A monk left him hanging in a tree.
Then he was shut away in a dark cell with some books and his own thoughts for company.
After he was released, he travelled to all the greatest schools and sought out the greatest teachers. He had two purposes: 1) Learn their secrets and 2) Defeat their best swordsmen.
He accomplished both.
Mushashi was the greatest.
In Yoshikawa’s novel, each of the samurai schools had distinct techniques. Students had to study for years and surpass a certain level before they were given a scroll. This scroll was the school’s highest prize. It held the secret to their method.
It’s a quaint idea. But one that’s completely irrelevant now.
Back then, the world wasn’t connected. Secrets could be kept.
Consider what happens in the world of jiu-jitsu. It’s a young art so new techniques are still being invented. But all it takes for them to be commonly known is one person to use them in a competition.
Thanks to YouTube and the internet, it’s nearly impossible to have and maintain an informational advantage.
So if you can’t have a secret weapon, how do you stay ahead?
Well, as always, I stand by my first rule. B.R.F.G. Be really fucking good.
As Shawn Coyne points out in The Story Grid, there is no formula, only form. Whatever the building blocks of your art or discipline are, you must master them.
But it’s more than that. After you’ve begun to master the basics, what do you do?
Two approaches come to mind.
First, the indirect approach. Developed by B.H. Liddell Hart it can be best summarised as follows:
“In Strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way there. A direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, where as an indirect approach loosens the defender’s hold by upsetting his balance.”
Second is the OODA loop. Developed by John Boyd, it’s a subtly complex time-based theory of conflict. Read this introductory article over at The Art of Manliness.
The OODA loop is primarily about tempo, timing, and rhythm.
At heart, both the indirect approach and the OODA loop are about unpredictability. They are about concealing your intentions and hiding patterns in your actions and thoughts.
Sun Tzu wrote, 2000 years ago, about music. He said that though there were only a limited number of musical notes, the combinations were unlimited.
In swordsmanship, in jiu-jitsu, in everything, the number of basic blocks is small. But they can combine to make some special, innovative, effective things.
In the past, these combinations were known only to the lucky few. Those deemed worthy and capable of handling them.
Now, the best and the worst, the young and the old, the good and the bad all have access to this knowledge.
So the only way to stay ahead is to cultivate unpredictability and surprise. To experiment with different combinations. To make your mission mastery of the building blocks of your art and to become better at putting them to creative use.
The only truly consistent advantage in life is your ability to change, adapt and evolve quicker than everyone else.