This is the tenth 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 a warrior first and these precepts and this short commentary are written for warriors. In my experience, warriors are the most passionate of men. While there is much of reason in the purpose and choice to train and fight, it is very seldom reason that moves men to actually engage in conflict. In some cases, it is hatred of an “other.” It’s currently popular to say, “The warrior does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

I say that the warrior fights because he is a warrior. I say that while what we love and what we hate might play some part in the choice of which causes to serve, it is more often accidental, a matter of birth or nationality and circumstance. Many of those who enlisted after the 9/11 attacks were motivated by anger and hatred of an enemy they knew nothing about and a sudden passionate affection for a cause they had never considered the day before.

Those of us who were already carrying a weapon for the state merely saw it as another event in our career as soldiers.

In this precept, Musashi is not telling us to avoid love and lust, though if he ever felt these two emotions, he did an admirable job of never letting them sway him from his course. He is, however, cautioning us that those passions are usually detrimental to good decision making. Any passion is a hindrance in battle, and Musashi has advised us again and again to guard our thoughts and feelings well. More, we must guard our deeds from our feelings.

In the introduction I explained that I write these essays as a “modern day ronin” in the sense that, having carried a weapon for the state, having had a warrior identity formed in that service, I am no longer bound by oath to anyone. Like a ronin, I am “masterless” and, I imagine, so are most of you.

Despite the attractions of walking the roads of medieval Japan, dueling for the sake of honing our skill and living by our wits, we find ourselves in the early 21st century instead where such things are made exceedingly difficult. Most of us have families now instead of clans and our native warrior instincts are put in service to them. Our training, our armament, our survival preparations are made toward the end of protecting those we love.

How does this reconcile with this precept?

My suggestion is that we make our decisions based on our own identity and reasons. I do love my family, but I did not become a warrior out of that love. I became a warrior because of some set of instincts and proclivities in my psyche. Now I must choose how to live.

I do not let love or lust decide if I should train. I train because I am a warrior. I do not let love or lust plan my defenses. I let my understanding of the enemy plan my defenses. I do not let love or lust choose my enemy. My enemy chooses himself when he pits himself against me.

And when engaged in the fight, there is no passion, no love or lust, no anger or hate. There is only you and the adversary and the struggle for an outcome to which we are not attached.

Again and again, the DOKKODO brings us to this point: we are what we are, we do what we do, and nothing else is of such consequence that we allow it to distract us from our nature and the pursuit of the Way. We live in the paradox of defending what we love by not allowing that love to guide our hands.

Start where you stand. Decide whether you can follow the Way of Walking Alone in such a fashion that your passions and your loves do not intrude into your planning.

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This is the ninth 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 for 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.

Of all of Musashi’s precepts, this one is, I think, among the easiest to understand and put into action. That is the key word: “action.”

Consider the main other attributes the warrior may have, but, in the end, he is always a man of action.

A warrior accepts things exactly as they are. It rains when he is on the march. He marches. The campaign takes him away from his loved ones. He endures. His government decays into a fetid swamp of corruption and special interests. He obeys.

Or he rebels.

The warrior is a man of action and has no use for those who would substitute words for deeds.

When a man complains, he is hoping that someone else will take pity on his situation and change it. A warrior must act to change that situation himself. He might share his concerns with comrades to discuss their nature and the nature of their solution. When a solution can be divined, the warrior then acts.

A complaint given voice without intent to make a change in circumstances only serves to undermine the morale of those around the complainer. No man has a right to spread his suffering to others. If you have no intent to act and correct a bad situation, complaining only puts that burden to act on others.

Resentment comes when a man faces an intolerable situation but will not act. That complaint grows inside his breast into a poison that harms him far more than it does any other. The man is likely to claim that he cannot act. Invariably, he means the forces arrayed against him (the courts, the system, society at large) are too great to be overcome. Even so, the certainty of defeat is no excuse for the warrior to refuse to act.

When the situation cannot be changed, the warrior endures. And he does not waste time lamenting that he has chosen a path for his life that exposes him to discomfort and unpleasantness. He recognizes that his situation is a result of his own choices and that it will be his own choices that sweep away the irritant and bring in a new situation.

In a previous essay, I mentioned the ritual of seppuku. While samurai had many reasons for ending their own lives, one popular reason was to lodge a complaint. Known as kanshi, a samurai who wished to protest a lord’s decision would show his sincerity by making the fatal cut and then appearing before his lord to make his protest. Only after would he expose his wound. There was also a practice known as funshi which was the completion of the ritual to state a samurai’s protest against his lord’s decision.

With that example in mind, we find the warrior has three options when confronted by an intolerable situation. He can change the circumstances, change himself or simply endure.

Start where you stand. Consider carefully how often you complain. Which of your complaints should lead to action but do not? What discomfort could lead you to act and find a way out of the intolerable situations about which you complain to those you love?

 

This is the eighth 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 his 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, as a ronin, in these early years of the 21st Century.

Despite the appearance of romance in Yoshikawa’s novel and the trilogy of movies based on it, there is no evidence that Musashi had any close friends or a love interest. When Musashi writes about walking alone, he truly means alone. I doubt he loved anyone to the extent that he was ever saddened by s separation from anyone. From my perspective, this is a very sad comment on the man’s life.

I have two sons. The oldest was only eight when I went to Iraq and then he was eleven and his brother only a few months old when I went to Afghanistan. We spoke on the phone often and I was able to send him gifts ordered online. Such is the reality of war in the 21st Century.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the philosophy of stoicism. One of the tenets of that philosophy is that a wise man must master his emotions and realize that while events may occur, our feelings about those events are of our own making. In this fashion, many of the 21 precepts are calls to stoicism.

None more than this one.

We have examined precepts against being attached to our desires and against jealousy, but now Musashi reminds us that even our most human relationships are a distraction if we indulge in sadness because of them. When I was in Iraq, I often looked forward to talks with my son. But I never allowed a feeling of sorrow to intrude into my thoughts during a mission.

It can be pleasant to think of those we love who are not with us. But if we are to accept things exactly as they are, we must proceed even in their absence with all of our will, exactly as we commit to every other aspect of being a warrior.

In these essays I hope I have never made this path sound easy. It isn’t possible for a healthy human being with normal human attachments to just decide is no longer going to be saddened by separation. Even Musashi would recognize that for individuals less exceptional than he is, these precepts take work. They are a struggle.

It might be that Musashi would then dismiss those of us who cannot immediately embrace the fanaticism of his Do. But if we find any value in his teaching, we will proceed and find ways to force his precepts into our lives.

Separation takes many forms. We leave our families when we start to make our own. Our children then, in turn, often leave us. Warriors find themselves summoned to battlefields far from home. And, finally, death takes comrades and loved ones.

The warrior must be prepared in the face of every such separation to carry on with his mission, to push further down this path. Sadness can easily grow into a mind-numbing grief and lead to self-extinction. Sadness must be examined, dealt with, and discarded. Even the great Buddhist patriarchs were unable to simply accept separation and move on without reflection.

A story told about a Chinese Buddhist sage named Chuang Tzu tells how his wife passed away and he was visited by a friend who found him playing a drum and singing. The friend saw this as disrespect for his beloved wife and told him so. That prompted Chuang Tzu to explain that he had already mourned his wife. That he had wept and wept but then he had reflected that she was not his and that the universe had once existed without her and that all things pass away. To continue weeping would be, in his words, “to proclaim myself ignorant of this fact.”

This then, might be a model for our own exercise of this precept. The natural, inevitable sadness of separation must be expressed and examined. Then we must let it go in order to continue our mission. We must find a way to rest comfortably in the will of the universe, unattached to outcomes and accepting those things we cannot control.

Then we must train and fight unencumbered by sadness.

Start where you stand. Separation is inevitable. Explore your own life and your relationships and begin now considering how you will handle the separations you can anticipate.

Precept Seven: Never Be Jealous

Posted: November 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

This is the seventh 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.

Being a warrior isn’t easy. The hours of physical training, both in the gym and on the mat leave us bruised and battered and sore. Those of us who followed this path into the military in the last 17 years found ourselves apart from our families for years at a time as we pursued the adversary to his caves. Many of us find ourselves in professions where we nightly confront the adversary on the city streets here at home.

These physical demands on the warrior are often so much easier than the mental and spiritual strengths and discipline required to pursue this path and expose one’s self to the psychological hazards. This precept also exemplifies the fact that virtue and honor, however the warrior defines that, are demanded of the warrior to an extent that the merchant and the laborer never knows.

Anyone can go to the gym, but pursuing these precepts and choosing to abandon regret and jealousy and attachment to desire require a much greater struggle than any of the physical demands made of the warrior.

To enter into this lifestyle, you have to be possessed of a certain mentality and a certain spirit. Many who follow that spirit into the Asian martial arts are exposed to Buddhism, the cradle religion for the samurai and for Musashi. Just as Musashi counseled us to abandon attachment and regret, his admonition to abandon jealousy (and more of the precepts to come) is rooted in his pursuit of the Way as a spiritual adjunct to that greater way.

Your individual spirituality may differ as does my own even though it carries a rather significant debt to my exposure to Buddhism and Hinduism. I think abandoning regret, attachment, and jealousy is best accomplished for the warrior as a spiritual exercise. That exercise has many components for me, and I’m trying to provide a more general commentary that might be of benefit to others.

Jealousy is a result, the negative of result, of comparing ourselves and our situations to what others are experiencing. The positive result is inspiration. The obligation we then incur, if we seek to follow the Way Alone as advocated by Musashi, is to transform the negative feeling of jealousy into either apathy or inspiration.

The warrior does not look at another’s success and want to take it from them and make it their own. The warrior sees in another what is possible and then seeks to build it for himself in his own life. This is inspiration and not mere jealousy.

But as I write, I am always thinking of my tribe and my adversaries aren’t always personal but are often forces and people who simple oppose my tribe and, when not eager to destroy us, are at least willing to see us destroyed.

When the tribe’s adversaries possess resources that your tribe needs, it isn’t possible to meditate, think and dispense with your need and watch your tribe perish. Looking at the oil possessed by the countries of the Middle East might make us wish we had that oil. But that oil will run out and jealousy of their position accomplishes nothing. We should instead allow that to inspire us to trade with them and develop alternatives and our own resources. It is not an excuse for war.

But what about water? As the population grows and industrialization poisons the global water supply, my tribe’s need for water might lead us into conflict with another tribe that does have sufficient water. Again, we can trade, we can negotiate. But if that fails, it is impossible to cast aside jealousy and do without water. It then becomes to necessary to cast aside jealousy and engage in conquest. But conquest is never accomplished without sacrifice much of what we hold dear. It is a trade with fate, at best.

Jealousy is a hindrance. It distracts us from our own accomplishments and impedes our relationships with others. Our obligation is then to consider these three possible alternatives: apathy, inspiration, conquest.

Start where you stand. Analyze your relationships with those who possess what you do not and begin planning for how you can match their situation and better yourself. Especially analyze how much of your jealousy is rooted in still being attached to outcomes you cannot control.

This is the sixth 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 s 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.

Let us first discard what this precept does not say. Musashi does not exhort us to impeccable moral behavior but insists that being human, we will err, we will make mistakes, we will choose the wrong action. And Musashi insists also that, when we do, we do not spend a moment in regret for the mistake made or the pain caused.

It is possible that Musashi genuinely meant we should cut and walk away. Any wrong doing, any error is unfortunate but leads only to worse and worse outcomes if we then wallow in regret. Regret is a waste of our time and pulls us from the path. We should leave others to their suffering, even if we are responsible, and proceed with our own journey.

It is possible that is exactly what Musashi meant.

That outlook does most of us no good and I am not at all certain I can embrace it.

Since error is unavoidable, it becomes necessary for me to find another path to avoid regret. I do recognize that being consumed by the past, whether pride or regret is detrimental to the now. In this respect, Musashi again gives us good counsel, regret is not a burden a warrior can bear for long.

Refusing to simply be heartless and never regret any mistake, I am left casting about in Musashi’s culture and life for other possibilities and I find one so drastic, so final that it is also nearly unthinkable as anything other than a clue to help us find our way.

Some samurai, when their errors were so great they felt they could never recover their reputation or their honor, would commit seppuku, or ritual suicide. Rather than issue an apology that might ring empty, their sincerity was expressed through the act of inflicting a terrible cruel death upon themselves.

While I can’t be an advocate of this either, I do see a path that can lead us away from regret without being callous to those we injure mistakenly; atonement.

When we realize we have taken an action that is not in line with our goals, we are not obligated to think of that deed as “done” while the suffering it causes remains. Simply expressing regret is meaningless. Action must be taken to set things right when it was our action that set things wrong in the first place.

This is the only course I can personally adopt in relation to this precept. Regret is an emotion without any upside. Musashi is absolutely right when he advises us to never let regret rest in our psyches for even an instant. It follows that we can be perfect, we can be callous, or we can refuse to let our mistakes remain a hindrance to ourselves or others.

Start where you stand. Pick a regret you can resolve by atoning and do so. Think of another regret that cannot be made right and simply come to terms with it.

This is the fifth 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 a Buddhist and corresponded with some of the great names in Zen Buddhism alive in the period during which he lived. The first of the Buddha’s four noble truths is that life is hard. The second is that suffering is caused by attachment.

This is the fifth 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 a Buddhist and corresponded with some of the great names in Zen Buddhism alive in the period during which he lived. The first of the Buddha’s four noble truths is that life is hard. The second is that suffering is caused by attachment. Most westerners see “desire” as connoting a sexual thing. For the Buddhists and Musashi, desire is simply any passionate wanting.

When Musashi wrote this precept he was living in a cave. As I write this commentary, I am living a spartan existence under the sky, having given up my apartment in order to put that money toward one of my desires. Even so, I have access to luxuries Musashi couldn’t imagine from this tablet to pre-cooked food to laundry machines.

I am also far more attached to this desire I am sacrificing for than Musashi would approve of, I think.

What does it mean that we are counseled to be detached from desire rather than simply to not desire? Even the Buddha didn’t tell his followers to never desire, only to avoid being attached. Both recognize that desire is inevitable. Human beings want things. Even the desire to attain buddhahood and live the life of a bodhisattva is a desire and a monk must find a way to remain detached from that desire.

Since desire is normal, inevitable, we must instead learn to possess that desire without attachment. That is, we must acknowledge we want something, but never allow that something to possess us even if we come to possess it. We will launch into endeavors, chase what we desire and, very often, we will fail. When we fail, we will be crippled if we find that attachment to the outcome has wounded our ego. We must instead be prepared to work and sacrifice and then walk away from the outcome if that outcome is pulling us down.

That is what “detachment from desire” means.

We must be prepared not only to walk away from failure unscarred and ready to begin again, but we must recognize that we cannot become attached even to our successes. Success is, after all, always only temporary. If you build a dream, you must fuel it, repair it where it is dented, protect it from adversaries and always be ready to walk away when preserving the dream is no longer worth the struggle required.

When I teach people to shoot, I often have to explain that the outcome is largely out of our hands. What we do control is how we stand, how we grip the weapon, how we align the sights, how we develop our sight picture, how we squeeze the trigger. We are unattached to the outcome. We do not control whether we hit the target once the round is fired. So we focus on what we do control and concentrate on what we are doing. Inevitably, when we control ourselves and handle our weapons properly, the outcome is much what we seek. But even so we must not become attached or the frustration of missing or being flushed with the pride of hitting will hinder our further efforts.

We are here now. The outcome is out of our hands.

This sounds easy for a businessman facing bankruptcy when you consider that the warrior’s outcome is either life or death. It can be difficult not to be attached to an outcome that involves your extinction and danger to your family and tribe.

An old veteran once tried to explain to me that every soldier chooses one of two roads: the road to life or the road to death. A soldier insisting that he is on the road to life, that he will survive and return home and that survival is his highest goal, will hesitate when he should act. His desire to survive puts him in greater danger as he seeks his own survival when he should be seeking victory. The road to death, however, is that course chosen by the soldier who recognizes the danger and accepts that he is already dead. Being dead, he is free to act, free to fight bravely, free to sacrifice for his comrades. With his thoughts untroubled by fear and the desire to live, he is more likely to survive and to win.

Being attached to the outcome of a life and death struggle will slow you down and get you killed.

Every warrior should accept from the outset that death is inevitable and a death pursued in the field (even though we make that fucker work for it) is better than the death that awaits us in hospitals surrounded by tired relatives forced to make terrible decisions on our behalf. I have a desire to live and to fight. I will learn to be untroubled and unattached to the outcome of that fight.

Start where you stand. On a long enough timeline, you are dead because of failure. Accept that and plan your life, the pursuit of your desires accordingly. If it isn’t worth your life, cast it away and even if it is, avoid being attached to your success or failure, ready always to rise and struggle.

“Green grass and children;

All that remains of warriors’s dreams.” -BASHO

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nd Musashi, desire is simply any passionate wanting.

When Musashi wrote this precept he was living in a cave. As I write this commentary, I am living a spartan existence under the sky, having given up my apartment in order to put that money toward one of my desires. Even so, I have access to luxuries Musashi couldn’t imagine from this tablet to pre-cooked food to laundry machines.

I am also far more attached to this desire I am sacrificing for than Musashi would approve of, I think.

What does it mean that we are counseled to be detached from desire rather than simply to not desire? Even the Buddha didn’t tell his followers to never desire, only to avoid being attached. Both recognize that desire is inevitable. Human beings want things. Even the desire to attain buddhahood and live the life of a bodhisattva is a desire and a monk must find a way to remain detached from that desire.

Since desire is normal, inevitable, we must instead learn to possess that desire without attachment. That is, we must acknowledge we want something, but never allow that something to possess us even if we come to possess it. We will launch into endeavors, chase what we desire and, very often, we will fail. When we fail, we will be crippled if we find that attachment to the outcome has wounded our ego. We must instead be prepared to work and sacrifice and then walk away from the outcome if that outcome is pulling us down.

That is what “detachment from desire” means.

We must be prepared not only to walk away from failure unscarred and ready to begin again, but we must recognize that we cannot become attached even to our successes. Success is, after all, always only temporary. If you build a dream, you must fuel it, repair it where it is dented, protect it from adversaries and always be ready to walk away when preserving the dream is no longer worth the struggle required.

When I teach people to shoot, I often have to explain that the outcome is largely out of our hands. What we do control is how we stand, how we grip the weapon, how we align the sights, how we develop our sight picture, how we squeeze the trigger. We are unattached to the outcome. We do not control whether we hit the target once the round is fired. So we focus on what we do control and concentrate on what we are doing. Inevitably, when we control ourselves and handle our weapons properly, the outcome is much what we seek. But even so we must not become attached or the frustration of missing or being flushed with the pride of hitting will hinder our further efforts.

We are here now. The outcome is out of our hands.

This sounds easy for a businessman facing bankruptcy when you consider that the warrior’s outcome is either life or death. It can be difficult not to be attached to an outcome that involves your extinction and danger to your family and tribe.

An old veteran once tried to explain to me that every soldier chooses one of two roads: the road to life or the road to death. A soldier insisting that he is on the road to life, that he will survive and return home and that survival is his highest goal, will hesitate when he should act. His desire to survive puts him in greater danger as he seeks his own survival when he should be seeking victory. The road to death, however, is that course chosen by the soldier who recognizes the danger and accepts that he is already dead. Being dead, he is free to act, free to fight bravely, free to sacrifice for his comrades. With his thoughts untroubled by fear and the desire to live, he is more likely to survive and to win.

Being attached to the outcome of a life and death struggle will slow you down and get you killed.

Every warrior should accept from the outset that death is inevitable and a death pursued in the field (even though we make that fucker work for it) is better than the death that awaits us in hospitals surrounded by tired relatives forced to make terrible decisions on our behalf. I have a desire to live and to fight. I will learn to be untroubled and unattached to the outcome of that fight.

Start where you stand. On a long enough timeline, you are dead because of failure. Accept that and plan your life, the pursuit of your desires accordingly. If it isn’t worth your life, cast it away and even if it is, avoid being attached to your success or failure, ready always to rise and struggle.

This is the fourth 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.

In a thousand years, no one will remember your name.

In a thousand years, the cultures our children live in and consider themselves to be products of will bear no resemblance to the world we live in now.

That is the measure of exactly how important you are.

As warriors, our investment in training and fitness almost inevitably leads to ego and even hubris. Hubris was the name the Greeks gave to that pride that bordered on madness. We’ve all known it. It’s impossible to embrace the study of violence and not, at some point, realize you are one of the most bad ass mother fuckers on the planet.

Ego can, however, have its drawbacks.

I was nearly fifty when I picked up the sword again. During the thirty years I had not trained with that weapon, I had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and won my spurs with the most skilled cavalry squadron in the US Army. I had been a Border Patrol Agent and an Air Marshal. I was, without a doubt, the most experienced warrior on that field.

But I was slow with a sword, clumsy with my shield. It was very difficult for me to set my ego aside and learn from kids less than half my age who had never been in a real fight. I did not take myself or my prowess lightly at all and so my training suffered.

The admonition in this precept isn’t just about training. If we place ourselves at the center of our world, it becomes difficult to justify the sacrifices warriors can be called upon to make. If we place ourselves at the center of the world, it becomes difficult to not take the accidents of events personally. Taking such things personally can give rise to a perceived need to defend the ego when it is not under attack. Worse, it can add the burden of defending the ego to the already enormous burden of protecting one’s loved ones.

In short, over-involving our own ego and sense of importance always makes a task more difficult and interferes with our understanding of any given situation. When I returned to the sword, the difficulty in training seriously was created by my inability to take myself lightly. If we enter actual conflict with our thoughts on our need to protect our ego, we may find we are too distracted to respond appropriately to the situation.

This is why Musashi says to think lightly of yourself.

But we are also counseled to take the world seriously. Our footprint in history is almost certain to be a small one. Even so, our deeds impact those around us and ripple outwards whether for good or ill. While mostly ignoring the effect the world has on our ego, we must remain cognizant of the effects our deeds have on the greater world around us.

That my parents never approved of the martial course my life has taken must be examined, accepted, then pushed aside so it does not slow my hand in battle. My life can be taken lightly. But that the world draws closer to what Guillame Faye calls ‘The Convergence Of Catastrophes” guides me, it pushes me to train and to study and to teach.

My own fate is certain; I will one day die. It is the uncertain fates of my sons and the sons of my sons and, yes, their sons, that I consider more closely. What becomes of my tribe as the empire dies and the oil runs out and the weather grows more and more extreme?

The world is more important than you are and the reasons to train and struggle and fight are contained within it rather then being contained in yourself. This is why the warrior, in the end, always risks personal extinction to preserve his people or his ideals. The warrior considers himself, to a great degree, expendable. The world is not.

But most of us are not saints and buddhas. Our “worlds” might be limited by our compassion for the stranger or our affection for our own tribe. The natural environment, however, is something we all share and depend on. There is only one global water supply and poisoning water in China poisons that supply for all of us. There is only one atmosphere and poisoning the air in California poisons it for all of us.

Thinking seriously of the world has to encompass both the people we claim as ours and the natural environment.

Start where you stand. Consider where your ego is most vulnerable and how can you make it impervious so that you need no longer take yourself so seriously. Give some thought to exactly how much of the world matters to you. We live in a dying empire. What ideals do you hope to carry over from this world to what follows the convergence of catastrophes?

This is the third 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.

In THE COMPLEAT GENTLEMAN, Brad Miner tells us that a gentleman should hold his own beliefs, his own code so dear that when the time comes to give his life for what he believes, it should appear he cast it away as though it meant nothing to him. That is how action appears when one depends on a belief that is complete, whole. One can put everything one is into action and proceed without hesitation.

This isn’t always possible. Not every believe we hold is so complete, so whole that we can act on it so decisively.

Is Musashi advising us to only act when you’re absolutely certain of your reasons, the environment, the adversary, the desired outcome? This would be impossible and would leave us trapped in inaction while we constantly gathered new information and re-examined our beliefs.

What Musashi is advising us here is that one can rely on and act so decisively only on whole feelings, complete information. But when we are required to act on partial feelings, information and commitments we recognize are imperfect and incomplete, we must not depend on the course such feeling would insist on without being prepared to alter that course when we learn the feeling or incomplete belief we are acting on is wrong.

When considering this precept, its important to keep in mind the idea that any “partial feeling” must also include its opposite. A partial feeling that a man is trustworthy admits to a partial feeling that the same man is not trustworthy. Neither of those feelings can then possibly be relied upon.

I, personally, have many times watched the failure of my plans and thought, “I saw that coming” or “I knew…” or better, “I should have known…” This is the after effect of relying on a partial feeling. When we are genuinely mistaken, failure comes as a surprise.

Following this precept then requires that we take upon ourselves two habits. We must examine our beliefs closely. We must know what we believe utterly (and hope it reflects the first precept’s admonishment to accept things exactly as they are) and what beliefs we cannot commit to wholly. An incomplete belief, whether moral or concerning the nature of things, need not be abandoned, but it must be recognized as only partial.

I have a pretty solid conviction that the US Constitution is the most perfect political document. It is only “pretty solid” and not “absolute” because I do not know the details of most other governments (I am not terribly interested in political theory) and because the romantic in me wants a monarchy while the rebel in me wants anarchy. I also recognize that the constitution hasn’t been a meaningful part of how our government works for over a hundred years.

My decision to enlist in 1985 was not fueled by patriotism. Enlistment is one of those “all or nothing” decisions a man makes in his life. You place yourself entirely in the hands of a system that openly admits it will risk or spend your life as it sees fit and expect you to obey. Doing so on the basis of a partial feeling of patriotism would be foolish.

I enlisted because I wanted to know the things soldiers know. I wanted the skill set that comes with being an infantryman in an army. I had no doubts about this. Had I been born in any other country, I would have still found myself in the army.

My feelings on the country are partial. My feeling on military service is not.

The second habit required when one holds incomplete beliefs is the adoption of contingency plans. Every plan the military makes considers the possibility that our understanding is incomplete. As a result, those plans contain clauses that “If we find this, we will do that.” When we hold partial feelings, we must have plans and provisions that come in to play when we discover which of the possibilities we half believed in is “things as they are.”

Again we are brought to the first precept. We discussed there acceptance that we will always have blind spots and errors in our understanding. But we are resolved to accept things as they are no matter how inconvenient that is to our self image or our view of the world.

Likewise, when our feelings are partial or incomplete, we must consider how we will act when reality comes down on one side or the other and reality makes one belief complete. We must have contingency plans. “Trust, but verify.” Be prepared when one verifies our trust was given in error, act on the way things are, not on that fiction our trust hoped for.

General James Mattis gave us a good rule to follow: “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

We are obliged by the human condition to act on impartial feelings. I suspect most men are good and mean well for their fellows. But I always carry myself as if among secretive enemies. I cannot rely on my suspicion that men are good and let my guard down, exposing those I love to the wrath or opportunity of those few corrupt souls.

Start where you stand. With the first precept we analyzed our beliefs and our understandings. Now we must acknowledge that we must be prepared for the unpleasantness of learning that our worst suspicions might be the reality we live in. Especially examine and test your own capabilities and refuse to depend on anything but the most solid proof that you are physically, mentally prepared to walk the way alone.

This is the second 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.

When Musashi wrote these precepts, he wasn’t writing for all of us. He wasn’t writing for you and me. He was writing for one student; Terao Magonojo. He wasn’t writing for shopkeepers who attend a martial arts class twice a week. He was writing for a student who would face death every time he drew his weapon and was depending on that “Way” as his path to enlightenment and salvation.

For Musashi and for the warrior-monk, prowess is part of the path to salvation. If you study a martial art that ends in -do (Aikido, Judo, Karatedo, Hwarang-Do) then you should understand that “-do” means way in the exact same manner that “Dharma” means way. Among the Hindus of the classic age it was recognized that each caste had its own dharma. What was right for the Brahmin might not be right for the Ksatriya.

When Musashi says “the Way” he is referring to this concept. The Way of the Sword. The Way of Walking Alone.

That said, perhaps it is important to ask whether every man has a duty as a warrior to train and study and think upon these things as though he, too, were facing extinction at every moment. Perhaps our shopkeeper needs to keep death in his mind at all times, prepared for the robber who lies in wait when he locks his shop at night. In picking up this slender volume of essays, in reading even once THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, we have committed to being students of the Way and students of that psychotic swordsman.

So, we do not seek pleasure for its own sake as our teacher taught us.

Note that Musashi does not say, “Do not seek pleasure.” He says do not seek pleasure “for its own sake.”

As a warrior, even a warrior who spends his time as a shopkeeper or a doctor or a carpenter, it is necessary to put training and fighting ahead of everything else. Those two arenas must occupy all of our time. By fighting, I don’t necessarily mean a physical struggle. Sitting here at this laptop writing these words is fighting. Reading about how better to push my ideas into the world is training.

But if we lift for two hours a day, and train jujitsu for two hours a day and have 40 hour a week jobs, that leaves about 72 hours a week for study and recreation. We have families, children, who are owed far more time than we seem to have to give them.

My point isn’t that our lives are too busy to train. You’re a warrior, training should be a given, sleep and work might be questionable. My point is that we have SO much time for recreation that we need to ask whether we are using that time as we should or whether we are merely killing time by seeking pleasure for its own sake.

Training and constant vigilance require energy. There’s nothing wrong with recharging your batteries by playing guitar and drinking a few beers with your brothers. There’s nothing wrong with eating delicious food. There’s nothing wrong with sitting in a room lit only by the TV watching a show with your fingers in your wife’s hair allowing the day to decompress.

When I get a pizza and sit alone in the back of my truck, eating too many carbs and undoing the work accomplished that morning at the gym, I am indulging in pleasure for the sake of pleasure. When I take my youngest son to Chuck E Cheese and eat an even less healthy pizza (and drink soda) the purpose of our pleasure is bonding over video games and the accumulation of tickets to be exchanged for plunder. It is, in effect, training time for two warriors as we throw skee-balls and gun down aliens.

No form of recreation…provided it doesn’t undo your training…is unhealthy or unnecessary provided it is done always with an eye toward your role as a warrior.

I play Dungeons and Dragons with my sons. We play Minecraft on XBox. There are few activities that I would condemn out of hand as never having any benefit. Smoking, perhaps. The use of dangerous recreational drugs. This precept only condemns those pleasures that claim our time and our strength and benefit no one. And we are surrounded by such pleasing vices.

This, then, becomes the vital point for the ronin in the 21st Century, pleasure and recreation must be seen in the context of furthering your aims as a warrior whether those aims are that you support and defend your family or the perfection of prowess for its own sake. If it does not increase the harmony you feel within and without, it must be cast away no matter how good it feels.

For my own part, I struggle with this precept constantly. I want Pepsi and tacos…that aforementioned pizza. I recently examined my life, the amount of time I wasted when I should be training or fighting and made the decision to live outdoors. I have been able to put more money into my business ideas, have been more diligent about training and nutrition, but best of all, I have rediscovered the pleasure of waking up to the sky after a night spent falling asleep under the stars.

I have an infinite access to pleasures…but none of them exist for their own sake now. It becomes obvious to me now that the pleasure I chase for its own sake is always a vice.

Start where you sit. Consider the comforts you are surrounded by now. How many are essential? How many actually further your development and how many somehow hold you back? How many of the pleasures you indulge in serve no purpose beyond that pleasure? If you stripped away those pleasures that are actually innocent seeming hedonisms, would you have more time and greater resources for the things that truly matter to you more?

If you recognize that you have pleasures that you cannot discard even though they hold you back, you have to examine whether these addictions are such that you willingly step away from the Way of Walking Alone. There will be legions who cannot follow this Dharma, this Do, this Way. Only you know if you are among them.

This begins 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 world is a dangerous place.

Confusion makes it a more dangerous place.

As I listen to a generation of women fed on the promises and assertions of “whatever wave” feminism and then find themselves victimized or witnesses to another’s victimization, I hear again and again that the world “should be” a certain way. Men should be different. A woman should be able to dance naked at the club, blackout drunk, and never be molested. But reality is that when a woman does that, bad things are likely to happen. Rejecting the reality that bad things happen does not protect our young feminist.

When a woman goes to a club or frat party where she knows no one and gets black-out drunk, she is relying on reality as it should be and refusing to accept things as they are. Is her subsequent rape her fault? Am I the only one who thinks she made poor choices and that poor choices almost always lead to disaster? To assert the truth that her rapist is solely responsible for his own decisions to commit atrocity doesn’t save her NOR does it provide a lesson that might save her sisters.

Accepting reality exactly as it is might.

Taking personal responsibility and accepting that one has a duty to maintain their own situational awareness requires that you accept the reality that the world can be dangerous and that your assertions about how the world “should be” are meaningless.

But even this assertion comes under attack in this age.

In May 2017, Nolan Bruner was sentenced to four months for a sexual assault. Its easy to agree that this absurd sentence should have been much greater for the crime of rape. The only lesson that might actually benefit women though is taboo to even discuss. His victim went to a party where she knew no one and there indulged in drugs with a man she did not know even AFTER he asked her for sex. To suggest that she should have not done these things, to suggest that she bears even the slightest responsibility for how her conduct and her decisions impacted what happened to her is itself criminal in the eyes of those who benefit from an agenda furthered by her victimization.

She was not only a victim to Nolan Bruner’s lust, but she was a sacrifice to that agenda and so is every girl and woman taught that she has no responsibility to accept the reality that her own safety is her own responsibility more than any others. Even today when this topic is discussed with many people, the reality that what she did was stupid and led to her assault is rejected.

As I write this, members of the US Olympic Gymnastic Team are at odds on social media over this issue. One athlete went public with her claim she was victimized, and one of her peers posted that “it is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy. dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.”

This was in response to a different assertion: “Just because a woman does a sexy photo shoot or wears a sexy outfit does not give a man the right to shame her or not believe her when she comes forward about sexual abuse. What is wrong with some of you? AND when a woman dresses sexy it does not give a man the right to sexually abuse her EVER. Women are allowed to feel sexy and comfortable in their own skin, in fact I encourage you all to wear what you feel good in. I will not put up with any woman or girl being shamed for wanting to wear a skirt, dress, etc. I do not tolerate it. Are we clear? Oh and one more thing. STOP VICTIM SHAMING. It is because of you that so many survivors live in fear.”

Now…in this instance let’s be clear: the victims were children; the assailant admits his guilt; victim shaming is always ALWAYS unnecessary and inappropriate. But this habit of labeling any comment as “victim shaming” has led to a situation where any consideration of how a bad situation might be avoided cannot possibly consider the duty of the individual to protect themselves.

You gain nothing when you scream, “Teach Boys Not To Rape!” You have no control over the actions of others. You have complete control over your own decisions. The first step, by no means the final answer, is to accept these things exactly as they are. THEN prepare to confront and resist.

Musashi exhorted his pupil to accept reality. The Modern Age exhorts us to refuse to accept reality and insist again and again on the “way things should be”, hoping that such stubborn insistence alone will create a new reality.

Such an attitude can only led to more victims.

It is the warrior’s responsibility to study and understand the world through which he moves. Before deploying two Iraq and Afghanistan, we were given classes on the worldview of the culture we were about to be immersed in. It wasn’t necessary that we agree. It wasn’t necessary that we adopt. It was necessary that we accept.

The most well-known example of such a cultural example is that residents of Iraq and A-Stan and much of the rest of the Middle East do nothing with their left hand. You and I might think it silly. We might think the reason for this habit is absurd. That doesn’t matter. If you want to get along with these people and secure their co-operation, you have to accept that they think WE are the ones lacking culture because we differ from them.

Those who marched in and insisted that we are the Americans and will do as we please without regard for our ally’s perception of the world were rejecting this reality; imagining they could force their understanding on their environment and refusing to instead work with the situation as it really was.

Sun Tzu advised us that we must understand terrain, our enemy and our self. Only a fool would insist that his army can advance into Russia and not accept the reality of weather. Only a fool would look at the lessons of the colonial wars and every war since and suggest that technology is ever a good substitute for a simple willingness to fight.

And only a fool fails to understand that getting old and fat make you less dangerous than you were at twenty.

Yet we find ourselves surrounded by men who refuse to accept that exactly as it is.

To not accept this reality exactly as it is and begin to counter and slow the degenerative effects of age by remaining focused on fitness and training is the exact sort of mistake we discussed above.

The warrior doesn’t have time to waste confronting fantasy or making excuses. He doesn’t wish his enemy were a better man who had no vices and sought only peace. He understands that all efforts to diplomacy must be rooted in the reality of their present enmity and accompanied by a willingness to destroy rather than become extinct himself. He doesn’t wish his terrain were easier and his allies identical to him. He packs light, he packs warm, and he smiles when his allies need to see him smile. He doesn’t think a new M4 and body armor, stockpiles of food and ammo, and a weekend camping weigh his disorganized militia constitutes actual preparedness. He lifts, he runs, he cares for the only two weapons that matter: his mind and his body.

Accept things exactly as they are. The only thing you can change and determine the course of is your own decision making.

Lastly, we must also accept the reality that we will not always understand completely. That sometimes facts and information are sketchy and we must proceed anyway. One reality we must always accept is that no plan survives contact with the adversary and you will often learn only by being confronted by your misunderstandings.

Start where you sit. Analyze your own fitness for war and, regardless of how fit you think you are, plan for how you can be more fit. Begin executing that plan.