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21 Rules of Miyamoto Musashi

personal-development10 min read

Below texts and meanings are not written by me. Check references for authors. I like this so i added those here.


Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) is one of the most legendary samurai and famed as Japan's greatest swordsman - undefeated in more than sixty duels. After he escaped death during the Battle of Sekigahara, Musashi became a ronin(a masterless samurai). Before he died, Musashi left us with twenty-one principles named Dokkodo. Dokkodo means "The Path of Aloneness" or "The Way to be Followed Alone". The majority, if not all, of these rules, help us to establish one thing: focus.

Focus is the quality of having a concentrated interest or activity on something. Needless to say, 'focus' was a crucial component in Musashi's life, or, what he called 'the way', which is a life of ongoing practice. His writings reveal that his lifestyle revolved around restraint, sacrifice, discipline, and not being swayed by pleasure. These virtues were all established by or in support of being able to 'focus'. Especially when he spent time apart from society, Musashi was only concerned with perfecting his skill, while aiming for enlightenment by the Way of the sword.

1. Accept everything just the way it is.

Here "the way" means life of ongoing practice. if you are able to accept the reality of the things around you, you'll be able to adapt and improve yourself.

2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.

Have virtue above pleasure. Pleasure should be a side-effect of ones pursuit of virtue. if you make the pursuit of pleasure, the sole purpose of your existence, you will be forever chasing it. This causes tremendous anxiety and is the root cause of much of the suffering found in the First World.

Pleasure should be kept at bay as sometimes it can become a trap because it feels good to be in that comfortable zone. If you notice, your decisions will be based upon 'whats comforting to you' and pleasure will is on-command.

Discipline is hard. Discipline is the little white dot in the black Yang, indicating peace in a place of chaos. Discipline is a constant.It never stops, like the Earth rotating around the sun. If the Earth was emotional, and didn't have the motivation to move, were all dead.

3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.

Feelings are important as they indicate something is going on but they arent ideal when coming to making decisions. Problem with feeling is, they are often based on irrational thinking thus based on delusional view of reality therefore feelings are most cases partial as they don't tell the whole story and acting upon them lead to actions that might be wrong and destructive. Let the dust in the minds settle and reasses the situation when our mind is clear. Needless to say battle need to be fought with clear mind.

Whenever you're deciding to do something, if you're feeling anything less than a "Hell yes, this would be amazing!" then the answer is a flat "No". This method is a great way to overcome overcommitment and it's subsequent burnout. When you eliminate all the fluff from your life, you're left with the things that truly excite you.

4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.

Ground yourself. Love gravity, that's where your strength is. Your mind is like a horse. It's difficult to tame a horse, but, if you do, you'll travel distances the walking man will never see. Your mind is your best weapon and your worst enemy. Your thoughts become your reality. When you believe your potential is limitless, you're right.

Improve by 1% every day.

The World isn't a bad place. The world isn't a depressing place. But your mind is. If you're caught in the chaos, trapped in your thoughts, get out as fast as you can – your mind is ruthless.

At the end of the day, we are all just advanced apes clinging on to an organic rock as it orbits around a massive, burning star. And as intelligent and important as we think we are, in the grand scheme of things we play but a tiny role in the cosmic tapestry of life. Be humble. Play it well.

5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.

Desire means we let our happiness depend on something that lies outside of us, unfortunately outside circumstances are outside our control. Buddhist see desire, attachment as root of all suffering. Being attached to desire means we are fixed on pursuit of external things assuming this pursuit will make us happy. Musashi tells us besides the vastness of external world, smallness of ourselves, the key to wellbeing lies within.


There is nothing, outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everthing exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself. -- Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

We could say, even though we should be humble to the greatness of the world, our focus should be on our actions within that universe and not on what we can get from it as latter isn't reliable. Musashi tells us, desiring things, not in our control isn't an effective strategy for a good life.

Have goals, but don't let them rule you. Don't dwell on what others have when you can make your own.

6. Do not regret what you have done.

Past has passed. No matter how badly we wish to take back a harsh word which we had said in anger or a bad deed which we had committed without thinking, as the saying goes, what's done is done. Better to learn from your mistakes and move on.

When you loose, don't loose the lesson -- Dalai Lama

Everything you did Yesterday Makes you Stronger Today

7. Never be jealous.

When facing the world alone like a ronin, resentment is always around the corner. Being an outcast often means not having what other people have, especially when it comes to material things and social connections. So, its easy to become envious of those who have what you don't have. But, when we walk alone, its unwise to burden ourselves with such feelings of resentment, as they will only harm ourselves. Our energy is wasted, when bitterly comparing ourselves to other people.

Ronins are better off focusing on their our actions and walking with blinders on if necessary.

8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.

We are born. We meet each other. We live, laugh, love and hate. Then we grow old and die. This is the natural order of things. Thus, do not be saddened by the end of things, be it relationships you hold dear, a career you loved, or indeed, of life itself. Instead of bemoaning a termination, be glad there was a beginning to enjoy in the first place!

We experience an intense feeling of lack, as we believe that whats taken away from us belongs to us, and is part of us. In buddhism this idea of possession is delusional. Many buddhists would agree that we don't truly own anything outside of our mental faculties; even our bodies aren't our own as we don't fully control them. You cannot afford to be saddened, as in life all things come and go. As a ronin, you have to embrace the temporary nature of things, including the conclusion of life, death.

When responding to Tragedy. Control your reactions.

9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.

Winners never complain, and complainers never win, neither do critics. Be kind to yourself, and extend the same courtesy to others. Give it a try. World is beyond our control, people will act in ways that don't comply with our ethics and values all the time. People will behave foolishly, rudely, ungratefully. People will dislike us, treat us unjustly, try to take advantage of us. Life isn't fair. We don't get equal shares of the pie. We aren't equally gifted, equally handsome, equally healthy. This is almost impossible to change this, and you will find nature working against us all the time. Its best to focus on ourselves, live the best life we can, while being accepting of those who don't.

Turn your mind off and solve your problems.

Instead of being happy – be content. Happiness leaves. Happiness leaves holes. Happiness is the shovel breaking the earth, but never putting anything to fill the holes. Later, thousands of holes remind you of how you once felt; but don't feel now.

Don't think. Be

10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.

Charles Bukowski once said that "many a good man was put under the bridge by a woman." It seems Musashi concurs. As Musashi wrote, "Seek nothing outside of yourself."

Love your path

11. In all things have no preferences.

With preferences, we create a dependency on something outside. When we come across something we prefer, we are happy but when we incur what we don't prefer, we are disappointed. By giving preferences we will give outside circumstances the power over our mood.

More preference, you have, less flexibility you are. Preference make you weak. Having no preferences towards things, you free up your mind for the things that you should focus on.

12. Be indifferent to where you live.

It doesn't matter what environment you find yourself in. If you're not comfortable within the confines of your own skin. Your attitude determines your development regardless if you're living in Los Angeles or Los Alamos. Once Musashi learned what he could in one village Musashi left for the next one. Discipline first. Your path is everything.

13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.

Food is a necessity. To be overly selective of what you eat is to invite undue want and unhappiness. Jay Cutler said "eat for function not for taste".

14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.

Epicurus also said, "To make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires. He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing."

Don't hold onto anything longer than you need. Be merciless. Cut the fat off the meat. Daily. Your path is everything. Let go of baggage slowing down your passage to a better life.

15. Do not act following customary beliefs.

As Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford speech, "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice...have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." Just because something is practiced and preached by many doesn't make it a fact. Think and act for yourself. Act how you think you should act not how others say you should. You only have one chance to decide for yourself.

Take Musashi, he didn’t live like a Samurai; Musashi was a Ronin–a Samurai without a master. A shogun is the head of Samurai clan, can banish a Samurai, or die, leaving the Samurai without a master. Ronin are shameful according to traditional Bushido, the way of the Samurai. Samurai are supposed to follow their Shogun into death, serving beyond the realm of the living, usually done by ritual suicide. Seppuku. As an alternative to death Samurai could become hermits after taking the title of Ronin. This usually meant a Ronin was banished from his village, voluntarily, to spend the remaining days of his life in some mountain. Musashi was Ronin but cared little about his status. Musashi didn’t follow customary beliefs. He followed his path. Ronin, a term from Bushido, meant nothing to Musashi, who followed his code instead of the code of the Samurai and look what became of him. Musashi is a legend; the greatest swordsman to ever live. He followed his truth, and his truth granted him status as a legend.

16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.

Musashi wrote in the Book of Five Rings to "Do nothing that is of no use." A sword's primary purpose is to cut. In the same vein, a pen's purpose is to write and a cup's purpose is to drink from. All else is frippery. Tools are meant to be used, and people are meant to be loved. Not the other way round.

Trim your life down. The more baggage you have, the slower you move.

17. Do not fear death.

Yet another great quote from Epicurus goes: "Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist." Death is the only constant in life. Thus, to fear death is to fear to live.

18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.

Musashi says the process is the journey, and the journey is the reward in itself. All external rewards are wind. Live usefully and collect what is useful. Don't waste your time when you can spend your time bettering yourself.

19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.

Hopes and wishes are well and good, but at the end of the day, the only thing you can count on is yourself. Offer up your daily prayers, but don't count on divine intervention. Using every single drop of your God-given talent is the best way to honor your creator.

The gods help those who help themselves and encourage the brave–they have no time for fools, whining about their lives, disregarding the gift of life bestowed on the unworthy like a spoiled child. Musashi respected the gods but never depended on them. The gods don’t want your baggage. The gods help the hero who goes farther than the normal man.

20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.

To fight, and shall things go badly, to give up your life for a higher purpose — be it for family, a belief, a clan, or a nation. That is the true purpose of a warrior's life. As Bruce Lee said, "There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level."

Honor transcends the body. Your legacy will live forever if you build it high enough. Kiss the sky with your tower; the work you do today can influence the world for thousands of years. You may spend your entire life toiling, but never see the result in your lifetime. That’s fine. The purpose of work is meaning–not results. You gain honor by never lying to yourself; picking challenges you care about; finishing them.

21. Never stray from the way.

Lastly, Musashi reminds us of the importance of sticking assiduously to the Way. These precepts are meant to be practiced. They are meant to be put in action, to be lived — not just browsed through in seconds and forgotten just as quickly. There is a quote by Bruce Lee that goes, "Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do." So go forth and put these principles into practice. Remember, we are what we do, not what we think. It is only with constant action and repeated practices that we rise above and forge a better version of ourselves.

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