Welcome to our exploration into Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings. Here, we are exploring the undefeated samurai’s magnum opus into the Way of the Martial Arts. I won’t be covering the entire chapter, but I strongly encourage you to go out and read the book for yourself. There is much, much more to be learned from every line.


CHAPTER TWO: THE WATER


In this Way especially, if you misperceive it or become lost just a little, you will fall into distortion. You will not reach the essence of the martial arts by merely looking at this book. Think that what is written down here was done just for you, and do not consider simply looking at it, familiarizing yourself with it, or trying to imitate it. Rather, you should consider these principles as though they were discovered from your own mind, and continually make great efforts to make them a physical part of yourself.

Musashi begins The Water chapter by instilling in the reader the notion that learning the Way isn’t just about reading and imitation, it’s about making it your own, as if you yourself had come up with this philosophy.

It’s all fine and dandy to read what I’m writing here and what he wrote centuries ago, but even in his time, Musashi recognized the importance of making it your own. As if the teachings sprung for your very being. Taking ownership over the principles is an incredibly powerful way to learn, and I would argue, is perfect for someone seeking to improve. You aren’t just copying the best way to do something, you are the best way to do something.

 

In the Way of the Martial Arts, do not let your frame of mind be any different from your everyday mind…Do not let your mind stand still even when you are in repose, but do not let it speed up even when you are involved in quick actions.

Mindset is incredibly important to your ability to grow and learn. Musashi presents the idea that the frame of mind you put yourself in, in this case when attempting to tackle a Crucible match, should be the same one you have in your everyday life. You don’t need to work through any special mental gymnastics to get in the right space. Your default should always be in a place where you are prepared completely.

He continues that even when you are in repose (at rest) your mind should not stand still and when you perform quickly, your mind should not follow suit. This is the same as staying calm under pressure and not rushed during lulls in action. A state of neutrality allows you ample time to properly address each situation as they occur and not feel rushed on either spectrum.

This state of mind could best be described as “being in the zone”. Time appears to slow down as you act, allowing you to make the proper play and movements during firefights. One example being how to perform in close quarters combat. You can also quickly make decisions during downtime to execute the correct play for the moment. An example here being the best way to push a group of snipers hardscoping angles.

Act so that your opponent cannot understand your mind.

The moment your opponent gets into your head and can anticipate your movement or decisions is the moment the game unravels before you. By continually changing up your movement patterns, pushes, or even playstyles, you can keep your opponent on their backfoot and guessing while you execute the maneuvers you wish to undertake with much less risk or predictability.

 

In using the eyes, do so in a large and encompassing way. There is observation and there is seeing. The eye of observation is strong. The eye of seeing is weak. To see the faraway as nearby, and the nearby as faraway is essential to the martial arts. To know your opponent’s sword, yet not to “see” it at all is very important in the martial arts.

To me, this is all about getting into the head of your opponent. Knowing what they’re capable of doing and attacking from (sword) at all points of time. It isn’t enough that you can just see where someone is moving to or engaging you from. You need to take a step further and observe what they did to get there in the first place. What route did they take? Are there any weaknesses about that route? What about the end location? How can you exploit their positioning? These are the questions your eye of observation should be asking. Walk in their shoes and then proceed to punish them for the game they want to play.

Musashi continues by going into the 5 fundamental sword stances one can take, but I want to focus only on the third in particular.

 

In the Third Fundamental, use the Lower Stance, with an idea of drawing your opponent in. When he advances to strike, you strike his hands from below. At the point when you are to strike his hand, you opponent may once again advance to strike. As he goes to knock down your sword, let his excessive rhythm pass, then cut his upper arm laterally after he has made his strike. With the Lower Stance, you kill the opponent at the same moment he strikes.

Let’s consider this stance from the perspective of the enemy having a shotgun. From the beginning, you want to “draw your opponent in”, aka bait him/her. How can you do this? You do so with superior positioning with one example being manipulating them using the radar.

Radar baits or traps are created by consciously choosing to stay upright (appear on radar) or crouch (temporarily appear off radar) to give your opponent misinformation about the power of your position. By staying upright around corners, you could potentially encourage said opponent to engage via slide. In doing so, you can backpedal/skate/jump and gun them down defensively using your primary or shotgun yourself.

As they strike you, you strike back, staying out of one-hit range as they slide into your one-hit a moment after. This sort of defensive mindgame is not only effective, but incredibly demoralizing for many players, especially when executed with precision and impunity.

 

When you think that both you and your opponent are ready to strike, your body becomes a striking body, your mind becomes a striking mind and your hand instantaneously strikes with strength emerging from nothingness and leaving no wake. This is the most important strike, that of No Thought-No Concept.

The No Thought-No Concept strike is characterized by the fact that it is completely intuitive. It is also predicated by the fact that you just make the play, regardless of the situation.

Confidence in one’s play is incredibly difficult to teach, just as is confidence in oneself. However, in order to succeed in these high pressure moments, you just can’t be bothered to think about what is right and what is wrong, you just need to know and do it. This is what people mean when they tell you to “just take the shot”. Better to take a shot, miss, and go down fighting, then provide no resistance and signal to your opponent that you are easy prey.

Overthinking every little decision will just slow your reaction time and result in seeds of self-doubt being planted in your mind. The worst thing for you to do is get to a point where you are double guessing every decision you make. The time for self-examination is for *after* the match, when you can review it and complete an analysis.

Remember: you want your mind to remain in a state of neutrality. Overthinking breaks this parity and distracts you from the situations at hand.

 

Should you and your opponent be equally matched, and should he attempt to quickly move away, avoid your strike, and brush your sword away, you must inflate both body and mind, let your sword follow your body and, quite slowly, strike with all the power of momentarily restrained water bursting forth from a running stream. This I call the Strike of Running Water. When you master this, you will have, with certainty, a good strike. It is essential to discern your opponent’s position.

Confidence is a strong theme that runs throughout Musashi’s work. It’s also integral to understanding how to counter the counters to your plan.

Getting into the head of your opponents, and their subsequent mind games in to your own, results in a system of levels. Level 0 is what you want to do. Plan A, if you will. Level 1 is your opponent’s reaction to countering level 0. Level 2 is your reaction to your opponent’s counter. So on and so forth.

In order to succeed at properly anticipating what your opponent is going to do, you need to have contingency plans when plan A is countered. More specifically, you need to know how to deal with being countered.

Example: you want to push with a shotgun. Your opponent knows to counter your shotgun they need to keep their distance or pull you into the open. You can deal with your opponent being far away by ignoring the initial push completely and approaching from the side, circumventing your opponent’s strategy.

This is the Strike of Running Water, should your opponent parry your strategy, you can slowly reposition and burst from another location altogether.

 

…when you have come close to the body of your opponent, stick to it without separating…when you and your opponent strike together and he has checked your blow, continue to apply your sword to his as if you were applying glue, and close in.

Continuing our theme of confidence, when you move to engage or challenge an opponent, it should be a continual pressure, not a tap on the shoulder. Once you acquire your target, commit to the encounter until you have proven successful. I would go one step further and say that this includes understanding when to disengage in order to continue to strike.

If you find yourself being outgunned, it can be in your best interest to disengage and reposition yourself. In doing so, however, do not simply forget about where your opponent is or where they are capable of heading. If your initial blow is parried, you can simply push to another location to reinitiate the fight. This sense of see-saw engage-disengage will come naturally once you become more comfortable and confident in the outcome of challenges mid-battle.

However, don’t mistake this sense of pressure for bull-headed aggression. Remember, we never want to give the opponent the opportunity to be able to properly devise a counterattack strategy against us. Consider the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy: each has a portion of its opposite within it. Just as a hyper aggressive player should be able to use defensive tactics or a passive player capable of aggressively pushing. A balanced playstyle is key to remaining unpredictable and move closer to, what I would consider, a perfect style.

 

Even when your opponents come at you from all directions, be of a mind to drive them into one place. When your opponents attack, see clearly who is in front of you and who behind. Quickly engage the man or men advancing in front of you, but watch peripherally and understand the position of your opponents. …It is not good to hesitate. …If you do not chase in directly toward the place where your opponents have gathered, you will not make progress.

The infamous 1vX’s. When you fight multiple opponents, and you can and be successful, you need to pull or drive them into a location that is advantageous for you. Choke points, long lanes with little cover, whatever you fancy. The way to winning outnumbered situations is two-fold: be swift and do not hesitate. You don’t want your opponents to get a good idea of what it is you’re attempting to do.

Finally, keep in mind that last sentence. To win situations where you’re outnumbered, you need to put yourself in those positions. Like anything, successful practice will not occur if you avoid the situation altogether. Are you going to die? Yes, plenty. But you’ll never learn if you shy away from every experience or dismiss it as “Well, I was going to die no matter what.”

Always go down fighting.


TLW:

Practice what is in this book line by line, engage your opponents, and gradually you will grasp the principle of the Way. Keep this unceasingly in mind, but do not be hurried; try your hand from time to time, and learn the heart of each step. And no matter whom you fight, know his mind.