9 Tips From a Samurai to Help You Live a Winner’s Life

“Do nothing that is of no use.”

Alvin Ang
Alvin Ang
Aug 29 · 11 min read
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The famous duel between the swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi (left) and Sasaki Kojiro (Ganryu) at Ganryu-Jima island. Artist: Yoshifusa Utagawa (active ca. 1840–1860). Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

I’ve been writing about a samurai named Miyamoto Musashi a lot recently, but I can’t seem to help it. He was a remarkable man.

1. Do Not Think Dishonestly

Musashi struck a chord with me when he wrote,

“Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is. And you must bend to its power or live a lie.”

Being dishonest is far more damaging than we think. We all tell white lies, lies we tell ourselves are well-meaning, harmless, and inconsequential. They’re not.

2. The Way is in Training

Unsurprisingly, Musashi was a vehement proponent of constant practice. He wrote:

”You can only fight the way you practice…

A bullet from a gun does not make a distinction between practice and combat. You are training to be one and the same way in your life.”

We are all taught tons of theory in school, but theory without application is sound without fury.

3. Become Acquainted With Every Art

In true Reinassance man fashion, Musashi wrote:

“It is difficult to realize the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things”

It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet”

Learning something about everything makes you appreciate the interconnected nature of the universe. You begin to understand that far from being small, inconsequential, and alone, you are a vital player in a grand cosmic tapestry. You are, after all, made from stardust.

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Miyamoto Musashi fighting with a broken beam. Painted by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861). Source: Creative Commons

4. Know the Ways of All Professions

Musashi was a big fan of cross-learning. Nothing was considered too lofty or too inconsequential. During Musashi’s pilgrimage throughout 17th century Japan, he would observe the rice farmer, the feudal lord and the wandering swordsman with equal focus.

“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”

He was right. This all-permeating Way is called Strategy, and once Musashi figured this out, he would lay down his weapons and devote the rest of his life to the study of what he considered the one-true Way.

5. Distinguish Between Gain and Loss in Worldly Matters

Musashi has a way of cutting to the essence of things. He wrote,

“The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight, and the only reason a warrior fights is to win”

In a bid for clarity, we often ironically end up overthinking and muddying the waters even further. Musashi advises in his typical no-nonsense manner not to exist in the grey world of in-betweens.

6. Develop Intuitive Judgement and Understanding for Everything

The last chapter of the Five Rings is titled “Void” and it concerns itself with the nature of things.

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Miyamoto Musashi wielding two wooden swords, as taught by his school of swordplay, Niten Inchi Ryu (Two Heavens, One Style). Painted by Yoshitaki Tsunejiro, circa 1855. Source: Wikimedia Commons

7. Perceive Those Things Which Cannot Be Seen

Continuing the topic of intuitive understanding, Musashi advises one to adopt a mountain-like viewpoint, one that is tall and far-seeing.

“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy, it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”

The mature strategist seeks to see close things as though they are far away, and far off things as though they are close. By striving not to see a single thing, the strategist perceives everything.

  1. An objective way of looking at things

8. Pay Attention Even to Trifles

There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like: “The meaning of the world can be understood by observing a single raindrop.” This is the real meaning of enlightenment, and is exactly what Musashi is referring to when he wrote:

“From one thing, know ten thousand things.”

Even though he was already a renowned samurai, Musashi has what in martial arts circles is known as a “white belt mentality”. An open mind and a humble heart allowed him to learn from carpenters, rice farmers and even rival schools of swordplay.

9. Do Nothing That is of No Use

This last point is also my personal favorite.

“You can have it all, just not all at once.”

To be a winner, you have to protect your time. In Musashi’s words, you have to “do nothing that is of no use.” Then, and only then, will you have the time and energy to pursue the things that will take you one step closer to your dream life.

Final Thoughts

Miyamoto Musashi was a remarkable man, but like all standouts, he wasn’t born that way.

  1. The Way is in training.
  2. Become acquainted with every art.
  3. Know the Ways of all professions.
  4. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
  5. Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
  6. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
  7. Pay attention even to trifles.
  8. Do nothing which is of no use.”

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