Tread firmly


In any undertaking, your footwork is vitally important.

Writing on “Using the Feet”, in the Water section of  The Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi says that as a warrior, you should “tread firmly on your heels.” Later he derides  “bouncing”, “flying”, “creeping”, and other unnatural types of footwork propounded by other schools of swordsmanship.

The reason for all this attention to the feet becomes clearer when we realize that Musashi was a seasoned, six-time veteran of the battlefield, writing in a time of relative peace, when swordsmanship was shifting away from open warfare to an emphasis on single contests and rarefied training-hall teaching. These styles of footwork may have seemed effective under the constraints of the dojo and single-opponent matches, but they are inappropriate for real-world combat, where the terrain, number of opponents, and other variables are less predictable. We can see this in modern-day karate* and kendo practice as well, with their bouncing and sliding footwork, none of which is practicable in rough terrain.

So the reason for these admonitions from a battlefield perspective is clear. But as always when reading Musashi, we must remember to not only read the literal combative applications but also to “having one thing, know ten thousand .” The idea of skittish footwork also translates to unfocused activity of all kinds and “an attitude of waiting”. Having “flying feet” is the same as jumping into things rashly. “When you land there is a feeling of fixedness,” writes Musashi, and surely this is true of jumping into other situations as well: there is often the feeling of having gotten oneself stuck in the situation. And then: “There cannot be said to be any advantage in jumping around again and again.” We all know (and some of us may be) people who jump around from one thing to another, getting “stuck” and jumping haphazardly into the next thing.

For my own, part for a long time I have struggled with the opposite bad habit: that of “creeping feet” — a tendency to proceed very hesitantly, even after having effectively made up my mind on a course of action. This has almost inevitably led to limited success. The times in my life that I have been most successful have been those when, while not acting rashly, I quickly came to decisions and acted boldly and firmly on them, “taking the initiative.” When you do this, everything changes. Continue reading