Miyamoto Musashi was a legendary swordsman and Rōnin or wanderer in Japan between 1854-1645. He was more than a master of martial arts but a master of military science and strategy as well. Making his first kill at thirteen years old and last at twenty-nine years old, he fought over sixty undefeated duals. More impressively, he accomplished this with no formal schooling, being self-taught, believing “I must understand the universe but not try to change it.” Musashi gave up normal life for a life of mastery, often being seen with shaggy hair, never marrying, and never having children. Miyamoto Musashi believed two main actions lead to his success and the distractions of a regular life would not allow for mastery, and anything less than mastery in swordsmanship is death. These vital actions are,
Keeping inwardly calm and clear even during times of chaos.
Not forgetting about the possibility of disorder in times of order.
His lack of formal education plays a part of why towards the end of his life he wrote his famous biography The Five Rings, or more accurately translated, The Five Spheres. The book highlights not only his life, but was to share his school with future swordsman. Often referring to his school as a school about winning at whatever cost. The great swordsman believed martial arts should be useful in all things and we need to notice people’s rhythms and take advantage of them. This is essential to martial arts, but applicable to all areas of life. He was a believer in keeping his military strategy simple and direct, winning by disrupting others defenses and possessing what he referred to as, “a guard without a guard”, or having a defense without being defensive.
Musashi was a leader of action like Theodore Roosevelt, Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Leonardo da Vinci, and Blackbeard. Understanding, mastery is the way to bliss, he placed action towards his goal at any cost. Action is the difference between accomplishing what must be done, and daydreaming about it. When Leonardo da Vinci wanted to paint the most realistic paintings the world had ever known, he went out and dug up bodies in graveyards to study so he would know how many muscles are involved in a movement and in which way they are involved, even for a movement as simple as a smile. This extreme attention to detail led to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the world’s most famous smile. Da Vinci was a pupil of experience, always writing down radical ideas in his notebooks and taking action upon them when possible.
The infamous pirate Blackbeard, although not a guy you would want to invite over to dinner, was not as terrifying as his legends portray, and that’s because he influenced his legends. Blackbeard created his image of a massive man with long black hair and candles and bows in his beard as a way to scare his opponents and save his men’s lives as well as resources by scaring the enemy before the confrontation began, or as Musashi would put it, Blackbeard had a guard without a guard. Blackbeard took action by changing the status quo of how a pirate underwent pirateering.
Just as a philosopher thinks then takes action, leaders reflect on past experiences and take action. As was often screamed across the fields during officer candidate school when candidates froze during stressful situations, “do something!” Leaders as quickly as possible assess their current situation and take action based upon past experience.
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor from 121-180 CE who is most famous for his stoic way of life, taking the universe for what it is and with a curious mind, understanding certain things cannot be changed. Marcus Aurelius like Musashi had a couple of things in common, they both believed understanding the universe is important but it is beyond your control. They both also wrote famous writings covering this topic, Marcus Aurelius’ had his personal notes that were never meant for publication become published after his death under the common title Meditations. After reading Marcus Aurelius’ diary, it’s amazing that for being one of the most powerful people in history, he understood a lot of things will be out of his control, yet that is OK and excellence is still worth pursuing.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and made it come true, intentionally placing his guard down so he could walk with is people and sadly paying the ultimate price, George Washington crossed the Delaware and set the steps in motion for the greatest country in the world, and Theodore Roosevelt grew up a skinny, asthmatic, aristocrat with glasses, who went on to be one of America’s greatest badasses, growing up to be a real-life Peter Pan, beliving in the “strenuous life”, heading on epic adventures and forming the United States Forest Service amongst many other policies. All of these men were alive during different periods and were faced with their own unique hardships, but all of them had common traits.
Be a leader of action.
Remaining calm and understand things will be out of your control at times, even if they are great in the moment, accept change and strive for excellence regardless.
Always watch your back, but do not let your adversaries know.
Mastery, is how you strive for excellence.
Amazing leaders come from all backgrounds, and some may not know that they are leaders. There is nothing wrong with that. A leader does not need to know they are a leader to lead, leadership is a craft to be acted out regularly, not a label to be worn. Millions of great leaders have passed through this world without ever knowing it, you are one of them by simply taking the time to read articles such as this. It’s not the thought of leadership that makes one a leader, its results. As the famous philosopher Aristotle would teach his pupils, “the end of this science is not knowledge but action.” Plenty of people claim to be leaders, with fancy titles and positions, but that only feeds their ego. They must ask themselves if what they are doing is producing results, is what they are doing making a change or just another thing to add to their resume. Don’t worry about how to be a leader, simply concern yourself with the four traits above and things will start to make sense. Like Musashi, take the time to learn the rhythm of your life and find how leadership displays itself through you.