Sunday, December 23, 2007

Musashi says

Musashi Miyamoto was japans sword saint. He is also a fine example of a contrarian thinker, and applied philosopher.
Much like philosophers of today, Musashi might be criticised for avoiding 'real' work choosing instead of a life in the agriculture or manufacturing fields to be a swordsman.
And here is where Musashi I think excelled at being an important cultural assett to Japan, simultaneously celebrated and ignored. Similar to the witty quip "Politicians today shouldn't just quote Abraham Lincoln, but try to imitate him aswell" Musashi was an outstanding individual. He looked different, he acted different and he cut up Japans warrior world.
He effectively wrote the new and definitive Samurai text 'the book of five rings' he deplored for example the use of 'kata' or set forms much like Bruce Lee, to create a fluid approach to conflict, whereby one just moved to the most appropriate position for victory, leaving the mind empty and dealing with the here and now.
He also believed in utilising his tools and environs to the upmost, most notably for him was his use of two swords, the samurai by tradition carried both a long and short sword, most however only ever fought with one. The short sword was usually left in its scabbard and used only in situations where a long sword might be too cumbersome. Musashi however would weild his long sword in one hand (giving him greater freedom of movement) and carry his short sword in his off hand.
From what can be read this was inspired by observing drummers who beat a drum with two sticks or two hands to create simple but complex sounding rythyms. He simply adapted this to the rythym of thrust and parry and shit.
He went so far as to believe that losing a dual whilst still having one sword in its scabbard was shameful, as this implied you had lost without using all your resources.
He also less notably would work his environs to his advantages, similar to Sun Tzu's art of war and its emphasis on beaing yoour oponent to the battle ground, he left lengthy instructions of where to stand so the sun was in your opponents eyes, or the bonfire, how to close someone in in a room or corridor and so fourth.
Now if Japan drew on Musashi to come up with the inspiration for its business culture, you'd expect to see a highly creative, very efficient economy populated by very flexible and independant organisations. Instead it has adopted a clan type approach, or that is the overwhelming cnvention of the fuedal era, which emphasised groupism, distrust of your neighbour, dependance on your lord and a 'genuis with a thousand helpers' business model.
The pitty is that when applied to education, the geniuses dissappear.
Furthermore there is a lot of superfluous waste. For example, if you extrapolated out the 'short sword in the scabbard is shameful' approach you would probably then say that employing women to make tea and perform menial tasks until they get pregnant and are removed from the workforce all together is also shameful, and ineffectively so. Instead you'd think this approach would mean that you'd view every component of an organisation (and the external business environment) as potential sources for sustainable competitive edge.
Furthermore the book of five rings offers more pearls for a business environ, it actually by its own examples the infinite source of inspiration, Musashi himself makes the bold claim that by applying his 'way of the sword' to any field of knowledge he was able to attain mastery without instruction, he draws numerous inspiration for improvement opportunity not just from drumming as has been stated, but also carpentary and nature. He furthermore expands his principles to very high level concepts.
This is indicative that Musashi was indeed a master amongst mearly competent opposition. Chess playing computers use a form to pick the best move by using the 'ten moves ahead approach' that is being a fast idiot. It picks a move, then calculates your most favorable response, then it's most favorable response and so on and then recalculates for each option. It does this very very quickly then makes an actual move.
The human brain would never be so capable of such tedium, and studies of chess masters have shown that they only think ahead by one or two moves, instead they use a high level approach, breaking the game into 'chunks' of play around the board, they react to general shapes or patterns.
This means their mind is relatively calm and unbusy. Musashi's book of five rings advocates a state of emptiness and other various techniques such as 'looking at mountains far away' to emphasise a matter of being in the moment and training your body to react.
There is no reliance on preconcieved ideas, and his speed of adjusment is vary fast.
Now if more than just Honda and Toyota were capable of this level of competence then Japan would have surpassed America long ago in fact more than its close scraping on paper (GNP is a very, very, very, very, very poor measure of economic success) Any books you see explaining Japanese negotiation based on 'Samurai code' or 'Ninja espionage' techniques are in fact bullshit. You should instead pick up a book on being a loyal vassel or a mindless rice farmer, as this is the majority of Japans culture.
That being said one of the most long running popular graphic novels in Japan is 'Vagabond' the graphic serialisation of Musashi's life, and it is quite profound and well drawn, it is deservedly popular. If the next generation are reading this, and some of them possessed of enough chutzpah to break from the pack, there may be hope for Japan yet.

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