Codes of prudence

Image: Phil


Miyamoto Musachi against the “fascist cohorts” in Palestine and Brazil

Have you read Miyamoto Musachi? At first glance, he brings loneliness as an answer: prudence to have balance, concentration and dedication. This would be what was called “super-action”. It also brings the sense of “social balance”, when the “super ego” (exponential vanity) does not collide in a large volume, which goes beyond the necessary “superego” (social control that also does not have a castrating effect: “cancellation of everyone who “we do not approve”). Therefore, although limited in this first onslaught, this solitude is not an end in itself, but only a means.

We will seek a middle ground, the balance between technique and ethics, responsibility before rationality, peace instead of war, dialogue instead of the screams of death, democracy and civility unlike fascist courts – to occupy our thoughts and actions regarding Palestine and Brazil.

It is, even today, the ongoing struggle against this fascism that was born with the fascination – a symbolic branch of power in ancient Rome –, but also with cohorts of soldiers and gladiators, under the command of centurions and their retinues thirsty for human blood.[I] Count Vlad, Dracula's inspiration, wouldn't look bad – even more so when we see hospitals, sick people, elderly people, children, innocent civilians being bombed by Israel.

Against all this there has always been a call to judgment, along the path of Prudence. This path would also be the Bushido for Miyamoto Musachi. However, the best Japanese swordsman of all time not only knew the “art of war”, but also understood the philosophy of life. What we call prudence. After all, long before fighting (politics is also a fight) you need wisdom to live and coexist.

Codes of prudence

This spirit of total surrender and blind obedience to traditions and their masters is what remained of the ancient world and what came closest, temporally speaking, to our modernity. The shogunate in Japan was in force until the eve of the XNUMXth century[ii] – the shogun was the true ruler in ancient Japan, accumulating the positions of political leader and the powers of military leader (shogun = general). The greatest representative of this phase, of the defense of ancient traditions and the transition to westernization, is Miyamoto Musashi and his extensive work The Book of Five Rings.

Miyamoto Musashi re-presents the end of a cycle of ethics and tradition that led to the “disenchantment of the world” in the East. After that, the best representation would come from the classical Greeks (even though the Shogunate only existed for a short time, compared to the Greeks). It should be noted that, while Miyamoto Musashi writes about the “morality of the samurai” (certainly, the most sacred and traditional thing in feudal Japan), the reason of state multiplied as an expansionist ideology and practice in the modernization of Western Europe.

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), Japan's most famous samurai, spent his life dedicating himself to the “path of strategy” (Ni Tem Ichi Ryu). In Shintoism, he learned the religion of continuous effort. This notion of “path” originates from the Confucian foundations of the Tokugawa period and means the “warrior’s life itinerary”, a “path to God”. As a samurai, he defeated and killed more than 60 opponents, between the ages of 13 and 28 or 29.

At the age of 30, he reviewed this “violent past”, but only understood the path of the strategy at the age of 50. Therefore, from the age of 30 to 50, he spent studying. For Miyamoto Musashi: “Strategy is the warrior’s craft […] It is said that the warrior must follow the dual path of the pen and the sword and that he must have a taste for both paths” (Musachi, 2002, p. 167) . As a samurai, he was an adherent of the philosophy of Bushido, that is, as he is ready to die at any moment, the samurai frees himself from worldly feelings, “valuing life intensely”.

The path is strategy: “The warrior has his own position, as he seeks to follow the path of strategy, which is the study of how to overcome man […] but, as a beneficial practice, it is not limited to fencing […] man uses equipment to sell his own self […] Someone once said that “Immature strategy is a cause of pain” and this is true (Musachi, 2002, p. 168).

It is expressed how tradition senses the growing commodification of the time, alienation, the “loss of aura”, in a simple sentence like this: Man uses equipment to sell his own self. However, even in the face of such serious danger, Miyamoto Musashi highlights engineering and symmetry between art, work and struggle (after all, they are expressions of the same human “genius”): “The carpenter uses a master plan of the building, and The Path of strategy is similar to that of the carpenter, as it also uses a campaign plan […] The master is a needle, the disciple the thread. It is necessary to practice without rest […] Like a soldier, a carpenter sharpens his tools, his working instruments” (Musachi, 2002, p. 169-170). The trinomial of work, care and zeal is emphasized here. The path, in turn, is narrated in five books: “Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Nothing […] As it looks like a road marked on the ground, the first book is called Book of Earth […] By comparison, the spirit is similar to water. Water adopts the form of its receptacle, sometimes it is a drop and sometimes it is a raging sea […] The spirit to overcome an opponent is the same to slaughter ten million of them […] The third is the Book of Fire [… ] The spirit of fire is fierce, whether small or great; the same happens with battles […] By wind I refer to ancient traditions and family traditions of strategies in the world […] It is difficult for someone to know themselves if they do not know others […] By Nothing I understand what has no beginning and there is no end[iii] […] When we become aware of the force of nature, learning the rhythm of any situation, we become capable of slaughtering the enemy, striking him naturally (Musachi, 2002, p. 171-172).

It is impossible not to highlight the samurai's sensitivity to what we today call the struggle for recognition: It is difficult for someone to know themselves if they do not know others. Even if he uses this in an instrumental way, to slaughter his enemy, as in the use of the two swords technique (from the school of Nito Ichi Ryu): “This is the truth: as they risk their lives, it is essential that they use the weapons available to the maximum” (Musachi, 2002, p. 173). As it is not correct not to react in the fight for life, there is a manipulation of reason. In fact, we can see how the fight for survival conditions the fight for recognition.

Furthermore, the path is an eternal knowledge, a form of permanent education: “From one thing, learn a thousand things […] To master the virtue of the long sword, on the other hand, is to govern the world and oneself, and thus the long sword is the basis of strategy […] Man has to hone the path he has chosen” (Musachi, 2002, p. 174).

There is no inactivity, just as there is no mysticism for someone who has a special, superior gift. The path of all Paths is education: studying a thousand things, to govern with strategy. As in the art of governing, in politics, a combination of strategy, prudence and knowledge (in-depth, updated) is needed. In Antiquity, this set of articulated skills was called techne. For the classical Greeks, technique was a broad set – it could be said that in the Myth of Prometheus the discovery, knowledge, knowledge necessary to master fire and its use in the manufacture of tools,[iv] it has the same meaning we currently give to the most fantastic scientific and technological discoveries.

In the Modern Age, mechanical techniques gained prominence and other technical concepts (the how, the “know-how”, the applied method) were incorporated into knowledge (now as science). At that time, it was considered that “knowledge is fundamentally technical”. As an application, we can say that technology (as a complex set of techniques, arts, crafts and knowledge elaborated and/or applied) is a work carried out on nature and men; whether it is the bomb that destroys the lives of children, or the respiratory system of those injured by that same bomb. Thus, following the anthropology of technique (for the past and present) and the epistemology of technology (for the present and future), we would have that: technology is the art that transforms the natural world into artificial realities.[v]

Today, however, after so many deviations from misuse, it is fair to say that we still need to draw up the conceptual map that should surround this same complex set of technique and technology, as well as science. For the Greeks, copying was also despicable. Copying is a short-lived scam, as there is neither knowledge nor precision, nor is there an adequate assessment of the use of means: “There is a time and place for the use of weapons […] You should not have a favorite weapon […] ] It is not convenient to copy others, but rather to use the weapons that you can master appropriately” (Musachi, 2002, p. 175).

The techniques come from this improvement of consciousness itself and not the other way around. There is no battle that does not resemble the fight for life — they all require intensive dedication, overcoming and this is where the “virtues” lie: “(i) do not think dishonestly; (ii) the path lies in training; (iii) familiarize yourself with all the arts; (iv) know the path to all professions; (v) in material matters, learn to distinguish gain from loss; (vi) Develop intuitive judgment and understanding of everything; (vii) perceive things that cannot be seen; (viii) pay attention to trivial things; (ix) do nothing that serves no purpose (Musachi, 2002, p. 176-177).

It is an anticipated form of utilitarianism, but as utilitarianism in search of meaning and not direct results, it is not immediacy. More than curious, it reveals that choosing the Path is pure “vocation”, passion: “Above all, to begin with, it is necessary to put your heart into the strategy and firmly face the path” (Musachi, 2002, p. 177). Therefore, copying, however well-intentioned it may be, is always imperfect, because it does not expand knowledge, improvisation and innovation: “Do not limit yourself to reading, memorizing or imitating, therefore, in order to be able to perceive the principle within you , study dedicatedly” (Musachi, 2002, p. 178).

Studying also implies self-knowledge, with perception, perspective, posture, “vision”, positioning in the face of the facts of life: “Stay in a posture with your head held high, neither bent forward nor looking up, nor turned to the side. Your forehead and the space between your eyes should not be frowned […] In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat posture in everyday life and to make the daily posture your combat posture” (Musachi, 2002, p 179).

The double gaze of perception and vision must have openness and breadth: “It is important, in strategy, to be able to see from both sides without moving your eyes […] use this gaze in daily life, and do not modify it, whatever happens. whatever happens” (Musachi, 2002, p. 179). This “vision” will bring better conditions to fight, as the art of fighting lies in temperance, balance, harmony between flexibility and strength: “Rigidity means that the hands are 'dead'. Flexibility gives life to your hands[vi]” (Musachi, 2002, p. 180). Victory lies in reason: “The sword must always return in a rational way…” (Musachi, 2002, p. 181). The struggle is a “rationalization of learning” – in addition to synchrony, time, rhythm and the main thing: objective.

Objectivity is in parallel (harmony or dystonia), but once in motion, it must not cease: “More than anything, it is essential to think about maintaining the movement until we defeat the enemy [...] 'In one time' means that, after corner the enemy, you must strike him as quickly and directly as possible” (Musachi, 2002, p. 185). Every reaction is a new action or, in essence, the continuation of the inaugural action. To face many, take an offensive position, but wait for the attack and face whoever moves first. In any case, there must be patience, determination, training (“combat spirit”). The first step on the path is to study insistently; the second is to overcome yourself, or better yet, “who you were yesterday”.

It takes a kind of exclusive dedication to the “miraculous” power. Following a good strategy, there are several means and a lot of training to kill enemies: “the fight for survival, discovering the meaning of life and death, learning the way of the sword, measuring the strength of attacks…” (Musachi, 2002, p. 193). Without a doubt, it is a long learning process for the “fight for survival”. There is no precept, no method; but this does not imply that there is a superior method, a kind of “more methodical method”. Miyamoto Musashi suggests a combination of methods, adapting them to conditions and needs: from method to control and then to victory.

After all, in the fight for survival, there is no complacency: “The spirit is to defeat even the enemy's entrails. This is all Ken No Sem […] Act quickly and strike hard. This is the Tai No Sen” (Musachi, 2002, p. 195-196). Now, the best method is the imperative use of intelligence; When common sense is applied to common sense or truisms, the result is astonishingly objective, productive, beneficial and simple: “The fundamental thing in strategy is to obstruct the enemy's useful actions and leave him at ease to carry out the actions useless” (Musachi, 2002, p. 196).

However, the main thing is to be open to the greatness of feelings and values, moving away from smallness: “I deny the narrow and prejudiced spirit in my doctrine. Study this well” (Musachi, 2002, p. 208). Deny irrationalities, “despise what is insignificant”. As a samurai, dedicated to fighting, always ready to die, he knew that the secret was not death: “To begin with, killing is not the path of humanity. Killing is the same thing for people who know how to fight and for those who don't” (Musachi, 2002, p. 210). To live is to fight; Killing is just killing – no art needed. What made Musashi change the course of his life was having (re)discovered his own “meaning of life”, after spending half of his existence involved with death.

It is this meaning for life, in total replacement for the compulsion for death, that we retain from wisdom bushido by Miyamoto Musachi – therefore, if war is the art of survival and imposition, politics is the art of negotiation and affirmation. Miyamoto Musachi's art of prudence echoes in the recognition of something absurdly simple and very obvious to understand, namely, there is no life in war. Only fools and warlords don't see it that way.

*Vinicio Carrilho Martinez is a professor in the Department of Education at Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).

*Tainá Reis holds a PhD in sociology from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar)


MARTINEZ, Vinicius Carrilho. Codes of prudence. Postdoctoral research in political science. UNESP/Marília, SP: [sn], 2011.

MUSASHI, Miyamoto. The Book of Five Rings. São Paulo: Editora Claridade, 2004.


[I] Against everything and everyone, there was Spartacus: the rebellious Roman gladiator. Spartacus, in a fight between slaves and gladiators for a life lived in freedom, would join dozens, thousands of other fights against slavery. Every fight against the denial of rights, especially against servitude and slavery, is at the forefront of political struggles. Every political fight against social nullity is a classic for all of us.

[ii] The Japanese claim that Saigo Takamori was the ultimate samurai, when at the age of 50, in 1877, he fought to the death to preserve the ethics of the samurai. Bushido (“the warrior code”) and which was about to disappear because of the Western reforms adopted by the Meiji Restoration (1867-1912).

[iii] In Buddhism, Nothingness or Emptiness indicates the “illusory nature of earthly things”. Therefore, it is not empty like “absence of meanings”.

[iv] The Greeks had a good command of metallurgy (as a cultural heritage from other peoples, such as the Hittites): “the art of molding and adjusting metals”. Make the metal docile.

[v] This reality may or may not still be treated as fiction, as virtual reality is not fictional.

[vi] It explicitly refers to the use of katana, the traditional samurai sword.

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