This is the nineteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

That one should respect the Gods (and the saints and the Buddhas) is a given in the same way that one should respect their parents. I’m not willing at this point to get into any discussion about parental neglect or the individual circumstances where one might have legitimate reason to hold their own parents in disdain. We are all flawed and that includes our parents. Regardless of those flaws, in all but the worst of circumstances, we owe our very lives to adults who came before us and called us their child.

The Gods (or the “One True God” if you must) occupy for the worlds the same position. Creators and caretakers, divine parents, patrons of heroes, the respect due the Gods should seem obvious. The saints and the Buddhas occupy much the same place, being men who sought the divine and attained some favor.

Musashi, being Buddhist, recognizes that he and his students owe respect to the divine, but then insists we not count on the divine for aid.

Despite the stories that dominate western religious literature, warriors have long known that reliance upon the divine was never enough to attain victory. While we know Napoleon never said, “God is on the side with the biggest battalions” we do know that Voltaire once said, “God is not on the side of the big battalions but on the side of those who shoot best.” (Napoleon may have replied “God is on the side with the best artillery.”)

The lesson here is that the Gods do as they will and seek their own ends and purposes. A man can do nothing but train and prepare. But history indicates that being well trained, well equipped and well prepared secures victory more than any faithful reliance on the divine.

More, it is the nature of warriors to rely on their own strengths and prowess more than any others anyways. David might praise his God for teaching his hands to make war, but he carried a sword and shield as well. Regardless of the odds, a warrior expects to die on his feet fighting and not kneeling in front of an altar begging for his life.

Respect the divine. Seek virtue and justice. But instead of being one of those who depends on the divine for his support, the warrior seeks to be the hand of heaven and the fist of God.

I once heard a story about reliance on the divine that speaks to the soul of a warrior walking the Way Alone.

A man raised among the faithful saw the suffering and terror in their world and waited patiently for his God to intervene. A lifetime passed and the man lost his faith, taking the injustice and suffering present in the world as evidence that there was no God.

Upon his death, he found himself before the Holy One and was understandably shocked. He immediately exploded at the almighty.

“How dare you stand in judgement? You who abandoned us to the adversary! There was hunger and violence and sorrow and hurt and you abandoned us! You did nothing!”

His God was stunned as so few would had ever dared to speak to him so. But that stunned silence was quickly replaced by righteous anger. “I did nothing?” demanded the almighty. “I did nothing? I saw famine and I saw violence and I saw suffering and I saw a lonely world in need of justice and mercy…”

“AND SO I SENT YOU!”

It is out of that respect for the divine that we, as warriors, act on the behalf of the divine as we understand it best.

We might beseech the Gods for wisdom, but we will read and study. We might beg the Gods for strength, but we do so at the gym and in the training hall. We might pray for help, but we will make ourselves ready to act as though no such help were coming.

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This is the twentieth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

It’s common to hear people lament or boast that honor has no place in the modern age. I hear it from warrior-wannabes who excuse their cowardice with the complaint that they are honorable but somehow honor is missing now from the world and so they will not serve. I hear it from merchants who boast that their greed is the only virtue and that the proof is found in the poverty of “honorable” men that they have manipulated. I hear it from warriors who stare stunned at both of these positions.

Whenever this discussion about Honor comes up, I soon confront the difficult task of defining Honor. I find every definition scribbled in dictionaries to be unsatisfying. “Honor is keeping your word.” “No, that’s honesty.” “Honor is being reliable.” “No, that’s integrity.” ” Honor is doing the right thing.” “No, that’s justice.”

All of these concepts have an impact on honor, but honor is itself a “something else.” Honor is the foundation of virtue, the sincerity that lies under every virtuous deed.

Honor is the commitment that some principles are so important to the warrior, that he would accept extinction sooner than he would violate those principles.

The details of one’s personal code of conduct, the arguable points of right and wrong, are almost immaterial.

A common example used to show how grey morality can be revolves around an act of theft. We all know theft is wrong. However, every thief rationalizes the deed as an act that he was somehow entitled to commit. It is always somehow the victim’s fault or the wrong is simply negated by circumstance.

If a child is starving, is it morally wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed that child? Now…let me assert again…our discussion is not about which side of this debate an honorable warrior might take, only that we find in that stance his honor. Honor is, again, the idea that we would choose extinction before we would choose to abandon our code.

For that warrior who holds property rights to be the most sacred thing, honor demands he refrain from theft and undergo the pain of watching a child starve. For that warrior who values life, honor demands he steal. Either of these warriors must be willing to lose their life as a result of their actions rather than see their principles violated.

For a man to be honorable, his code must be more important than his life. This is the meaning behind this assertion.

You will die. Your body will be abandoned. You cannot preserve it.

But you can preserve your honor and, therefore, you must.

This is the eighteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

Again it is Musashi’s advice that we not become attached to the world and not seek anything but the Way itself.

I found it interesting that this precept comes directly after an admonition not to fear death. Where we think of death, we think of the pain of passing from injury or illness, we think of losing our loved ones, we think of leaving forever the only world we know.

If a man has spent his life in pursuit of goods and position, then his fear of death will probably be heightened by the certainty of losing those things. A man who finds himself in possession of fiefs and goods as a result of pursuing the Way might still remain unattached to them. Remaining unattached to his possessions, his fear of death will be lessened by virtue of having “nothing to lose.”

Like so many other precepts, this one speaks of intention more than anything else. The desire for political power and wealth is incompatible with the Way. That doesn’t mean that one on the Way won’t find himself wealthy and in a position of influence. But that energy a man puts into his pursuit of such things is time away from the Way and could make it impossible to progress.

It seems natural, perhaps, for a warrior to want to progress in rank. When I was a soldier, the army had policies designed to force soldiers to seek promotion or be put out. It was inconceivable that one might wish to stay a private or a skilled corporal. As a result, soldiers were pushed not to their highest level of competence, but their lowest level of incompetence.

A young soldier who knew nothing was expected to chase rank and position rather than prowess.

This doesn’t excuse an experienced soldier from accepting the role of trainer and mentor when called upon. But even then, this duty should not be taken in expectation of reward.

The obligation a warrior owes his superiors and his juniors and the army itself when he is enlisted could all serve to pull him into politics and away from the Way. This is another reason why a man like Musashi would walk alone. I think the experiences of serving in an army contributed to my pursuit of the Way but was only a diversion from the Way of Walking Alone.

The goal of an army is very seldom to promote the Way among the warriors serving in its ranks. In many cases, I think adherence to the Way would counter to the goals of an army and the state it serves. The empire needs us to each be committed to its values of commerce and material excess. The empire needs you to be dedicated to property and fiefs in your old age and in your youth.

In this sense, it seems that warrior must choose between the Way and a fief even without Musashi’s advice.

One notable exception was my experience with the Nevada National Guard. The officers and senior enlisted men there were not dependent on the state for their livelihood. They considered the military a calling, a duty, but not a profession. That is: they sought to attain the pinnacles of glory and prowess but did not owe their daily bread to the empire.

Many of them grew wealthy from their own pursuits, but none were required to subvert their own natures and their own progress on the Way to the demands of their military service.

Resolved to follow the Way, especially the Way of Walking Alone, the warrior should expect to make his own way from day to day and receive neither recognition in the form of position and possessions nor to see old age. Attachment to either will inevitably pull the warrior away from the Way.

This is the seventeenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

Again and again we have said that the warrior does nothing that does not make him stronger, more efficient. Fearing death or fearing anything for that matter is not likely to make us better warriors.

But we have so little control over our fears. It’s easy to say we do not fear death because we all imagine death to be very far off. But if you have a fear of spiders or the letter “K”, you can see how impossible it is to simply decide not to fear anything.

Like other precepts that require us to closely examine things and see them differently until we slowly find our attitudes changing.

My youngest son was afraid to jump in the pool for the longest time. He couldn’t swim very well. The pool is so big and he was so small. He was, of course, afraid of dying.,

It was impossible to convince him without experience that he would be okay.

Aristotle taught that one learns to be brave by doing things that require courage. He was firmly convinced the virtues could be taught and that courage was no exception. I am not sure what we should call that iota of courage required to push us into that confrontation where we can practice this virtue.

My son and I developed a short litany. I would ask him, “What would we do when we can’t be brave?” And he would answer, “Pretend to be brave.” Embracing the philosophy of “Fake It Until You Make It” he slowly conquered that fear only by experiencing that jumping into the pool did not lead to extinction.

In doing so, I am not certain he actually impacted his natural fear of death at all.

We overcome our fear of death not by denying it but by accepting it and it is impossible to experience death and, upon our miraculous return, have lost our fear of it. More, as my son learned. That jumping into the pool didn’t mean extinction, we must be prepared for the possibility that complete extinction is exactly what death is. We can fear the unknown, we cannot deny our fear until we have accepted it and comes to terms with it.

In the TV series SPARTACUS, the gladiator trainer we will later learn is Onomaeus gives some new recruits their initial instruction on what it means to be a warrior and their new relationship with death. He says, “A gladiator does not fear death. He embraces it, caresses it, fucks it. Each time he enters the arena, he slips his cock into the mouth of the beast and prays to thrust home before the jaws snap shut.”

A little graphic, but perhaps one way a warrior might confront the inevitability of his death in such a way as to chase away fear.

In the end, though, a fear of death will not serve a warrior and so death must be accepted. This idea has been taught again and again. The pop culture literati from Paulo Coelho and M Scott Peck have written of death as that constant companion that advises us and gives life meaning. The HAGAKURE had stated this much more completely as an admonition that a samurai’s virtue by “setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead. His whole life will be without blame.”

Death is inevitable we are reminded again and again. Keeping in mind day and night that the memory of our deeds and characters will outlast us, we can begin to live with the idea of being prepared to die and to kill others. This lesson is part of the dharma taught to Arjuna by Krsna in the BHAGAVAD GITA. The impermanence of your life should free the warrior from any fear save the fear of dishonor.

This is much easier said than done, however.

Let us then treat this precept has we treated others. Whether we fear death or not, let us resolve that such fear will not make our decisions. We will set our minds right every morning and every evening and we will train and study and behave as though we understood that we are mortal. We will let death counsel us, but only counsel us to advance and build; never to shrink back in hopes of immortality. We will act as though we are brave even we cannot be.

Start where you stand. Study your fears and how you can face them. Delve deep into your own values and your own worldview to determine if ever fear is actually rooted in a fear of death. Begin living as though you feared nothing.

This is the sixteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

Given Musashi’s previous admonition about property and attachment, the first part of this precept seems straightforward. If you’re walking the way alone, owning more weapons than you can access easily is overkill, it weakens you. Anything that weakens you must be set aside. It’s that easy.

It’s almost foolish to tell the modern day warrior (no irony intended, I include myself and my sons in this indictment) not to collect weapons. Especially when we add in that “beyond what is useful” clause. My son’s Mauser will probably never see actual battle again, but he continues investing money in it building a sweet, sweet sniper rifle. But is it useful?

Every warrior I know is a romantic. This rifle my son builds was carried by a loyal subject of the Kaiser in 1914, probably by a soldier fighting in the Wehrmacht (carried on the Western Front against my son’s Great Grandfather and his brothers who landed on 8 June with the Second Infantry) then by a young man who carved his name in the stock during the wars against communism which followed. Simply holding this rifle puts him in touch with the warrior spirit.

It is that spirit that makes a man a warrior, not his weapons. Those weapons, as the saying goes, are only tools. It is the individual with a well trained hand and a disciplined mind who is the weapon. When we begin asking ourselves what is useful, we must address that. What possession and what level of training contribute to the mind and body of the weapon himself?

With this in mind, any training that enhances our effectiveness in battle is useful and nothing is more vital than to train the mind and the spirit. The training I do with sword and shield is intended as training for body and spirit. It is, in many respects, the same childish play I have always engaged in, pretending to be a knight or legionnaire or gladiator or viking or samurai and not the serious training I do on the dojo mat or the range or the gym, because I have few illusions I will ever rely on the sword for my life.

It is still useful, perhaps even vital, because it touches something inside me and draws me closer to the Way. No amount of skill or fitness can compensate for a simple willingness to fight. The spirit must be trained first. Then the mind. Then the body. Then the skill set.

If the spirit to follow the way is absent, it will be impossible to properly discipline the mind. If the mind is not resolute, no plan to train the body for war will be pursued diligently enough to matter. If the body is not capable, skills will remain elusive.

Just as one has to consider carefully and allocate their limited time to training in those disciplines that most prepare the warrior for the fight, it is also necessary to consider how much time can be applied to training. There is a point at which training becomes over training and the warrior begins undoing the benefits gained. This can be very difficult for the novice who is eager, even anxious, to learn everything NOW.

It’s important from time to time to train when physically exhausted so the experience isn’t completely alien. This is one of the premises behind the US Army’s Ranger School. Ranger students are kept underfed and sleep deprived in order to teach them to operate under these conditions. Exhaust the man; train the beast that emerges.

But exhaustion leads to mistakes and practicing mistakes can undo the forms and lessons learned. It is vital to find the point at which training becomes overtraining and approach it cautiously.

When I was first exposed to the DOKKODO many years ago, this precept was worded or translated as “Do not make a cult of your weaponry” and I am going to address that idea, which is somewhat different from “Do not overtrain” and “Do not collect weapons.”

In the GO RIN NO SHO, Musashi counseled us to train with and become familiar with all weapons. It is prudent to understand the tools your adversary uses and how they are employed in order to counter and defeat them. Once familiar with weapons, it is necessary for the warrior to choose which tools best serve his purpose and begin to pursue excellence within a smaller selection.

Even then, he must never idolize his tools to the point where brand names become incantations. A sword is very much a sword, a spear is very much a spear. A handgun…a rifle…every tool is what it is and no more. It is, again, the warrior’s spirit and mind that make them weapons.

As we do not collect weapons, we will probably find we possess and practice with a few select pieces. In my career in law enforcement and the military, I have carried a variety of handguns, both revolvers and automatics. I can argue the pros and cons of the Beretta M9 and the Sig Sauer P229 gleefully. Put either in my hand and I will use it as the tool it was designed to be. I carry a Beretta 96A1. It’s no better or worse than any other gun. It’s just different. It is not sacred. But it is mine. In my hand, this weapon is more dangerous to the adversary than another might because I am so familiar with it.

Another might carry a Glock or a Taurus or any other weapon. It is the warrior who makes the difference. While some weapons might be better made than others, more accurized, better sighted, it is, in the end, the hand holding it that makes it a weapon. It is always the contest of spirits that decides victory.

I recommend, as did Musashi, that we become familiar with as many weapons as possible and become familiar with those principles that allow us to handle one handgun or rifle as we would any other. It is necessary to become familiar with different weapons so we know that an AK fires from the open bolt and an AR fires from the closed bolt. But both require the same aim and trigger squeeze.

Then we must train diligently with the weapons we carry so that their handling becomes second nature.

Again keeping in mind that over training results in making mistakes second nature.

Start where you stand. Know why you own the weapons at your disposal. Whether it is for the practicality of carrying concealed or the comfort of a shotgun for home defense or simply holding an old Mauser to feel some of what the men who carried it before you felt, know why that weapon is important to your arsenal. If you have a weapon that does not positively make you stronger, set it aside.

This is the fifteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

While we see Musashi’s way of life as extreme, it was not unknown in medieval Japan. It was common enough to have a name: Musha Shugyo, the warrior’s pilgrimage. His society has room for that warrior who spent his life wandering the land, challenging other warriors, seeking to perfect his skill and risking his life to do so.

While it might not have been the most common path that a samurai spent his life on, it was not a rejection of his society’s customary beliefs like it would be for us today.

This precept was one of the lessons learned while on that pilgrimage. Musashi must have seen the failure of those relying on custom and the successes of those acting outside of customary belief. One belief he rejected on this pilgrimage was that the katana was most properly used in two hands. He developed instead a style of fighting with his long sword in one hand and his smaller sword in the other.

It’s hard for those of us in the modern west to understand the significance of this rejection of style.

He developed this two sword style. He named it. He wrote a book about it. He taught it to students.

There is no evidence he ever used it in a duel. Every story we have about his duels have him wielding one sword (sometimes a wooden sword) with two hands.

Perhaps the lesson here is the key to understanding this precept. A certain degree of unpredictability is of great use to the warrior, especially the ronin fighting alone. By demonstrating that he had developed this new revolutionary style, but still adhering to the old style, Musashi created this uncertainty in his opponent. He is capable of acting according to customary beliefs, and he is capable of acting without consideration of those beliefs.

This precept isn’t designed to create mindless adolescent rebels who reject customary beliefs with no intent beyond that rejection. To reject a belief rooted in the experience of warriors who came before you is no easy thing. Much of what we learn from our teachers and our society is perfectly accurate, it can be the foundation around which the rest of the Way is constructed.

That seems especially difficult to grasp fully in these days of rampant commercialism and materialism. Our society has no room for the warrior walking alone.

The mere fact that we recognize ourselves as warriors and devote ourselves to this path that does not pursue monetary wealth, physical comfort and moral numbness makes us out to be extremists. Many of us reject the teachings of the dying empire, its meaningless churches and its hollow institutions that serve no purpose beyond the empire and the accumulation of power for its masters.

Rejecting churches that serve the empire instead of the gods and universities that serve any doctrine other than truth and wisdom requires you to reject the beliefs customary in this age in favor of the higher purposes such institutions were created to fulfill.

We then seek older paths, traditional martial arts, a morality more in tune with the ancient world than the modern, and skills that haven’t been practical since the Wild West was tamed. But even then, we cannot accept at face value the beliefs held by Ueshiba, Kano, Fairbain, or even Musashi. We must question and explore everything. We may not ever base our actions on the customary beliefs or traditional teachings of our forbears.

We do not act based solely on customary beliefs.

Seeing the emptiness in our modern society, we keep what we find useful. We reject the rest. Studying history and philosophy, we keep what is useful. We reject the rest. Never do we rest and allow habit to take root or any beliefs left unexamined to become the basis for our actions.

This must also include our own beliefs.

We must not allow our beliefs to become so unquestioned that we find ourselves acting based on nothing more significant than “this is what has worked for me in the past.” We must be constantly training, studying, learning, growing so that new understandings come to replace old beliefs. And each new understanding must be accepted as vulnerable to even newer understandings.

Perhaps we could say that we do not act following customary beliefs because we do not hold any customary beliefs. Nowhere does our mind rest on an idea but moves constantly instead, deeper and deeper so that every action is based on an understanding more refined than yesterday’s mere belief.

Start where you stand. Of course we analyze our beliefs and our societies. Push further. Read something you know you disagree with and seek out a single new truth. Train for a week or a month in a martial art different from the one you study now. Honestly examine your actions and your habits and determine where you do, in fact, act without thought based on nothing more than customary belief.

This is the fourteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

Again, Musashi isn’t writing for a 21st Century Suburban beneficiary of the merchant caste; he is writing as a man who lived his life on the road to another man who will probably live his life on the road. Musashi lived the majority of his life with his weapons, the clothes on his back and a few things in his bedroll.

This probably made divesting himself of the possessions he did not need much easier than it is for you and me.

You and I have greatly different ideas what it is to “need” something than Musashi did. And we aren’t wrong, the world has changed and much of the simplicity of Musashi’s life won’t be available again until after the Empire dies. He lived in a cave. If you resolved to live in a cave, the state would hunt you down for vagrancy or not filing your property taxes.

Even so, modern man has exaggerated his sense of what he needs. I need my truck. It is my shelter, my storage, my way to work. It is 17 years old. Many would suggest I need a new truck. I do need new engine mounts and a new exhaust system. I wonder if I need an older truck so I can do more of the work on it myself.

Only you can determine what you actually need. Does it follow you must release the rest?

Musashi doesn’t say to give away those possessions you no longer need. He says to “not hold onto possessions you no longer need.” It may seem like there is no difference, but in the world we live in, there must be. We surround ourselves with things we do not need. We must learn not to be attached to them, not to hold onto them, so that when we must part with them, we can do so quickly and easily.

This precept is also a call to live as simply as one can. Avoid attachment to unnecessary possessions so that you are not affected by their loss. The warrior cannot be willing to give attention and care to anything that distracts him from the Way. The warrior must take care that he does not allow his possessions to possess him instead.

While this is not inherent in Musashi’s precept, is the idea of generosity. Generosity is one of the cornerstones of my own Code. Only a coward clings to the wealth he accumulates. A warrior understands that his strengths can fill his coffers again and again. This confidence is the root of all generosity.

Not clinging to what I do not need, I am free to give gifts to those who do still need such things. This generosity is impossible without acknowledging this precept.

Start where you stand. Analyze which of your attachments are rooted in need and which are rooted in mere sentiment. While I do not advocate divesting yourself of sentimental belongings, start to set them aside in your heart so that your clinging does not give them power over you. Carefully consider the place new acquisitions have in your adherence to the Way.

This is the thirteenth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

The Human Situation has changed a lot in the last 300,000 years. In most ways, it has just gotten easier and easier.

You’re still stuck in the body that nature designed for the world as it existed way back then though.

The human sense of taste developed as a way to keep our hunter gatherer ancestors alive. We learned to crave things that were packed in nutrients we needed to function but, most of all, the calories needed to pursue more calories. Calorie dense foods are actually rather rare in nature. Sugar is the most fundamental energy source and we crave it.

Fast forward just over a quarter million years and that instinctive craving for sugar has created an entire industry devoted to supplying us that sugar even though our sedentary lifestyles no longer require it. Another industry arose to tell people how to manage their diets. Millions of dollars pass through the hands of the merchant caste as the mad priests of Madison Avenue exhort the faithful to feed on garbage and then chide them for their obesity and offer to sell them a remedy to that also.

It is commonly said that your body knows what is best for it. That is no longer so when discussing nutrition because the circumstances have changed so much.

Simple feeding your body properly is now an act requiring discipline more than it ever has been. And a full third of Americans are failing that with fatal consequences for themselves. The current obesity epidemic is either a symptom of the empire’s desire for self extinction or a planned culling of the slave population.

The warrior must, in this area of his life, set aside his instincts and study. The purpose of food is to fuel the body on the warrior’s path. Just as we choose our residence and our clothing and our tactics and strategy based on our identity as warriors, so, too, must we study diet and exercise and choose that part of our path based less on what we enjoy and more on what will serve the mission.

All of that said, remember: sometimes the path is served by stepping off of it for a moment.

Start where you stand. Read about nutrition and study your own habits and set aside what doesn’t make you stronger. I recommend Arthur De Vany’s THE NEW EVOLUTION DIET, Loren Ciordain’s THE PALEO DIET, Mark Sisson’s THE NEW PRIMAL BLUEPRINT, and Ori Hofmekler’s THE WARRIOR DIET and THE ANTI-ESTROGENIC DIET. Then do what you think is best.

This is the twelfth in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

To hear Musashi recommend indifference to where one lives isn’t surprising when we remember that he spent his life on the road and died in a cave. Musashi never really had a single residence; he never “lived” anywhere.

Having just advised his pupil to have no preferences in anything at all, why does he now see the need to include this precept?

When I first read this precept, I thought about the holes I lived in during my tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. I had a small corner of a tent, a makeshift desk, a footlocker for a seat. In Afghanistan I had even less. But when I came home, I set up a corner of my apartment very much the same way for the first year or so.

After six years in that apartment, I made a decision to shelve most of my possessions and live under the sky. I, once again, pared my life to the barest necessities of training and fighting. The Musha Shugyo (the Warrior’s Pilgrimage) doesn’t allow for the accumulation of comforts and niceties and Musashi’s entire life was such a journey.

I am also reminded of another traveler who wandered his homeland with a group of thugs, teaching virtue and getting into the occasional scrap with the Roman Legions. A man stated his desire to become one of this traveler’s followers and was warned: “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son Of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

Again, Musashi was an extreme individual among extreme individuals. When one studies the arts of war and professes to be a warrior, it doesn’t mean he must then take up the path of the mendicant or the vagabond as well. That Musashi never lived in a house with indoor plumbing and electricity and internet (I have all three at the moment as I write this) is not an indictment of those luxuries. But it is, I think, vital that we think of them as luxuries and refuse to become dependent on them.

It is vital that our relationship with any luxury include awareness of that luxury’s tendency to weaken us and we must cultivate an attitude that allows us to forfeit anything that distracts us from our purpose. It is too easy in the west in this modern age to surround ourselves “at home” with impediments to our path.

I think, too, that Musashi refers to more than our domicile.

His caution to us to be indifferent to where we live might also include the cities and countries we find ourselves in. I have said before that my own military service was more a devotion to the Way than to my homeland. I now live in the deserts of the American Southwest and I cannot begin to express my love for the land itself. The hot days and the cold nights, the blue sky and the red mountains.

It is difficult, but, as warriors, we must always cultivate a willingness to pick up our weapons and leave all comforts behind to pursue this Way. In the end, we must be indifferent to where we live; indifferent to which rooms, which buildings, which cities, which countries we live in. We must be always ready to move on.

As warriors, as men, as human beings, we will and should cling to our relationships with people even when we cannot cling to the people themselves. We have no caution to be indifferent to our families and our tribes. Carry then, in your breast, the only home and the only homeland you will ever need or serve.

Start where you stand. Look around your life and see where your ability to pick up your weapons and move on is hampered by your own craving for comforts and your attachments to places and things that do not serve you on the Way. It isn’t yet necessary to leave behind the place we occupy in this dying empire, but when the time comes, know how well you will be able to do so.

Then again, maybe it is time to lift your weapons and walk the way alone for a while.

This is the eleventh in a series of 21 essays on the 21 precepts of the DOKKODO, the final writing of Miyamoto Musashi, completed about a week before his death in 1645. He wrote these precepts as a dying gift to the most talented of his pupils. More than a treatise on swordsmanship, it was intended as a final statement on his life and his philosophy of living as a man, a warrior, and a ronin. In these essays, I approach the DOKKODO as a man, a warrior, and, yes, a ronin, in these early years of the 21st century.

Musashi was an extreme individual living on the fringes of an extreme society. At first glance you might see how you, too are an extreme individual living on the fringes of an extreme society, but by taking seriously the idea that a man has an obligation to cultivate prowess and strength, you set yourself at the edge of a dying empire instead of near its soft, vulnerable center.

Notice I did not say that you chose this path. I do not think we choose to be warriors. I think it is coded in our psyches by virtue of being the descendants of those men who fed their families by thrusting sharp sticks at the mammoth. I do not think being a warrior is a path you can choose; I think it is a reality you are simply born into.

If you could choose, that is, if you had to state your preference, would you choose this path?

When we look into the DOKKODO, we see that many of the precepts seem to restate common points or support each other so solidly we wonder why Musashi bothered saying the same things so many ways. In this precept Musashi says to have no preferences at all. In the next, he will say to have no preference in where you live. Everything comes back again and again to “Accept everything just the way it is.”

I think, too, we are again confronted by the Kensei’s search for enlightenment and the Do of Walking Alone. This precept is very much in line with Buddhist morals and teachings, moreso than anyone who is not a saint or Buddha is likely to readily grasp. Musashi is urging us toward the most arduous path as being the most sincere expression of who we are as warriors because that is what saints and madmen do.

As a zen Buddhist and a swordsman, he was seeking satori, enlightenment, and zanshin, awareness, and mushin, that mystical state of having “no-mind.” Operating from those places, pushing conscious thought and decision making aside, allows the swordsman to act more quickly, more decisively and still without error. In the state of mushin, you do not choose to block, you simply block. You do not execute a preference, but simply do what the situation demands you must.

Musashi has urged us again and again to simply live in accordance with the way things are not wishing they were different, not preferring one situation over another.

Musashi is sincere in this urging but I think we will see in later precepts he is not confident we can follow the path as he lays it out. Musashi must recognize that we are not saints or Buddhas and we will have preferences. But he wants us to examine our lives and dispense with as much extraneous nonsense as we can. Hoping, perhaps, we will find ourselves at the point of acceptance of the Mandate of Heaven.

Until then, we can seek ways to limit the need for preference and decision making by simplifying our lives.

One source of stress to modern man is the sheer number of decisions he must make in a day resulting in an inability to make good decisions quickly, a condition known as “decision fatigue.” Modern man is encouraged by his surroundings to have preferences by advertising and the array of options presented by the modern marketplace. For lunch do you want a hamburger or a pizza? Macdonalds or Burger King? The Quarter Pounder or the Big Mac? With cheese or without? Advertisers will insist each of these decisions is as vital as any that can be made.

In truth, most of the decisions we have to make are inconsequential and meaningless. In order to keep them from piling up, we can simplify our lives and make those decisions now and never have to confront preferences again. In my wardrobe, I have black shirts and white shorts, one pair of shoes, one pair of boots, my tan kilt.

The simpler you can make your life, the more inconsequential decisions you can avoid and the closer you come to the state of having no preferences of that sort.

Perhaps as we travel this way alone, we will come closer and closer to Musashi’s teachings. We will have no preference which black t-shirt we wear, then no preference what color shirt we wear, then no preference whether we wear a shirt at all, then no preference whether we win or lose but only the deeds of a man living in accord with his warrior nature without thought.

We will have no preference whether we live or die, win or lose. We will accept things exactly as they are.

Start where you stand. Examining your day, meditate on what decisions could be made once and put away so that you are not encumbered by that decision tomorrow. Simplify your life further and further until the limits of your comfort zone encompass any situation. Accept that perhaps your preferences mean nothing anyway and that you will follow the path you were born to follow until death finds you.