Miyamoto Musashi – Never Stray From The Way

Miyamoto Musashi Precept 21: Never stray from the way.

This is a fitting precept to end with, and one that I and every warrior will agree with. I have the audacity to state that all warriors will agree with me and Musashi because I believe that true warriors have something inside that draws them to the way of the warrior. It doesn’t matter if you believe in David Grossman’s “Sheepdog” analogy or Dan Millman’s “Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” the simple fact is that some individuals have something inside that draws them toward warriorship. This may materialize in different ways, and the individuals may sometimes appear to be as different as day and night. But deep inside, they will have a commonality, and that will be the way of the warrior.

When Musashi wrote about the “way,” I don’t believe he was referring only to his methods of swordsmanship or personal combat. I believe he referred to the “way” as a way of life in which every action embodied the physicality and philosophy of warriorship. This includes the arduous physical training a warrior must endure in practice to be able to become victorious on the battlefield, as well as the adherence to the moral codes found in all warrior classes from ancient societies to the creeds found within our modern militaries. The warrior not only must master the technical proficiency of armed and unarmed combat, but the ethical principles taught with the physical techniques to keep one from becoming nothing more than a murdering thug. And once saturated with both, this “warriorship” then permeates every living fiber down to the warrior’s core. It truly is a comprehensive way of life. And in my best Bruce Lee impersonation, it is something you have to “feeeel.” To bring up Grossman’s analogy again, his “sheep” just won’t get it. Even if they can academically understand what I’m talking about, they won’t “feeeel” it.

And once you really “feeeel” it, the way becomes a part of you and everything you do. And at that point, it is easy to agree with Musashi’s precept that you should never stray from the way. I’d like to share a personal example that illustrates how the way becomes a part of everything you do. It was 1990. I’d been out of the Army for a year, and was just starting my undergraduate studies at the University of Montana. I signed up for a very heavy class load that included a couple of honors classes. The advocate that was helping us at the orientation suggested that I not take such a load, especially as I hadn’t been in an academic setting for five years. I looked at her and said, “I’m a sniper, I can do it.”

The look on her face revealed that she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, but that I’d said something kind of scary to her. She didn’t know that 36 men competed to enter the sniper class I graduated from, and that only 13 made it into the class. Nor did she know that out of those 13, only 3 graduated as snipers by passing every phase of the course. And what it took to become one of those three was beyond anything she’d ever done, or that would ever be required at the university. But I knew. I knew because I was one of those 36 on the morning of day one, and then one of the 13 remaining at the end of that first day. I was then of the 3 who graduated as a sniper. And how did that help me with my business and other academic classes at UM? I got straight A’s that quarter. Those that “feeeel” it will understand.

I’d like to conclude with a quote that has resonated with me since the first time I read it back in 1995. I was reading the excellent book, In Search of the Warrior Spirit by Richard Strozzi Heckler. Hidden within those pages was this key to warriorship, “The path of the Warrior is lifelong, and mastery is often simply staying on the path.”

This is an excerpt by Alain Burrese from Musashi’s Dokkodo (The Way of Walking Alone): Half Crazy, Half Genius – Finding Modern Meaning in the Sword Saint’s Last Words. Alain was one of five authors who contributed to this book. Alain contributed the warrior perspective. You can find the book at amazon: