A Warrior’s Thoughts


By Miyamoto Musashi




In China and Japan, practitioners of this science have been referred to as masters of martial arts. Warriors should not fail to learn this science.


        People who make a living as martial artists these days only deal with swordsmanship. The priests of the Kashima and Kantori shrines in Hitachi province have established such schools, claiming their teach­ings to have been transmitted from the gods, and travel around from province to province passing them on to people; but this is actually a recent phenomenon.


        Among the arts and crafts spoken of since ancient times, the so-called “art of the advantage” has been included as a craft; so once we are talking about the art of the advantage, it cannot be limited to swords­manship alone. Even swordsmanship itself can hardly be known by considering only how to win by the art of the sword alone; without question it is impossible to master military science thereby.


        As I see society, people make the arts into commercial products; they think of themselves as commodities, and also make implements as items of commerce. Distinguishing the superficial and the substantial, I find this attitude has less reality than decoration.


        The field of martial arts is particularly rife with flamboyant show­manship, with commercial popularization and profiteering on the part of both those who teach the science and those who study it. The result of this must be, as someone said, that “amateuristic martial arts are a source of serious wounds.”


        Generally speaking, there are four walks of life: the ways of the knight, the farmer, the artisan, and the merchant.


        First is the way of the farmer. Farmers prepare all sorts of agricultural tools and spend the years constantly attending to the changes in the four seasons. This is the way of the farmer.


        Second is the way of the merchant. Those who manufacture wine obtain the various implements required and make a living from the profit they gain according to quality. Whatever the business, merchants make a living from the profits they earn according to their particular status. This is the way of the merchant.


        Third, in regard to the warrior knight, that path involves construct­ing all sorts of weapons and understanding the various properties of weapons. This is imperative for warriors; failure to master weaponry and comprehend the specific advantages of each weapon would seem to indicate a lack of cultivation in a member of a warrior house.


        Fourth is the way of the artisan. In terms of the way of the carpenter, this involves skillful construction of all sorts of tools, knowing how to use each tool skillfully, drawing up plans correctly by means of the square and the ruler, making a living by diligent practice of the craft.


        These are the four walks of life, of knights, farmers, artisans, and merchants. I will illustrate the science of martial arts by likening it to the way of the carpenter.


        The carpenter is used as a metaphor in reference to the notion of a house. We speak of aristocratic houses, military houses, houses of the arts; we speak of a house collapsing or a house continuing; and we speak of such and such a tradition, style, or “house.” Since we use the expression “house,” therefore, I have employed the way of the master carpenter as a metaphor.


        The word for carpenter is written with characters meaning “great skill” or “master plan.” Since the science of martial arts involves great skill and master planning, I am writing about it in terms of comparison with carpentry.


        If you want to learn the science of martial arts, meditate on this book; let the teacher be the needle, let the student be the thread, and practice unremittingly.





As the master carpenter is the overall organizer and director of the carpenters, it is the duty of the master carpenter to understand the regulations of the country, find out the regulations of the locality, and attend to the regulations of the master carpenter’s own establishment.


        The master carpenter, knowing the measurements and designs of all sorts of structures, employs people to build houses. In this respect, the master carpenter is the same as the master warrior.


        When sorting out timber for building a house, that which is straight, free from knots, and of good appearance can be used for front pillars. That which has some knots but is straight and strong can be used for rear pillars. That which is somewhat weak yet has no knots and looks good is variously used for door sills, lintels, doors, and screens. That which is knotted and crooked but nevertheless strong is used thoughtfully in consideration of the strength of the various members of the house. Then the house will last a long time.


        Even knotted, crooked, and weak timber can be made into scaffold­ing, and later used for firewood.


        As the master carpenter directs the journeymen, he knows their various levels of skill and gives them appropriate tasks. Some are assigned to the flooring, some to the doors and screens, some to the sills, lintels, and ceilings, and so on. He has the unskilled set out floor joists, and gets those even less skilled to carve wedges. When the master carpenter exercises discernment in the assignment of jobs, the work progresses smoothly.


        Efficiency and smooth progress, prudence in all matters, recognizing true courage, recognizing different levels of morale, instilling confi­dence, and realizing what can and cannot be reasonably expected- such are the matters on the mind of the master carpenter. The principle of martial arts is like this.




Speaking in terms of carpentry, soldiers sharpen their own tools, make various useful implements, and keep them in their utility boxes. Receiv­ing instructions from a master carpenter, they hew pillars and beams with adzes, shave floors and shelving with planes, even carve openwork and bas relief. Making sure the measurements are correct, they see to all the necessary tasks in an efficient manner; this is the rule for carpentry. When one has developed practical knowledge of all the skills of the craft, eventually one can become a master carpenter oneself.


        An essential habit for carpenters is to have sharp tools and keep them whetted. It is up to the carpenter to use these tools masterfully, even making such things as miniature shrines, bookshelves, tables, lamp stands, cutting boards, and pot covers. Being a soldier is like this. This should be given careful reflection.


        Necessary accomplishments of a carpenter are avoiding crookedness, getting joints to fit together, skillful planing, avoiding abrasion, and seeing that there is no subsequent warping.


        If you want to learn this science, then take everything I write to heart and think it over carefully.