and soon found himself in duels thereafter – all of which he won.
He went in search of a master that could help him hone his skills and mold him into a great martial artist. He eventually found his place with the Ashikaga Clan. But this was a great time of change in Japan, plagued by feudal wars and characterized by the constant rise and fall of the order of things.
His clan was called up for the challenge of defending itself against the victorious army that had been sweeping the land, the forces of Ieyasu Tokugawa. At the Battle of Sekigakarai, everything changed.
The clansmen Musashi fought alongside was defeated, his entire clan slaughtered. But he deftly survived the battle and massacre that shortly ensued. This day in 1600 left Musashi master-less and banner-less. He was now Ronin, a master-less Samurai.
All this, still while he was a teenager. Most ronin were transient drunks, purposelessly roaming province to province. Barely escaping with his life, he could have become jaded, given up on honor and moved on to something else – except he didn’t. His sense of direction was taken from him, so he chose a new direction.
He went on a warrior pilgrimage known as musha shugyo. It was during these years that he would master his martial art skills and develop the underpinning philosophy that would guide him and then eventually his students.
Today, the 16th century Samurai is known as the most skilled swordsmen in history, never losing a fight or duel. The undefeated Samurai won countless fights against feared opponents, even multiple opponents in which he was sword-less. His expert use of space, the environment around him, he mostly attributed to the way he looked at the world and the events that took place in it.
“Observation and perception are two separate things; the observing eye is stronger, the perceiving eye is weaker.”
For Musashi, there were two ways of seeing the world: the observing eye and the perceiving eye.
The observing eye is only concerned with the truth of what is happening in the present: it is only seeing what is there, nothing more, nothing less. It ignores all distractions, exaggerations and misconceptions. The observing eye represents objective reality in this moment.
The perceiving eye, on the other hand, sees more than what is here in the present. It takes into account other information and attempts to interpret things it does not yet fully understand. The perceiving eye is often full of noise, fear, regret, and doubt. It finds or exaggerates obstacles, setbacks, and issues where they may not exist – and brings them into the fight (weighing down and freezing up the martial artist)!
The perceiving eye often prevents one to operate effectively in the present.
If left unchecked, our minds can race through speculative scenarios beyond what is true in the here and now. It was Musashi’s practiced ability to observe the present that allowed him to skirt unnecessary risks and capitalize on opportunities in duels and life.
This is what enabled him to ignore what was out of his control, focus instead on what was in his control, channel his energy on what was true in the here and now and overcome great adversity.
Hope you all are staying healthy and safe.
He ry says
Hi 🙂 I’m studying japanese history at university and want to write a paper about musha shugyo 🙂 can you recommend any literature sources? Could be anything 😀 a book, an article,… Anything would help 😀
Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa