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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > October, 2004 - Drawing a Blank
by Ross Robertson

Drawing a Blank by Ross Robertson

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The 5th Ring of Miyamoto Musashi's method of strategy is spoken of in the Book of the Void, the last part of Musashi's famous Book of Five Rings. Curiously, he says very little about the void, saying instead more what the void is not: "People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment."

Still, Musashi does drop some hints in this one-page book. "What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing." And "By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void."

So it is that we wind up bandying about such terms as "non-being," and "non-existence," and "emptiness." Can anyone really say what this means, and more to the point, what any of this has to do with strategy? Perhaps not, and following Musashi's lead, perhaps the less said, the better.

Part of the problem may be how we are wired for language. Anything that can be named (thank you, Lao Tsu) is, well... a thing. Nouns, we are taught, name things, and "nothing" and "vacuum" and "void" are nouns. Strange that even "nothing" or "no thing" can take on a kind of existence, through the magic and illusion of language.

Practically speaking however, we can apply certain qualities of the void to our strategies. Clarity, spaciousness, and freedom are characteristics of the Masters, as if they contend with No Thing. In simple terms, this suggests to me that the mind and body are well coordinated. Action is always directed toward openings rather than obstacles. Union occurs, and so the potential for the conflict of opposition is annihilated. Thought and perception arise freely and spontaneously, but we are not bound by expectation or outcome.

"Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness."

It's natural for our minds to fixate on things and events. Our existence is inevitably circumscribed by our interactions and relationships. But there is far more spaciousness in the universe than there is occupancy. The Way of the Void can correct the balance of our perceptions and actions. We are free to continue to exist and involve ourselves in complexity and diversity, but our strategy can be much more compelling when effortlessness and infinite opportunity form the essential field of all our endeavors.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, Texas, USA

Quotes from "A Book of Five Rings," Miyamoto Musashi; trans. Victor Harris, Overlook Press, 1974

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