The Earth Scroll

Good morning and Happy New Year! It feels good to be off to a new start for this year 2012.

I feel like I just wrote my last post- because I did. My kids were here for their school vacation so my last Weekly Post was done just a couple days ago. In that post, I introduced my new martial art related reading material. Now I will share some thoughts about the first section of The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.

This scroll is not surprisingly not always written in what would be considered a clear and straightforward manner. It contains metaphors and several points which the author charges the reader to think on further. Some of the first discussion of the actual practice of martial arts likens the science of martial arts to the science of carpentry. This is applicable to the individual martial artist as well as to a commander of an army. This section talks of the duties of the master carpenter including knowing the regulations of the area in which he is building, knowing what sort of wood to use for what parts of a house, keeping his tools sharp and using them skillfully, as well as directing his journeymen to the tasks most appropriate for each. Here is an excerpt:

“Efficiency and smooth progress, prudence in all matters, recognizing true courage, recognizing different levels of morale, instilling confidence, and realizing what can and cannot be reasonably expected- such are the matters on the mind of the master carpenter. The principle of martial arts is like this.”

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When Miyamoto Musashi shares some of the meanings behind the five scrolls that this work is divided in to, he says of the Earth scroll,

“In the Earth Scroll is an outline of the science of martial arts, the analysis of my individual school. The true science cannot be attained just by mastery of swordsmanship alone. Knowing the small by way of the great, one goes from the shallow to the deep. Because a straight path levels the contour of the earth, I call the first one the Earth Scroll.”

Miyamoto Musashi called his school “Two Swords” and he explains this also in this scroll. The two swords are a large and a smaller sword, a katana (sword) and wakizashi (side arm).

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“In Japan, the way of warriors is to wear them at their sides whether they know anything about them or not. It is in order to convey the advantages of these two that I call my school Two Swords in One.”

The reasoning behind teaching a student to use a sword with one hand as opposed to two, as well as training to use each hand with a separate weapon are important in this school. Other weapons and their advantages and disadvantages are also covered, including the bow, spear, and even guns. I found it interesting that Musashi notes that a gun is most useful “Inside castle walls”- also in open fields but only before the battle has begun, “no longer adequate” when “the ranks have closed in battle.” Another critique he adds is that it is good when you see a trail of the arrows you have shot with a bow; whereas once a bullet is shot, you cannot see where it has gone. “This should be given careful consideration.”

One of the most interesting sections to me of the Earth scroll is about rhythm in martial arts. This is something I had not thought about before. Musashi writes:

“Rhythm is something that exists in everything, but hte rhythms of martial arts in particular are difficult to master without practice. Rhythm is manifested in the world in such things as dance and music, pipes and strings. These are all harmonious rhythms. In the field of martial arts, there are rhythms and harmonies in archery, gunnery, and even horsemanship. In all arts and sciences, rhythm is not to be ignored. There is even rhythm in being empty. In the professional life of a warrior, there are rhythms of rising to office and rhythms of stepping down, rhythms of fulfillment and rhythms of disappointment. In the field of commerce, there are rhythms of becoming rich and rhythms of losing one’s fortune. Harmony and disharmony in rhythm occor in every walk of life. It is imperative to distinguish carefully between the rhythms of flourishing and the rhythms of decline in every single thing… The way to win in a battle according to military science is to know the rhythms of the specific opponents, and use rhythms that your opponents do not expect, producing formless rhythms from rhythms of wisdom.”

To close I would like to share the 9 principles outlined at the close of the scroll, which a martial arts practitioner should keep generally in mind.

1. Think of what is right and true.

2. Practice and cultivate the science.

3. Become acquainted with the arts.

4. Know the principles of the crafts.

5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything.

6. Learn to see everything accurately.

7. Become aware of what is not obvious.

8. Be careful even in small matters.

9. Do not do anything useless.

What do you think?

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