Adam Rockman is a confidence coach and author of the best-selling book Social Confidence Mastery: How to Eliminate Social Anxiety, Insecurities, Shyness, And the Fear of Rejection. His site Evolve To Win is dedicated to mind and body optimization for winning at life.
Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi is a fictionalized account of the life of the most renowned Japanese swordsman who ever lived. This nearly 1000 page epic shares the story of how Miyamoto Musashi gained fame by defeating an entire sword school and facing other challenges while searching for perfection in swordsmanship and consciousness.
Refine Your Mind and Body
Musashi starts as an aggressive, uncontrollable brute but gradually refines himself while focusing on his chosen path. Early in the novel, Musashi is captured and imprisoned in a small room for 3 years with only a mountain of books to occupy his time. When he gets out he finds a girl who previously helped him waiting for his release. She demands he take her with him no matter where he goes:
‘I told you. I’ve just become a new man. I stayed in that musty hole for three years. I read books. I thought. I screamed and cried. Then suddenly the light dawned. I understood what it means to be human. I have a new name, Miyamoto Musashi. I want to dedicate myself to training and discipline. I want to spend every moment of every day working to improve myself. I know now how far I have to go. If you chose to bind your life to mine, you’d never be happy. There will be nothing but hardship, and it won’t get easier as it goes along. It’ll get more and more difficult.’
‘When you talk like that, I feel closer to you than ever. Now I’m convinced I was right. I’ve found the best man I could ever find, even if I searched for the rest of my life.’
Focus on Your Goals
The more focused a man is on his goals the more attractive he is to women. Musashi chooses to dedicate himself to his training. He doesn’t want any distractions interrupting his progress. Sometimes you need to know when to cut out all distractions, including a dating life in order to focus on self-improvement.
The Peony, Remarked Yoshino, was the king of flowers. Perhaps it was only natural that its withered branches had a quality not to be found in ordinary wood, just as certain men had a worth not displayed by others. How many men are there, she mused, whose merit endures after the blossoms have faded and died? With a melancholy smile, she answered her own question. We human beings blossom only during our youth, then become dry, colorless, skeletons even before we die.
A recurring theme of the story is how unremarkable most people are because they mindlessly follow norms. It’s not necessarily a criticism of the common folk. It seems more like emphasis on how extraordinary Musashi actually is. A later scene explains how Musashi realized most people fight primarily with one sword merely out of habit, even though he discovered fighting with 2 swords simultaneously seemed much more natural and efficient for him.
It was not hard to find able swordsmen. What was hard to find was a real man. While the world was full of people, all too full, finding a genuine human being was not easy. In his travels, Musashi had come to believe this very deeply, to the point of pain, and it discouraged him.
It Can be Lonely on the Top of the Food Chain.
A major selling point of conforming to the masses is a sense of acceptance. It makes it easier to make both superficial acquaintances and friends. Exceptionally intelligent and successful people sometimes find it difficult to relate to most people.
He was appalled. Without thinking, without remembering his years of training and self-discipline, he had been on the brink of begging for supernatural assistance. Something was wrong, for deep down he knew that the samurai’s true ally was not the gods but death itself.
Last night, he had felt confident that he had come to terms with his fate. And yet, there he was within a hairbreadth of forgetting all he had ever learned, beseeching aid from the deity. Head drooped in shame, he stood there like a rock.
This scene comes before Musashi’s famous battle at Ichijo Temple. In which he fought and killed over 70 disciples of the Yoshioka sword fighting school. Take responsibility for your own fate. Especially when facing the worst adversity life will throw at you.
Musashi’s eyes seemed to pierce Gonnosuke’s body. Inwardly, the battle had already begun, for the eye can damage a man more seriously than sword or staff. After the opening slice is made with the eye, the sword or staff slips in effortlessly.
Your Confidence is a Weapon.
Instead of wanting to be like this or that, make yourself into a silent, immovable giant. That’s what the mountain is. Don’t waste your time trying to impress people. If you become the type of man people can respect, they’ll respect you, without your doing anything.
Overcome the need to impress others and you will be more likely to become a man that deserves respect.
‘I wouldn’t call Musashi ordinary.’
‘But he is. That’s what’s extraordinary about him. He’s not content with relying on whatever natural gifts he may have. Knowing he’s ordinary, he’s always trying to improve himself. No one appreciates the agonizing effort he’s had to make. Now that his years of training have yielded such spectacular results, everybody’s talking about his “god-given talent.” That’s how men who don’t try very hard comfort themselves.’
That last line is a knockout punch to losers looking for excuses to explain away their mediocrity when they don’t want to admit they never even tried to improve. If you’ve developed skill in any endeavor you know how annoying it is for people to dismiss it as natural talent while ignoring the extensive time you’ve invested in developing your craft.
If you have experience sacrificing mediocrity in pursuit of greatness you might relate to this characterization of Musashi. At the very least, this book may lead you to consider how great you could be if you devoted every moment of every day working to improve yourself.