Personal ‘Life Hacks’ That Kept Me Sane Over The Years…

“There is, I have heard, a little thing called sunrise, in which the sun reverses the process we all viewed the night before. You might assume such a thing as mythical as those beasts that guard the corners of the earth, but I have it on the finest authority, and have, indeed, from time to time, regarded it with my own eyes.” ― Lauren Willig, The Garden Intrigue

“There is, I have heard, a little thing called sunrise, in which the sun reverses the process we all viewed the night before. You might assume such a thing as mythical as those beasts that guard the corners of the earth, but I have it on the finest authority, and have, indeed, from time to time, regarded it with my own eyes.” ― Lauren Willig, The Garden Intrigue

Today, I turn 45.

Looking back at the year I had, I have nary a complaint. Yes, I had my ups and downs — and have done things that I am not proud of — yet, the year-that-was was a good year for me still.

And here, I share with you some ‘philosophies’ that have kept me going through the years…

1. Put some S.A.L.T. (Spend special Attention to the Little Things) in everything you do.

Negativity should have no place in our daily lives. But since we do not live in a utopian society, negativism, almost always, finds its way into our day-to-day routines. So, before negative thoughts and emotions creep its way into our psyche and cripple us emotionally, psychologically, and yes, even physically, we’ve gotta purge ’em out of our system!

A good cure to keep negative vibes away is: SALT WATER — Sweat. Tears. The sea.

Feeling lazy and bored? Try running, jogging, trekking. Sweat it out.

Someone broke your heart? Cry yourself an ocean. Wash the grief away with tears.

Stressed from too much work? Let the salty sea breeze caress your face.

2. Just D.O. I.T. (Dare to do Original Ideas Totally)

We are faced with many uncertainties in life. You’ve been through these things millions of times, I’m sure. But how many of those times have you truly taken that advice, and gave something new and different the old college try? It can be as simple as dyeing your hair blonde or it can be something more daring, like sky diving. Whatever you choose to do, don’t ever let the words “I can’t…” escape your lips without actually trying it out first.

Fear can cripple you and prevent you from living the life you shoulda-coulda-woulda lived. Most of the time, these shoulda, coulda, wouldas are generally followed by still wantas.

“Fear, is every problem’s bottom line, and you can’t be afraid to start at the bottom if you want to solve your problems.” — I Would If I Could and I Can, James H. Hoke

3. Do not be S.A.D. (Spending the day in Abject Disillusionment). L.O.L.! (Live Out Loud!)

Today, I choose NOT to be… S.A.D.; instead, I will be here to… L.O.L.

Finally, some "me" time

Finally, some “me” time

Martha Washington declares, “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.”

I’m gonna do the same.

Maybe, these lines from The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones will clarify my point further:

Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high
You need a strength most don’t possess?
Or has it ever come down to do or die
You’ve got to rise above the rest?

No? Well…
I never had to knock on wood
But I know someone who has
Which makes me wonder if I could
It makes me wonder if
I never had to knock on wood
And I’m glad I haven’t yet
Because I’m sure it isn’t good
That’s the impression that I get.

4. Don’t talk, just K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short and Simple)

brev·i·ty, noun \ˈbre-və-tē\
: the use of few words to say something

Why do we always say that short and simple is good?

Because simplicity is not just about minimalism or the absence of clutter, it is a measure of one’s understanding. Y’see, to be truly simple, you have to go really, really deep into complexity. You have to thoroughly understand the essence of something in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential. Saying “less is more”.

Courtesy of George Orwell, here’s a quick cheat sheet to become more practical as possible:

Always use:

A word instead of phrase
A phrase instead of a sentence
A sentence instead of paragraph
A paragraph instead of a page…

5.  I always W.I.N.G. it (Write Incessantly, Never Giving up)

I seize each day, each opportunity to write. Anything. Everything. The consistency. The monotony. The certainty. All foolish notions and affectations are covered by this daily re-occurrence. After all, you don’t go to a well once but every day, and sleep comes to you each day, so do the muses–Calliope, Euterpe or Erato.

“How do you write? You write, man, you write, that’s how, and you do it the way the old English walnut tree puts forth leaf and fruit every year by the thousands. . . . If you practice an art faithfully, it will make you wise, and most writers can use a little wising up.” — William Saroyan, 1981

… and of course — today, and everyday — I always choose to PRAY:

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

AMEN.

‘So, you’re a freelancer, huh?’

Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash, and Credibility

“I started freelancing because I wanted to be my own boss.”

That’s what I always hear from freelancers I know.

“Great!” I would always remark; then I ask, “What are you working on?”

And the reply I get is almost always, “Oh y’know, client work.”

Duh?! I’m like: insert hash tag “BOOM! PANIS!” here.

Will somebody puh-leeze enlighten me how that qualifies as BEING YOUR OWN BOSS, when all you did was trade one boss for a few others—also known as YOUR CLIENTS?

Y’see, when I took a shot at being a freelance writer and photographer, my naïveté led me into thinking that freelance work is having the freedom to work on projects that can give me personal satisfaction.

I was in for a rude awakening.

First off, if you’re planning on taking reins of your professional career, you have to realize that freelancing is NOT a hobby.

Freelancing is not something you do because you’re bored at home or because you have nothing better to do, or maybe, you hate working for some ass wipe you call ‘boss’.

Freelancing IS a business; and the fact that you work your butt off day in and day out is proof of that! So, stop treating your freelancing like a hobby.

Again, freelancing IS a business. Think it. Say it. Tell it to anyone who cares to ask—maybe even those who don’t.

Rookie mistakes

Truth be told, when I started in the freelancing business, I did make a ton of mistakes—and by “a ton,” I mean almost everything I did turned out to be disasters.

The truth is you can’t run a business without making mistakes. That’s how you learn. That’s also how you succeed. And they say, making mistakes is a good thing, PROVIDED you learn from them. Right?

Here’s the thing: When you dip your fingers in the freelancing gig, more often than not, you do not even know you are making a mistake–and that part can hurt your freelance business.

There you are, merrily working your ass off; when suddenly one client tells you they won’t need your services any further. You shrug it off, unperturbed. Then you lose another client just as abruptly, and then another. Most of them don’t even give a reason why they’re terminating your projects.

Hmmm, what’s going on?

I am very much tempted to come up with some kind of list enumerating the most common freelancing mistakes to guarantee that you will never make them, but you already know I can’t.

Instead, let me share with you a few rookie mistakes I made, and some personal insights that can help you catch similar lapses in time. It will save you from permanently damaging your business and reputation. Go through them every once in a while. Your chances for success increase every time you fix a mistake you weren’t even aware you were making.

I thought “the client is always right” is a good policy

Did you know that doing EVERYTHING your client wants—especially things you know are wrong—hurts you more than it hurts them?

Many freelancers don’t have the balls to say no to a client. Most of us simply choke at contradicting a client without feeling like the world’s biggest prick. This “yes sir” attitude often translates into accepting every request they have—and that’s just bad business.

Yes, you’re turning down money you need. But it will be more practical to just move along to more financially rewarding and interesting projects than trudge on for hours over a job that you won’t even want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Sure, on the surface it looks like it is none of your concern: the client wants what he wants. Your job is to deliver.

But don’t forget that YOU are their hatchet man… and when things go wrong—Murphy’s Law says they sure will—the shit bucket will land squarely on your lap.

So, do not let your client talk you into things that you know won’t work, or even something you don’t agree with, especially if it compromises your integrity as a professional. Be assertive, BUT respectful.

Don’t balk at explaining to them why you think their ideas won’t work. Let them know you are uncomfortable doing something because it wastes time and money—not to mention it puts both of your reputations at stake. Tell your client what should be done instead. Offer an alternative solution. If it works, they may even raise your rates. Just saying…

For instance, content development clients do not really understand what goes into a strong piece of writing. They only see a 1,500-word Web article; not the research, drafting, editing, and fact-checking that go into it.

If you want the client to appreciate your work and give it due importance, educate them about it. The more they understand, especially about content strategy, the better clients they will be.

Oh, another thing…

Watch out for a few warning signs when discussing a project with a prospective client. One sneaky bugger that is the bane of countless freelancers is scope creep.

It gets introduced innocently enough: The prospective client asks if you could, in the future, add something else into the project when it comes along, and you—being the nice, accommodating freelancer that you are—agree. After all, you want to nail this contract by throwing in some “extra service”.

Wham! And so starts your slide down the slippery slope of an ever-expanding project scope.

The easiest way to ward off scope creep is to have a SOW—no, not a she-pig, but a Scope OWork clause in your contract. I believe that by now you’ve actually realized that freelancing is indeed a business and business transactions DO require some sort of a document that you can take to a court of law should things go sour between you and a client.

You may think contracts need to be drawn up in pure legalese, as I call it, to be valid. That’s not necessarily the case.

A contract can be just a simple email summarizing the terms and conditions you and your client agree upon. I must admit, that won’t be as airtight as something your attorney drafts for you, but it often doesn’t need to be. If you want to make it formal, put your agreement into a document, sign it, send it to your client, and ask them to sign it.

Confused?

The following is an example you can use:

This is a contract for [whatever service you’re providing] between [name of client] and [name of freelancer].

Below are the terms of this contract:

After outlining the work a prospective client requires, you can insert the following clause in the SOW: Should the scope of the project expand, so will the deadline and the rates. Or something like that.

This way, when the client comes to you with new suggestions, you can say, “Sure, I’d be happy to do it; BUT the new deadline will be ‘such and such’ and it’ll cost you an extra X bucks.”

Also remember that just as clients have terms and conditions, so should you. Maybe you prefer payment through bank transfers only, or you don’t accept rush work. Whatever conditions you have, spell them out for your client so they know what to expect when hiring you.

Failure to do so may cause unnecessary strain on your client relationship, and you’ll either run into problems with your client—not being paid is the least of them—or find yourself making undesirable compromises.

I am not Superman

I know, freelance writers generally work alone—but, we’re not exactly loners, mind you. Control freaks, most definitely. We want to do everything ourselves. That’s why we’re in this business in the first place.

We have to accept the fact, however, that nobody can handle a growing business on their own—nobody human at least. So, do yourself a favor and outsource some tasks, whether they’re administrative tasks or your own. Make time for work you love doing by delegating tasks you don’t. For all you know, you could have two or three deadlines in the same week.

Freelance work is based on deadlines, remember that—and the more clients you have the more work you’ll be juggling around, each with their own deadlines. It follows, that the more you hog all the projects, the less time you’ll be giving between deadlines to get work done, and you’ll eventually miss one. A deadline is not a tentative date. When you commit to a deadline, you must deliver on it.

Make it a rule-of-thumb that when setting a deadline, leave room for life to happen. You’ll never know when your computer crashes on you or when you’ll get sidelined by a cold. This way, even if you’re running behind, you’ll have enough time to meet your deadline or at the very least, let your client know about the delay.

Bottom line: If you’re committing to a deadline, stick to it no matter what. Your clients will stick to you in return.

I let my clients dictate my rates

As I have mentioned earlier, your clients generally have no idea how much effort goes into doing what you do; and more often than not, they have nary an inclination as to how long it took you to become a capable writer—or photographer. Honestly? Most clients don’t care. They’re concerned only in getting the job done as economically as possible.

Hence, it falls upon you to charge a fair price, a rate that reflects the work you put into each project. If you don’t set your rates, your clients will do it for you by telling you how much they can pay. And that’s never a number to get excited about.

Also, avoid asking for their budget. I don’t know about you, but I find that impolite. Quote an amount instead. You can only do that, however, when you’ve figured out your rates.

Freelance rates are subjective, of course. A low rate for me could be high for you, or the other way around.

You know what’s worse than undercharging or letting clients set your rates? Not having your lowest acceptable rate figured out. This is the amount below which you absolutely will not work. Ever.

Having this figured out will help you make the right decisions when work is slow and you’re tempted to take on anything that comes along.

I put all my eggs in one basket

Never depend on any one client for more than 25 percent of your income. Well, that’s my own figure—some of my friends argue that it is too high.

Anyway…

Most freelancers are seduced by the prospect of going one time, big time—bagging a hefty paycheck without working for a bunch of people. Downside is when one day the client emails, saying: Hey, this project is coming to an end (or is being cancelled), and we won’t need your services anymore.

Cue: panic attack.

Suddenly you’re scrambling to fill this huge, gaping income void that has suddenly opened up.

Moral of this mistake: diversify your income streams.

So don’t be the freelancer who waits for his mistakes to hurt his business. Be the freelancer who finds and fixes them before that happens.

Take action today.

You owe it to yourself and the life you dream of living.

Renewal

This essay was written by a dear friend. Her commentary on humanity’s moral decline is very insightful…

DSC_1499The clouds hang low on the horizon. Reddish-black smog enveloped the place in a blood-smeared haze. Blocks of concrete devoured the vegetation. Monitor lizards, wild boars, bear cats, squirrels and pheasant peacocks roaming the once pristine forests will soon be just stuff of legends and myths we read in books. The rumbling thunder cannot be distinguished from the roar of trucks that are laden with minerals extracted from the mountains. The deserted mountains will then be left with deep wounds. Wounds caused by men. Wounds that will never heal. There is no cure because men do not recognize it as an ailment.

The stench of decaying values of men pervades the air.

Unwanted children and adults alike littered the earth, and nobody seemed to care. Pseudo-wars played by children are no longer pseudo but real in the world of men bent on destroying each other–for what? We do not understand… People kill each other over petty things.

It’s all greed. People become greedy because of a hunger that cannot be satisfied. We crave for more luxurious things, destroying what we already have for free, in exchange for those that would make us seem wealthy.

But what we do not want is taken away from us… The sea swallowed back beaches into its bowels, as waves surged to claim what man has wasted. The howling wind unleashed its fury on the hapless people who can only wail in anguish. But nothing can dissuade the wind from revealing its tremendous power to man who is in fact so minute, so helpless, so unfortunate… Man in his uncaring way forgets that something is inherently more powerful. So the great wind needs to remind him to acknowledge mother nature’s might!

Man rose from among the debris, and searched for the monuments he has built for himself, but nothing remained. Then man remembered… this isn’t what he really wanted. He has sold his soul for flashy things that are irrelevant to man’s existence, yet, he didn’t find fulfillment in what he has chosen. Now, there is only the scorching heat of the sun and dry land before him.
He looked up to the heavens and asked for forgiveness.

Then he felt a drop on his face, a light drizzle mingling with his tears… rain fell piercing the heart of the earth, letting go of the strangled seeds, which man finally learned to nourish with his blood and sweat.

IANTHE MARIE BENLIRO
10 February 2011

The ‘Uncouth Bacilli’

130520_GW_apostrophe_B.jpg.CROP.original-originalIn this digital age, it is surprising to observe that more and more people have discovered–or rediscovered–their [self-proclaimed] talent for writing. It seems to me that a lot have been typing their every thought–with nary a thought, nor effort, about proper wordsmithing–more than ever before. Forgive the wordplay.

Hmmmmm……. Is this emerging ‘mass articulacy’ something to celebrate or deplore?

In her 2006 best-seller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss writes:

“Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the world of punctuation. No matter that you have a Ph.D. and have read all of Henry James twice, if you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best’, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.”

Like Ms. Truss, these itses are my own personal peeve. A new school of thought, however, has sprung worldwide calling for the eradication of the apostrophe to denote possession or an omission of a letter.

But the anti-apostrophe brigade has an impressive intellectual pedigree. Take George Bernard Shaw. The author and playwright at some point decided to use apostrophes in contractions only when failing to do so would create a different, familiar word, or homograph—I’ll and Ill, for instance. In 1902, he wrote of apostrophes, “There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli.”

Read more here.

 What’s your take on this?

 

The Writing Process in the 21st Century

The Writing Process in the 21st Century

Brian Clark said:

Write.
Write more.
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
Keep writing.

Then there was Nada.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh… to be bored at the start of a very good day is such a rarity for me. I am usually preoccupied with many curiosities in my waking hours… but not today.

With no particular music genre to listen to, I skipped the desire to saturate my soul with notes and haunting tunes… Nada.

Scrambling to scan the contents of my portable drive, I went over scores of movie titles hoping to find one film I missed to watch… Nada.

Went out the bedroom, into the kitchen to fix me another cup of coffee. Turned on the TV to see what’s on that would merit my interest… Nada y pues nada.

Nothing and for nothing…

With sun rays now filtering through my window, I find myself in the middle of a clean well-lighted living space. Hemingway-ish, yeah. Remembering ole Ernest’s A Clean Well-Lighted Place, I was suddenly awashed with my own emotional darkness, eventual isolation, and existential depression caused by this morning’s “nada”, the nothingness.

I refuse to succumb to this emptiness! Not a couple of hours ago, I declared that today, I will H.O.P.E. Hope. Have an optimistic perspective on everything. This “nada” is not helping.

Then my gaze was seduced by a colorful poster — which I probably bought days ago, but forgot to find a proper place on the wall for it — some lines in T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

Prufrock’s song, I learned in college [I miss you Ms Lydia S. Peña], is a confession of a soul in torment. The song is rife with hesitation, inadequacy, and lack of self-assertiveness. Eliot paints Prufrock as a purveyor of false [self] counsel, a man who failed to do neither good nor evil; and deserving of a spot in the seventh ring of Hell, next to Guido.

Am I my own Prufrock?

These thoughts suddenly weighed heavily on my chest… they became so heavy I was compelled to sit… recline… lie down. My breathing became labored now, as I struggle against being engulfed by the “Nada”.

Weighted chest… I closed my eyes.

“Dad, wake up!” A soft tap on my cheek. “You are mumbling.”

I slowly lifted my eyelid. On my chest, propped up smiling, is my hope…

A Solitary Road

“Shishio’s logic dictates that the winner of a battle — in other words, the strong — is always correct, that it does. If the truth could be discovered by winning one or two battles, then we’d all go through life without ever being wrong. A person’s life isn’t so simple a matter, that it isn’t. The true answer is something you find out yourself by how you live your life from this day forward, that it is.” — Kenshin Himura

I was first introduced to Kenshin Himura in the mid-1990s via the animated series Samurai X — and watching the live-action adaptation, Rurouni Kenshin (The Wandering Samurai), evoked in me a certain nostalgia.

A fearless and feared assassin, Kenshin Himura was a prominent figure in the revolution against the Tokugawa Shogunate of feudal Japan — and may have been a Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu war. After the fall of the Tokugawas, Kenshin shed off his Battōsai (manslayer) persona to become a Rurouni (wanderer) and roamed the countrysides of Meiji-era Japan on a quest to atone for his sins by becoming the protector of the innocent. His reverse-blade sword became a testament to his vow not to kill anymore.

No, I am not doing a review of the movie.

Kenshin Himura, in some ways, reminded me of the great real-life samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. Both men perfected the art of sword fighting before the age of 20… only to forsake it and live a life of anonymity.

Musashi was an epitome of a true warrior, however, he’s something of an enigma in Japanese Samurai history. Despite living in a culture where adherence to grandiose protocols and rituals — as well as sacred notions of respect and honor — were the preferred, nay, THE ONLY way, he abhorred all prefectures. He was a self-taught swordsman, as Kenshin Himura was, and adhered to no specific discipline, school or kata. He was an iconoclast, a nonconformist, seemingly unconcerned completely with aesthetics, status, rank, or ‘playing by the rules.’ He lived only by his rules, and strived only to achieve a singular goal — to perfect his art, the art of the long sword. There is a general misconception that Musashi was expert only with the katana — a curved, slender, single-edged blade with a circular or squared guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. This is somewhat inaccurate and limiting. Musashi had no preference for one particular weapon over another — he excelled in the use of all of them — that when he accepts a duel, he almost always allowed his opponent to choose the weapon they’d use in dueling. Yet he never lost, culminating his career with 60 confirmed kills in formal duels and probably at least another 100 unaccounted for in combat. After his final mortal duel at age 30 with Sasaki Kojiro, Musashi never fought opponents to the death again. He would duel only with nonlethal weapons, such as wooden swords. What ushered in this complete turnaround is still a matter of debate among Musashi scholars.

I got interested with Musashi upon reading this passage in the Go Rin Nō Shō:

“Sharpen your wisdom, distinguish principle and its opposite in the world, learn the good and bad of all things, experience all the arts and accomplishments and their various Ways, and act in a way so that you will not be taken in by anyone. This is the heart of the wisdom of the martial arts.” — Miyamoto Musashi

The Go Rin Nō Shō or The Book of Five Rings is just one of the very few philosophical works that I have ever read. Attributed to the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi — perhaps the greatest samurai who ever lived —  the book delves into various martial arts strategy, tactics and philosophy that are also applicable to one’s everyday life and which still hold true today. In 1645, barely one week before his death, Musashi wrote this 21-point philosophy, as an ‘instructional manual’ for Terao Magonojo, his favorite disciple. It expresses a stringent, honest and ascetic view of life.

  1.   Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world.
  2.   Do not scheme for physical pleasure.
  3.   Do not intend to rely on anything.
  4.   Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply.
  5.   Do not ever think in acquisitive terms.
  6.   Do not regret things about your own personal life.
  7.   Do not envy other’s good or evil.
  8.   Do not lament parting on any road whatsoever.
  9.   Do not complain or feel bitterly about yourself or others.
  10.   Have no heart for approaching the path of love.
  11.   Do not have preferences.
  12.   Do not harbor hopes for your own personal home.
  13.   Do not have a liking for delicious food for yourself.
  14.   Do not carry antiques handed down from generation to generation.
  15.   Do not fast so that it affects you physically.
  16.   While it’s different with military equipment, do not be fond of material things.
  17.   While on the Way, do not begrudge death.
  18.   Do not be intent on possessing valuables or a fief in old age.
  19.   Respect the gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.
  20.   Though you give up your life, do not give up your honor.
  21.   Never depart from the Way of the Martial Arts.

In the 21-maxim Dokkōdō or The Path of Aloneness or more popularly, The Way of Walking Alone, Musashi wasn’t beating around the bush with his initial salvo: Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world. This first adage — or sometimes written as “Accept all things just the way it is.” — is perhaps the cornerstone of the entire Dokkōdō‘s philosophy of self-reliance… and it echoes one of  my own personal tenet: The Serenity Prayer.

The key word in his first ‘instruction’ is Ways. What precisely did Musashi mean by ‘Ways’? To have a clear understanding of what he’s trying to tell us, we must first define ‘Ways’ from his perspective, as reflected in some of his other pronouncements:

“Entrusting myself to the principles of my martial art, I have never had a teacher while studying the Ways of the various arts and accomplishments, or in anything at all”.

Here, Musashi talked about several ‘Ways’. Presumably, there is a Way for each ‘art and accomplishment’:

“First, as representatives of Ways, Buddhism is a Way of salvation for man, Confucianism venerates a Way of culture, and medicine is a Way of curing various diseases. Moreover, poets teach the Way of Japanese verse; and then there are tea masters, archers, and others who teach the various arts. All of these practice according to their own thoughts and relish what they do according to their own hearts.”

To Musashi, ‘Way’ is the underlying principle or goal of an art or achievement that dictates its practice — there are many different Ways and one for each different art… and that each person has their own individual Way that they practice, where each different art has as many different Ways as it does practitioners. Thus, “It is essential that each person polish his own Way well”, he reminds his disciple.

Furthermore, he tells us that:

“There is a rhythm to everything, but particularly in the martial arts, if you do not train in its rhythm it is difficult to succeed. To indicate some of the rhythms in the world, there are those for the Way of Noh drama. When the rhythms of the musicians playing wind and stringed instruments are coordinated, the entire rhythm is balanced. In the military arts, there is a rhythm and timing in the release of the bow, in the firing of a rifle and even in mounting a horse. You cannot ignore rhythm in any of the arts and accomplishments… The rhythm is different according to each and every Way. You should discriminate thoroughly between the rhythm of success and the rhythm of failure”.

Each different Way has lessons to teach us, a new way of looking at things that might bring us closer to the best way of achieving success in all things. Just as his fascination with Noh led him to the realization that proper rhythm is necessary to the martial arts; hence, Musashi believed that mastering various Ways will eventually lead us to a similar revelation.

On the other hand, he warns us that although each can practice a Way “according to their own thoughts”, there are still norms to follow:

“How to fix the eyes goes according to the style. Some fix their eyes on their opponent’s sword, while in other styles they fix their eyes on their opponent’s hands. Others fix their eyes on the face, and others on the feet. All of these, as they fix their eyes on one special place, confuse the mind and pose a malady to the martial arts”.

There is a right and a wrong method in practicing a Way, and it is not up to individual interpretation. According to Musashi, correct practice or technique springs forth from the correct understanding of a Way:

“From the time I was young I have set my mind on the Way of the Martial Arts, practiced the one subject of swordsmanship with my entire being and experienced various and different understandings. Looking into other styles, I have found that they were either speaking with clever pretexts or demonstrating detailed hand maneuvers; while they looked good to the eye, none of them had the heart of truth… the true Way of Swordsmanship is to fight with your opponent and win, and this should not be changed in the slightest”.

So, how do we practice a Way correctly?

Musashi propagated the idea that no matter what technique a practitioner employs, as long as he is focused on seeking victory, each Way he chooses will help him succeed. This dictum tells us to focus on our idea of seeking victory over mastering a particular technique — let our goal to succeed be the guiding principle of our technique. Technique is the implement of each different Ways — a tool to be used in accomplishing a Way. For instance, in the Way of Martial Arts, technique is to be used as a tool to overpower an opponent and achieve victory. A dedicated disciple who follows a Way should be able to visualize victory in all things, and should seek it. But not even the most avid practitioner of a Way can attain victory through a singular art; thus it becomes necessary to seek out a different Way to achieve victory.

That is why Musashi exhorts us not to depart from or forget the various Ways. He’s teaching us that success can only be achieved by ‘mastering’ all Ways. In essence, he’s telling us that we cannot fully claim success in one aspect of our life if there is a part of it that suffers. Harmony. Balance. These are the essentials of true victory.

… and that’s just the first maxim of the Way of Walking Alone.

%d bloggers like this: