Musashi’s Dokkodo

So, without question Musashi was a functional psychopath. While we believe that he was born predisposed to an antisocial personality disorder, we simultaneously acknowledge that Musashi was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, a genius. Can we separate the psychopath from the genius? Sure we can, but it is a bit of a challenge. Once we move past the acknowledgment that Musashi was a psychopath it places his writings in a different light.

When we read Musashi’s writings, Go Rin No Sho or Dokkodo, we are reading the thoughts of a functional psychopath. Should we, therefore, accept his writings in totality? Clearly not. No more than we would never accept the policies of the Nazi party in total just because we like the way they addressed German citizens’ access to healthcare. But, that’s the point isn’t it? We should feel free to embrace the uncomfortable, to move past the icon of Musashi constructed by Eiji Koshikawa some seventy years ago.

Engage with the essentials of the master swordsman’s teachings, his meaningful messages, all the while keeping a balance between the value of the icon and the reality of who he was as a man. In other words, he wrote about a different time and place, a different culture and ethic. There is merit in much of what he said, but his words are not a bible.

Many people know about Musashi’s first book Go Rin No Sho, have even studied it in depth, but far fewer have perused his second one. On the occasion of Musashi giving away his possessions in preparation for his impending death, he wrote down his final thoughts about life in a treatise he called Dokkodo for his favorite student Terao Magonojō to whom Go Rin No Sho had also been dedicated. The title Dokkodo translates as, “The Way of Walking Alone.” It is a short essay that contains a mere 21 passages, yet it is just as profound as his longer dissertation.

The book you hold in your hands is our interpretation of that final work.

When reading famous historical writings readers are oftentimes subject to a single person’s perspective about what an author from the past had to say. For instance, it might be the one person who spent the time and energy to translate an ancient work such as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD). Although the translator is unlikely to deliberately alter a statement or modify a meaning, there is always room for interpretation, opportunities for error. If the translator was an academic, for example, we get a scholarly view. If he or she was a military historian, on the other hand, the perspective would be different. Either way there’s one lens, one point of view. We’ve tried to be more holistic here.

This translation of Musashi’s precepts comes from the public domain, we saw no need to quibble with precise wording when each passage spans but a single sentence, yet this book contains five different interpretations of each precept of the Dokkodo written by five martial artists who come from very different walks of life. Each contributor was selected because he or she has lived a divergent existence from the others, yet shares the commonality of being a lifelong martial practitioner and published author.

We will address each of the 21 precepts in turn, taking the perspective of a monk (written by Franciscan Friar Kris Wilder), a warrior (written by former US Army Sniper Instructor Alain Burrese), a teacher (written by educator Wallace Smedley), an insurance executive (written by claims examiner Lisa Christensen), and a businessman (written IT strategist by Lawrence Kane), in our analysis. As you read this treatise you will see how some of these views agree with what Musashi has written, how we have found modern relevance from the legendary swordsman’s final words, as well as where some of our views differ. Or, in some cases where one or more authors might have rejected Musashi’s position entirely.

In this fashion you’re not just reading a translation of Musashi’s writing. You are scrutinizing his final words for deeper meaning. For all his faults, Musashi was a genius, one whose writings merit deep consideration. Our goal is to make you think; help you find modern meaning and application from Dokkodo for your own life as we have done for ours.