Dr. Helen

Miyamoto Musashi: Genius or Psychopath?

I am reading a new book by Lawrence Kane, et. al. called Musashi’s Dokkodo (The Way of Walking Alone): Half Crazy, Half Genius – Finding Modern Meaning in the Sword Saint’s Last Words. It offers the reader five different interpretations of swordsmen Miyamoto Musashi’s sage proverbs and sayings about life:

Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – 1645) was arguably the greatest swordsman who ever lived, a legendary figure whose methods of thought and strategy have been studied and adopted across a wide spectrum of society, from martial artists to military leaders to captains of industry. The iconic sword saint of Japan was clearly a genius, yet he was also a functional psychopath–ruthless, fearless, hyper-focused, and utterly without conscience. Shortly before he died, Musashi wrote down his final thoughts about life for his favorite student Terao Magonojo to whom Go Rin No Sho, his famous Book of Five Rings, had also been dedicated. He called this treatise Dokkodo, which translates as “The Way of Walking Alone.” The book you hold in your hands is the definitive interpretation of Musashi’s final work.

Readers are oftentimes subject to a single perspective about what some famous author from the past had to say, yet we are more holistic here. This treatise contains Musashi’s original 21 precepts of the Dokkodo along with five different interpretations of each passage written from the viewpoints of a monk (Wilder), a warrior (Burrese), a teacher (Smedley), an insurance executive (Christensen), and a businessman (Kane). Each contributor has taken a divergent path from the others, yet shares the commonality of being a lifelong martial practitioner and published author. In this fashion you are not just reading a simple translation of Musashi’s writing, you are scrutinizing his final words for deeper meaning. In them are enduring lessons for how to lead a successful and meaningful life.

The interpretations from the five perspectives are very fascinating; it’s worth a read if you enjoy contemplating ideas about life such as how involved one should be in material things or how important it is to not care what others think about you.