The Balance of Opposites

A study of a ‘Way’

“It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way.”

“When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally. All this is the Way of the Void.”

“I studied morning and evening searching for the principle, and came to realize the Way of Strategy when I was fifty. Since then I have lived without following any particular Way.”

Miyamoto Musashi, Book of the Five Rings

Miyamoto Musashi was a ronin (an unattached Samurai), fighting duels as physical philosophy. His unique fighting style, with sword in each hand, was known as the “Ni Ten Ichi Ryu” school, and Musashi remained an undefeated warrior, artist, philosopher and teacher. He wrote his classic Book of the Five Rings around 1643. His life exemplified balance in all things at all times.

Probably Musashi’s most famous duel was against Ganryu (Sasaki Kojiro) in 1612. This Long Sword expert was beaten by Musashi using only a wooden pole, and great balance between mental and physical strength and agility, and therefore psychological outmaneuvering — Musashi’s ‘lateness,’ moving at deliberately slow speed, then quickening rhythm, made Ganryu lose his self control and therefore the dual. The combination of skill and psychology became Musashi’s trademark.

Sculpture commemorating the duel of Ganryujima between Musashi Miyamoto and Sasaki Kojiro. Hosokawa Sansai Governed Buzen prefecture at the time this dual took place and gave Musahi permission to fight the duel.

Many believe that he fought and survived against numerous Tokugawa forces during the early 1600’s until the Edo era, when he increasingly spent his time seeking the wider truths of his “Way,” and continued his study of Zen Buddhism. “To move the shade,” “Holding down a shadow,” and “Time can be passed on,” are three of his fighting philosophies.

Two further quotes from Musashi’s Book of the Five Rings give further meditative value — on the balance of opposites.

“When you have come to grips and are striving together with the enemy, and you realize that you cannot advance, you ‘soak in’ and become one with the enemy. You can win by applying a suitable technique while you are mutually entangled.”

“If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack like the sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack like the mountains. You must research this deeply.”

A ronin, perhaps, by nature, Miyamoto Musashi was also a Shokunin, who believed a true Samurai learnt many crafts, and learnt them well. Tasio Odate defines Shokunin as the following: “The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ (…) both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.

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as a shadow of your sword —