Thoughts on “Parting Ways” and “Superstitious Avoidances”

I recently received an inquiry from a reader in Iceland (!):

“I am from Latvia… I am practicing kendo 2 years. Now I am in Iceland, doing volunteer service, so I am practicing kendo alone. I am studying The Five Rings; I have the book translated by you. Almost two months I am thinking about “The Path Walked Alone”, but not every line is understandable to me … Can you give me short explanation about some of the lines? :

– ‘On whatever the path, do not be sad about parting ways.’

– ‘Regarding your body, do not avoid certain things for superstitious reasons.’

Thank you very much, and have a good day.”

 My response:
Thank you for your message, and for using my translations for your study of Miyamoto Musashi’s writings. I cannot claim to have perfect understanding of Musashi’s intended meaning, but I can offer my interpretations based on my own research and practice.

“On whatever the path, do not be sad about parting ways”:

We must eventually say goodbye to everyone sometime, no matter whom. Warriors of Musashi’s time, his students included, often would have spent years traveling around, testing their skills against against students of other schools and learning from different teachers. Given the rigors of such a life, the bonds of friendship they formed were sometimes probably very intense, and parting ways very difficult, but often necessary. Musashi insists that a warrior must not be sad about these partings; that they are natural and inevitable.

All of us in our lives sometimes must part ways: with friends, business partners, lovers… it seems to me Musashi’s advice speaks to us all. Sadness over these partings serves no purpose. We can remember these people and relationships, but must move on, continuing on our paths without sadness.

“Regarding your body, do not avoid certain things for superstitious reasons”:

I’ve included an endnote about this in the text. In Musashi’s time, there were many beliefs about things that people were supposed to avoid eating, touching, wearing, saying, etc. according to certain special times. These beliefs (the word Musashi uses is monoimi 物忌み ) were sometimes part of organized religion, such as Buddhism, but other times were just common superstitions. As a warrior, Musashi is saying not to obey these if they will negatively affect your body (i.e. your health and strength). If during a period of time it was considered impure to drink water, for example, and a warrior didn’t drink any water that week because that was the superstition, imagine how weak he might become! He would be almost useless in a battle.

Today, we are told so many pseudo-scientific things about what we should eat or not eat, or how we should exercise or not, etc., that much of it is essentially superstition. In this sense, we often do things that affect our bodies for superstitious reasons. If we follow Musashi’s advice, I believe, we will eat and do what we know from experience keeps our bodies in “fighting shape”, without worrying too much about what we are told we should avoid eating or doing.

I think it is vital to remember Musashi’s refrains from The Five Rings : “You must test this out thoroughly… Investigate this carefully… ” We should not accept the “superstitious” assertions of others at face value, but must test things out for ourselves.

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