Give Them What They Want….

One of the tenets of all martial arts….is to avoid their use at all costs. To quote the famous Miyamoto Musashi…..

“-The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them”

It might seem strange… suggest the best method of fighting is no-fight. It may even seem contradictory.

Consider the following story:

In the years between 207-265, the entirety of China was at war. A well-known general, General Liang, found himself suddenly outnumbered by the incoming force of Sima Yi. With no time to mount a comparable defensive force, Liang ordered his men to abandon the fort they were defending, leaving open the gate and making obvious how empty the fortress now was. As the soldiers left, Liang calmly donned a Taoist robe and sat upon the top of the wall in plain view of the road Sima Yi would arrive by. Lighting some incense he began to play the lute.

As Yi and his forces approached, all could see the renowned General Liang sitting alone atop an empty fortress, calmly playing the lute as the incense smoked before him. Now Liang had made a reputation for himself as a crafty and inventive adversary and Yi, fearing a trap, ordered his men to retreat without a single arrow being let loose. 

Whether or not this story is historically accurate, it illustrates the application of Musashi’s immortal proverb to a real-world situation.

The saying goes, ‘Actions speak louder than words…’ because a person’s actions are always indicative of their desires. By marching on Liang’s forces, Sima Yi made clear his desire to take the fortress they were occupying. Liang could have easily stood and fought, tried to call for reinforcements, or retreated alongside his men and sacrificed position. But he knew his opponent, and he knew his opponent knew him. Instead of wasting lives and effort or losing a valuable position, Liang embraced Musashi’s philosophy to the fullest and chose to act in a way which would give Yi exactly what he wanted, with much less risk of danger to himself or his men.

When Yi arrived he was confronted by the fortress he desired, but without the confrontation he expected. Instead of walls lined with archers he saw open gates and windows. Instead of nervous soldiers he saw no sign of life save for the old General sitting at the top playing the lute. Surprised and aware of his opponent’s wit, he found himself questioning his decision and ultimately retreated, realizing his desires weren’t worth the risk…….

If only we can learn to apply Musashi’s  philosophy as elegantly as General Liang……


Thank you for reading,



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