In his masterpiece on strategy, Go Rin no Sho (usually known in English as The Five Rings or Book of Five Rings), the 16th – 17th century Japanese warrior, strategist, painter, calligrapher, and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi mentions that the members of the warrior class at the time had “what are called the Dual Paths of Scholarship and Warfare [文武二道 : Bun Bu Ni Dō] to follow, and must have a liking for both of these Ways.”
Musashi is a personal hero of mine (along with Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin, also great polymaths), and I’ve always had a liking for both of these “paths”: for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a voracious reader of virtually anything and everything that can be read, and have also long had a fascination for all things martial. I’ve always thought that this balance – of thoughtfulness and physicality, of careful consideration and readiness to engage – was an excellent thing to strive for, much like the classical Greco-Roman notion of mens sana in corpore sano. I got my real start in the martial arts in college, when I took up karate. This was accompanied by an interest in the traditional cultures of Okinawa and Japan, and those strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism in particular. I continued to read anything I could find on these subjects, inhaling books by D. T. Suzuki and many others. I made some efforts to learn a little Japanese.
Then in 1997 I moved to Japan, where I have lived ever since. I very soon began to practice a variety of other martial arts (the style of karate I had studied was very specific to Okinawa, and I was in Saitama, more than a thousand miles away), focusing mainly on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, especially iaidō (the “quick draw”) and Musashi’s Ni Ten Ichi Ryū two-sword style of combat. I also continued to study traditional Japanese culture more broadly as well.
In the Go Rin no Sho Musashi exhorts those who want to learn his style of strategy to “… become familiar with all of the arts… [and] [u]nderstand the Ways of all the professions.” I attempt to apply this expansive view of the “Dual Path” of the scholar warrior as I pursue it in my own fashion, and to document those attempts and and my thoughts on them is my primary purpose here. My interests range from neuroscience to poetry and history, from media studies to visual art to self-defense, and the reader may find any or all such subjects touched upon, and others as well.
In 2011 I was approached by an editor from a press based in London, Watkins Publishing, asking if I would be interested in doing a new translation of Musashi’s work. That project gave me the occasion to put even more intensive study into his writing and and others like it than I had previously, and as I continue my research I plan to share my ideas about how the concepts and principles I discover there can be applied today, both in the martial arts and in daily life. I hope these will be meaningful and useful for the reader.
David K. Groff