One Stroke

By Maya Petzoldt, TIWP Student

One would think it easier to sleep when the waves rock you like your mother once did, but I find the seas too calm and my thoughts too turbulent to find solace in slumber. Nevermind the fifteen hours I just stood on my feet, nevermind the battle just lost, nevermind the congratulations my Admiral just gave me. I feel I have failed too strongly to accept such praise, and I wonder why he would give them to me at all. 
I was born a Samurai, as my father was one before me. He taught me what he knew, what he could teach, and I absorbed it readily. It gave me confidence, it gave me a sense of myself. I grew myself from those roots, the strong and noble roots my father cared for diligently. As such, when given command I found solace in The Book of Five Rings rather than Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Sun Tzu is good to quote, of that there is no question, and there is endless knowledge and insight in those texts. But this is not China, and I do not fight on the land. That’s not to say Musashi Miyamoto did either, but nonetheless he speaks to me more than Sun Tzu can. Sun Tzu wrote of war in China, millenniums in the past, where the names were different, and so were the wars. We do not fight wars like the wars he saw, war has changed in the years. 

But Miyamoto, and his book, was written in an age that Japan has since built itself up from. We have immortalized and romanticized the Sengoku era, and the age of samurai that followed. This is something I know, that I was born from, and thus Miyamoto taught me more than Sun Tzu could. 

When I learned of Musashi Miyamoto as a child I learned of him as the greatest samurai. I learned of the man who has thirteen beat his first opponent in a duel to the death, the man who survived Sekigahara, the man who single handedly beat the Yoshioka clan, and the man beat Sasaki Kojiro, and the swallow cut, with a sword he carved from the oar of his boat. I did not learn of Miyamoto the poet, the father, or the artist. 

But when I was granted the command of the Amatsukaze, I looked to the greatest Ronin for advice. His book, the book of five rings, taught me infinit things. It taught me that the battle begins from the moment a duel has been accepted. From the moment I know where I must take my ship to, the moment I know I may encounter an opponent, I am in battle. Every step I take will decide whether I win or lose, every step is important.

Miyamoto knew his actions directly affected his opponents. When he challenged the head of the Yoshioka clan he chose the place. He chose a forest as he knew his opponent’s feet were used to the smooth floors of a dojo. He set the time, and knew that if his opponent was in a foul move he would make more mistakes. He showed up hours late, and ignored the man when he raved at him in anger. With his choices made, and the battle well underway, Miyamoto let the fight begin. 

The rules were simple, one strike each to make a decisive victory. The Yoshioka in his anger charged, and managed to cut the fabric of Miyamoto’s pants. But the cut was not as decisive as Miyamotos, who used so much force to bludgeon the Yoshioka’s shoulder that he crippled the man. Yoshioka had no choice but to become a monk in his shame, for a Samurai who could not swing his sword could not lead the most famous school of fighting in Kyoto. 

I have followed this advice throughout my career, and made decisions carefully. I even questioned others, when I thought they did not think it through. I questioned if we had to attack Pearl Harbour to take the Philippines, but was told the decision was made. I had not been the first nor last to question that decision, but it was not ours to make. We were mere soldiers, and I am only a destroyer captain. So I have done the best since. I learned of my deployment to Guadalcanal, and have been acting as though in battle since. 

The book of five rings also taught me that leadership is not something set in stone, but rather built as a house is. Miyamoto never did have any children of his own, and found pupils and sons through other means. He chose the way of the sword of the wants of his heart, according to folk tales, and left the one he loved behind to travel as a Ronin. He would be bound to no master, no daimyo nor his own heart would rule his actions. 

As such when he took students and adopted his sons he made sure it was a decision for both of them, for they must want him to teach them if they want to learn, and he must want to teach if he had hope of being able to do so at all. As such he ensured the parents of his sons were taken care of, so they should not have regrets nor worries in their time with him. He made sure his pupils were prepared to travel, for the best place to teach was not in a wooden room but in islands with experience. 

I took to leading as such, ensuring my crew knew that we entered battle together. I did not lead them in hopes of my victory, but ours. I did not give them orders I didn’t stand by, and I lead with a fair and equal hand. I would like to think in this I succeeded, since my executive officer knows me well enough to know exactly how I give steering orders. It grants me some relief, knowing I have left capable men I have taught in charge. 

The book of five rings also taught me that no style is invulnerable, and can be beaten. As it was when Miyamoto beat Kojiro, thought to be one of the best samurais of his time. He had a long blade, and no strike he made missed its intended mark. But Musashi knew the battle better than Kojiro, and knew Kojiro better than Kojiro thought he did. He showed up late to offend him, brought not a metal sword but a wooden one, carved from the oar of the ship that brought him to Kojiro, and tied a towel on his head. 
Miyamoto knew his opponent would want the glory of his death, and so egged him on further. Kojiro began the duel by throwing his scabbard in the water, and to make him more angry Miyamoto asked “If you intend to win this battle, why did you throw your Saya away?” This made Kojiro strike first, and aiming for a killing blow, the sword caught in the towel on Miyamoto’s head, thus saving him. Miyamoto immediately used his wooden oar to beat Kojiro to death, never missing once. 

Kojiro was not invulnerable, and neither was I. Yes, I managed to sink an American Destroyer, and injure a light cruiser, but I failed to realize my searchlights had become a beacon for another light cruiser to aim for me. I had caught its attention, and it did damage. I lost 43 men, and there is a poorly patched hole in my hull. In this I cannot say I deserve any congratulations, for one sunken ship and the life of the rest of my crew is but a silver lining. It is no victory, and it deserves no praise. I made mistakes, and my crew paid for it. 

Opening the book of five rings from where it lay on my desk beside my bunk, I flip through the pages. This reprints includes some of Miyomotos later work. It is not words nor duels won, but instead paintings. He was awfully fond of birds. One of his more famous paintings is called Shrike on a Withered Branch, and yet again I am so intimately reminded of my failings. 

I was born a samurai, raised a samurai, and I rose the ranks to captain. And yet I failed in what I had been taught my entire life, to prepare for and win battle. And yet, even into his old age, Miyamoto Musashi kept his samurai teachings strong. Not just in his writings, pupils, and sword, but in his art. 

He has painted the branch on which the shrike sits in one stroke. He took paint, a brush, and a canvas and has the confidence to use but one stroke. He made no mistake. He made a stroke in the way only a master swordsman could. Once.

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