October 6, 2013
Miyamoto Musashi captured in his writing, 'The Book of Five Rings' (written 1643 A.D.), a key difference in the oriental and occidental mindset. In western culture we are often encouraged to do everything well, and to focus on those things that we do not naturally do well to improve upon them. This with the idea that we will become more well-rounded. Just think of what students go through with college applications in the western world as an example. Regardless of how good you are at math or science, writing or art, you have to show that you were involved in clubs, sports, and school politics to get placed in some of the best schools.
In the eastern culture the practiced study of one thing is more often prized over general knowledge. Each person has their role in society and each person is expected to perform that role with the highest of skill, regardless of how exalted or menial the task might be. In 'The Book of Five Rings,' Musashi says in reference to the study of the art of the sword... "This is something that requires thorough examination, with a thousand days of practice for training and ten thousand days of practice for refinement." Ten thousand days is roughly thirty years of deliberate practice and devotion, which leaves little other time for alternate study.
The idea of this concentrated study is that through this one art, you will know all others. The implication is that the mastery of one art allows the practitioner to understand the interconnectedness of events and objects and similarities in all things and that truth is easier to find this way than in dabbling and being distracted with ten thousand different arts.
What the modern western students of martial arts can take away from this way of thinking is to focus their attention on a few things, to be deliberate with their study of those things, patient with the learning curve that follows, and to understand that through thorough examination of their art they may one day understand the truth of all art.