If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things. Miyamoto Musashi
The legendary Samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, won his first duel at the age of thirteen, defeating an older and well armed opponent by beating him to death with a quarter staff. He went on to fight and win 60 duels, and develop a new school of sword fighting, known as niten’ichi (meaning ‘two heavens as one’) that used two swords. This wood block print shows him demonstrating his two bladed style.
In his twilight years, he wrote a book on strategy, politics and philosophy called “The Book of Five Rings”, which included the quote above. It has been used in the business world, which seems to have a liking for macho ‘way of the warrior’ quotes, to mean ‘once you have learned to be a successful person, then you will be successful in everything’. I don’t really like this interpretation because it focuses on the individual themselves, and ignores what they are actually successful at.
You see, Musashi wasn’t just a warrior, he was an artist, and his paintings such as Wild Geese Among Reeds (above) and Shrike on a Withered Branch (below) show a very different side to someone who was undoubtedly a violent man. He was also a poet, sculptor, calligrapher and philosopher. To me his words read more as though he was suggesting that once you start to recognise fulfilment in one area you will start to see it in others and that developing each different area develops a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think that in our society we are too quick to categorise people, and too quick to define people by just one aspect of their lives. I also worry that the value we place on what tends to be called ‘The Arts’ is getting eroded in a society where ‘The Economy’ is being raised up as a god. Only this week saw the news that one Academy chain of schools has removed Art, Music and Drama from the curriculum and made the teachers of those subjects redundant.
Perhaps we should remember that when all else has gone it is a civilisation’s art, poetry and literature that remain.
I like the idea of doing and being different things. I teach, I write, I play music and I paint, and some I do better than others but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that I enjoy the journey, no matter which of these paths I am travelling.