A while ago, I posted a composition quoting “Gorin-No-Sho,” or The Book of the Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi around 1645. The quote was “The principle of strategy is: having one thing, to know ten thousand things.”

You could take this principle a few different ways. I’m sure there is an official, scholarly way to interpret this quotation. I am not, nor will pretend to be an expert in Japanese or Samurai culture, so you’re going to get my version of it. I like to think about it as an admonition to understand the substance of whatever issue you’re facing. Because if you understand the underlying substance, you have at least some amount of mastery of the issue, and will know how to handle individual issues.

I’ll give an example. In the last six months or so I’ve started Olympic weightlifting (barbell snatch and clean and jerk). I’m still quite the beginner, so when I miss a lift, my mind goes to the thousands of little things that may have gone wrong – did my hips rise early? Was my foot pressure uneven? Did I make contact too low? Did I lose tightness in the catch? And so on and so forth. My mind goes to the ten thousand things, but not to the one thing. If I was a master of the substance of weightlifting, I would be able to understand what went wrong. But since I am not yet, I have to go through the mental checklist. I might arrive at the same conclusion that a master weightlifter would – e.g. i made contact too early and pushed the bar out in front – but it would take me a lot longer than the master.

You can see this at work in many situations. You can usually see a beginner or intermediate practitioner thinking through a problem, while a master does things seemingly automatically, without thinking. This brings to mind Bruce Lee’s quote about a beginner being someone who practices a thousand things once, while a master is someone who practices one thing a thousand times. The master has practiced and thought so long that what takes thought for the beginner is automatic.

All that to say, if you want to be strategic in any given situation, practice enough to become a master and you’ll have ten thousand things.

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