Monday, January 24, 2011

Riddles from Musashi

As I've been rereading Miyamoto Musashi's, "the Book of Five Rings," I have many wonderful new revelations I was unable to have on prior readings, however there are still a few still sections mired in mystery for me. Here's one I found towards the end of the Scroll of Fire concerning a "mouse's head and a bull's neck."

"Here is what I call 'a mouse's head and a bull's neck.' In the course of combat, it sometimes happens that the two combatants become entangled because both of them have gotten hung up on details. In this situation you should always keep in mind that the way of strategy is like a mouse's head and a bull's neck, and while you are fighting with small techniques, all of a sudden enlarge your mind and transform those small techniques into big ones. This is an integral part of strategic thought. It is important for a warrior to think every day that a person's mind is like a mouse's head and a bull's neck. For group and individual strategies, it is necessary always to have this way of thinking present. You should examine all this well."

Well? I always love animal references in the martial arts, but "a mouse's head and a bull's neck" is one that didn't click with me so well at first.

When we are hung up on details and small techniques that are represented by a mouse's head, we should make them large like a bull's neck?

Let's look at some notes from the author to see if he can't clear up any confusion.

"'A bull's neck,' soto goshu: I translated the ideogram that appears in both copies of Musashi's text as 'bull.' This ideogram, pronounced go or uma, means 'horse.' The related ideogram is pronounced go or ushi and means 'bull' or 'ox.'

"In practice in the schools that have issued from Musashi, the image comparing the bull and the mouse is one that is used by the masters. Moreover, in the training of warriors, the following aphorism has been in use. 'A warrior must have the meticulous attention of the mouse and at the same time the courage of the bull.' Thus all commentators adopt the second interpretation, with the idea that some changed has occured in the original ideogram. I follow the same approach."

When I first read Musashi's words, the one image that did come up came from the phrase: "When two combatants become entangled because both of them have gotten hung up on details ... and while you are fighting with small techniques, all of a sudden enlarge your mind and transform those small techniques into big ones." I've noticed sometimes in push hands, it can be easy getting stuck and trying certain small fine techniques back and forth with a partner that yield no definitive results, when sometimes, you just need to drop it all and give a single big push.

Perhaps Musashi is trying to remind us not to get stuck on any one thing, but be conscious of small details as well as the big picture, as can be gleaned from the author's note: "A warrior must have the meticulous attention of the mouse and at the same time the courage of the bull."

But also, it is mentioned the translation may have changed. Did Musashi really mean horse instead of bull? Are we successfully learning Musashi's ideas by reading "the Book of Five Rings", or a translator's misinterpretation?

Tricky business indeed. If there's anything about this passage I've learned, it's that I wish I could read these foreign texts in their original forms, and that I'll have to read this passage again in another 10 years and see what I think. Quality.

Do any of you read anything different in this particular section of "the mouse's head and a bull's neck"?

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