This week I will share more wisdom from Miyamoto Musashi’s Fire Scroll, one of the five scrolls of his Book of Five Rings.
“Holding Down the Pillow”
“Holding down the pillow means not letting someone raise his head. In martial arts, in the course of dueling, it is bad to be maneuvered around by others. It is desirable to maneuver the opponents around freely, by whatever means you may. Therefore opponents will be thinking along these lines, and you too have this intention, but it is impossible to succeed in this without comprehending what others are doing. Martial arts include stopping an opponent’s striking blows, arresting his thrusts, tearing away his grips. Holding down the pillow means that when you have attained my science in reality and are engaged with an opponent, whenever the opponent evinces any sign of intending to make a move, you perceive it before he acts. Stopping an opponent’s attack at the initial outset, not letting him follow through, is the sense of “holding down the pillow.” For example, you inhibit an opponent’s attack from the letter a, so to speak; you inhibit an opponent’s leap from the letter l, and inhibit an opponent’s cut from the letter c. These are all the same idea. Whenever opponents try to attack you, let them go ahead and do anything that is useless, while preventing them from doing anything useful. This is essential to military science. Here, if you consciously try to thwart opponents, you are already late. First, doing whatever you do scientifically, thwart the opponent’s very first impulse to try something, thus foiling everything. To manipulate opponents in this way is mastery of the art of war, which comes from practice. The act of holding down the pillow requires thorough examination.”
“Knowing the State of Affairs”
“In large- scale military science, knowing the state of affairs means discerning the flourishing and decline of opponents, discerning the intentions of adversary troops and perceiving their condition, clearly seeing the state of affairs, determining how to deploy your own troops so as to gain certain victory by the principles of military science, and doing battle with knowledge of what lies ahead. Also, in individual martial arts, you determine opponent’s traditions, observe the personal character of adversaries, find out people’s strengths and weaknesses, maneuver in ways contrary to opponents’ highs and lows, ascertain the rhythms in between, and make the first move; this is essential. If your own power of insight is strong, the state of affairs of everything will be visible to you. Once you have attained complete independent mastery of martial arts, you will be able to figure out the minds of opponents and thus find many ways to win. This demands work.”
Disintegration is something that happens to everything. When a house crumbles, a person crumbles, or an adversary crumbles, they fall apart by getting out of rhythm with the times. In large- scale military science, it is also essential to find the rhythm of opponents as they come apart and pursue them so as not to let opponents slip by. If you miss the timing of vulnerable moments, there is the likelihood of counterattack. In individual martial arts it also happens that an adversary will get out of rhythm in combat and start to fall apart. If you let such a chance get by you, the adversary will recover and thwart you. It is essential to follow up firmly on any loss of poise on the part of an opponent, to prevent him from recovering. The follow- up calls for directness and power; it is a matter of lashing out violently in such a way that an opponent cannot recover. This lashing out must be carefully analyzed. If you do not let go, there is a sense of slovenliness. This is something that requires work.”
“Moving shadows is something you do when you cannot discern what an adversary is thinking. In large- scale military science, when you cannot discern the enemy’s state, you pretend to make a powerful attack to see what they will do. Having seen opponents’ methods, it is easy to seize victory by taking advantage of different tactics specially adapted to each case. In individual martial arts also, when an opponent is brandishing his sword behind him or to his side, when he is suddenly about to strike, he shows his intent in his sword. Once it shows perceptibly, you should immediately sense the advantage and know how to win with certainty. If you are inattentive, you will miss the rhythm. This should be examined thoroughly.”
Arresting shadows is something you do then adversaries’ aggressive intentions toward you are perceptible. In large- scale military science, this means to arrest the enemy’s action at the point of the very impulse to act. If you demonstrate strongly to opponents how you control the advantage, they will change their minds, inhibited by this strength. You change your attitude too- to an empty mind, from which you take the initiative and seize victory. In individual martial arts as well, you use an advantageous rhythm to arrest the powerful determination of the adversary’s motivation; then you find the winning advantage in the moment of pause and now take the initiative. This must be worked out thoroughly.”