Posted by: B Gourley | May 22, 2011


I read a story in a biography of Miyamoto Musashi not long ago that made me think. As the story went, a Lord who had sought Musashi‘s counsel asked the swordsman whether there were any among his men who stood out as exemplary. Musashi responded in the affirmative, but did not know the man’s name. The Lord’s samurai were convened to formation for the purpose of having Musashi identify the samurai in question. Musashi‘s selection was met with great surprise, if not a little doubt. The samurai he chose, Toko Kinbei, was physically unimpressive and hadn’t made an impression on the Lord, or anyone else for that matter. However, it turned out that Musashi was correct, Kinbei was an exceptional individual. When asked about any unusual practice Kinbei conducted, the young warrior said that he slept with blade hanging straight down with its point over this face. Later when Kinbei was wrongly accused of a crime, he maintained his story and his composure throughout torture that would have made most innocent men lie about their guilt.

Anyway, the question of interest is how Musashi could see that which other experienced warriors could not. Of course, I cannot know the veracity of this story, but, presuming it was correct, one might ask what attributes Musashi displayed that others did not that might be useful in clarifying this event. One factor that springs to mind is that Musashi maintained a very simple life. He owned only a few possessions. He was known to turn down positions that would have granted him a much more comfortable life, but would have involved responsibilities that would have cut into his time and energy for personal development.

It may not be clear how such a simple life might help him to be more aware. Given the finite capacities of the mind, the more one can cut away the superfluous and live in the moment, the more one can be attuned to the subtleties around us.

This speaks to my last post in which I wrote about the fact that there does not seem to be any living to be made from teaching martial arts (without activities that greatly complicate the situation), and, thus, modern martial artists (I’m not speaking of sport fighters here) spend most of their life occupied with careers that require a great deal of their time and energy and may or may not have any overlap with life as a budoka.

This makes it sound rather grim for those who would like to develop such high levels of awareness while engaged in modern living. Maybe it is, but there are better and worse ways to pursue it. One can’t let any dimension of one’s life take over to the detriment of all others. Often people get so occupied by career life that they don’t have much to give to family life let alone tertiary dimensions such as budo. The question of importance is what one wants out of life. If personal development is an important component, then being preoccupied with one’s job when one is not the path.

Increasingly, I find myself thinking about how I might simplify my own life so as to favor self-development over the accumulation of crap I don’t need.


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