Sun Tzu vs. Miyamoto Musashi

Nobufusa

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Sun Tzu said : "In general, whoever occupies the battleground first and awaits the enemy will be at ease; whoever occupies the battleground afterward and must race to the conflict will be fatigued. Thus one who excels at warfare compels men and is not compelled by other men" (Source: Ralph Sawyer's 7 Military Classics, pg. 166)

However, Miyamoto Musashi was known for taking the opposite approach, he was known for arriving late, and making his enemies wait for him.

Why did Musashi, who likely read Sun Tzu, contradict Sun Tzu's wisdom? And between Miyamoto Musashi and Sun Tzu, which strategist is correct on this matter?
 

Gyakuto

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Sun Tzu sounds like he was referring to large-scale strategy (‘battlefield’) whereas Musashi sometimes used the ‘make them wait’ strategy to rile his enemy in single combat. He is said to have arrived early for his second encounter with the Yoshioka!

There is no single way of doing things in combat and being unpredictable is a good thing to be.
 
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Nobufusa

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Yea, but Musashi is well known for his views that large scale and small scale combat were completely analogous. His consistent message was that the Way of Strategy was the same regardless of the scale of combat.
 

Gyakuto

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Perhaps if he was ever in the position to command a large number of soldiers, he might’ve turn up late to the battlefield too...or early!
 
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Nobufusa

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I always found it interesting that Musashi- someone with no command history, spoke of large scale tactics as if he had any experience commanding troops, which he didn't. I personally know phenomenal soldiers that would make for garbage commanders, so Musashi thinking that his tactics applies to large scale battle with the same efficacy as his personal combat Heiho seems to be a good example of him stepping outside of his lane, or as Socrates noted- experts who falsely thought that their expertise in one area meant expertise in another.
 

Gyakuto

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We have to be careful about believing Musashi was martially infallible and unbeatable...an idea promulgated by ‘that novel ‘ <shudder> about him. It is said, for example, he carefully chose this opponents to ensure he didn’t take on anyone who was likely to defeat him and he used his greater physical size and strength to overwhelm challenging and diminutive duellists! There is so much misinformation about him that it’s hard to ‘get into his mind’. My late dojo president from many years ago was the first to translate ‘Go Rin no Sho’ into English and even he said he didn’t know what a lot of it meant!
 
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Nobufusa

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Exactly, I completely agree, he was a human being, and is too idolized.
 
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Nobufusa

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Well, I have a little more respect for Musashi than Beiber... It's just weird how Musashi talks about being able to defeat 10,000 opponents as if he ever did that. If I wanted to have insight into defeating 10,000 opponents, I would read Napoleon or Genghis Khan.
 

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Did either of them leave any literature on war strategy? Anyone can write authoritatively about untestable ideas (look at the New Age movement) but it’s the backing-up of ideas with objective evidence that lends them credibility.
 
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Nobufusa

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Did either of them leave any literature on war strategy? Anyone can write authoritatively about untestable ideas (look at the New Age movement) but it’s the backing-up of ideas with objective evidence that lends them credibility.


There is copious literature written about Genghis Khan and describing Mongol war tactics. As far as Napoleon goes, I am not sure, but we have a lot of records of his sayings, life and tactics. When I said reading them, I meant studying them, not necessarily reading something that they did or didn't specifically write themselves.
 
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Nobufusa

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There is a treatise written by General Suvorov, called the Science of Victory, who apparently never suffered defeat, but I don't think it has ever been translated outside of Russian.
 

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Other people writing about other people....sounds like a recipe for putting forwards ones own ideas!;)
 

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I really dislike authors using the word ‘science’ inappropriately!
 

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Sun Tzu sounds like he was referring to large-scale strategy (‘battlefield’) whereas Musashi sometimes used the ‘make them wait’ strategy

In large scale strategy there are many moving parts to come together at the same time. During this time the force is somewhat disrupted, out of position and vulnerable to the side that has its order of battle already situated. So the side which is late must rush to get into position and maneuver under duress. The time scale here is days or hours and distance is measured in miles or hundreds of yards.

In single combat (small scale) we shouldn't use the same definition of time and space as used above. If we are to compare and make them analogous, we must shrink these factors to small scale as well. Time is in seconds, or fraction thereof, and distance is in feet or several inches.

With this in mind, the fighter who has his guard up, balance set, and is mentally ready to rumble, while the opponent is still in the process of getting similarly settled, can be said to be occupying the field first with the opponent playing catch-up. Similarly, the one that has established center line control while the opponent is turned and out of position, unable to bring his weapons to bear and so is under duress, can be said to be successfully occupying the field of battle.

Now the comparison of small vs large scale strategy has greater validity and the concept of their being the same is more evident. Sun Tzu and Musashi are both correct and in accord with each other.

One other note - The side (large or small) that gets to the battleground first gets first choice of ground to fight on: High ground vs low, facing or away from the sun, on firm/smooth ground or broken/muddy ground, and so on.

As for Musashi making his opponent wait for the duel, Musashi comes to the battleground at the time of his choosing, and ready to fight. After waiting for a while, the opponent has probably relaxed and, upon seeing Musashi ready to go, has to get himself physically and mentally pumped up - so, in essence, is late to the fight, even though he was at the site first.
 

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There is copious literature written about Genghis Khan and describing Mongol war tactics. As far as Napoleon goes, I am not sure, but we have a lot of records of his sayings, life and tactics. When I said reading them, I meant studying them, not necessarily reading something that they did or didn't specifically write themselves.
Napoleon, unlike Ceasar or Rommel, did not write much of his methods, but there is a compilation of his maxims as you say. Napolean's strategy can more completely be read about in a book written by his Chief of Staff, Jomini. Many of the American Civil War generals carried this book with them in the field.
 

Chris Parker

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Sun Tzu said : "In general, whoever occupies the battleground first and awaits the enemy will be at ease; whoever occupies the battleground afterward and must race to the conflict will be fatigued. Thus one who excels at warfare compels men and is not compelled by other men" (Source: Ralph Sawyer's 7 Military Classics, pg. 166)

However, Miyamoto Musashi was known for taking the opposite approach, he was known for arriving late, and making his enemies wait for him.

Why did Musashi, who likely read Sun Tzu, contradict Sun Tzu's wisdom? And between Miyamoto Musashi and Sun Tzu, which strategist is correct on this matter?

Are they really different, though....? Or is it a different application of the same concept...

Sun Tzu sounds like he was referring to large-scale strategy (‘battlefield’) whereas Musashi sometimes used the ‘make them wait’ strategy to rile his enemy in single combat. He is said to have arrived early for his second encounter with the Yoshioka!

He arrived late to the first two encounters with the Yoshioka (as well as famously with Kojiro).

There is no single way of doing things in combat and being unpredictable is a good thing to be.

True. Which is why Musashi turned up early (along with a couple of other tactics) on the third Yoshioka encounter. Musashi taught that you can do something twice, but not three times in a row... interestingly, a couple of tournaments ago in the sumo, one rikishi applied a leg-pick three days in a row... day one, it worked. Day two, it worked. Day three... it was avoided, countered, and he found himself on the clay... a pretty good illustration of the principle taught!

Yea, but Musashi is well known for his views that large scale and small scale combat were completely analogous. His consistent message was that the Way of Strategy was the same regardless of the scale of combat.

Yep. Of course, that's a matter of the principles being universal, the application is something else entirely...

Perhaps if he was ever in the position to command a large number of soldiers, he might’ve turn up late to the battlefield too...or early!

While Musashi didn't head an army, he was a consultant in a number of battles, and was more than familiar with the organising of troops.

I always found it interesting that Musashi- someone with no command history, spoke of large scale tactics as if he had any experience commanding troops, which he didn't. I personally know phenomenal soldiers that would make for garbage commanders, so Musashi thinking that his tactics applies to large scale battle with the same efficacy as his personal combat Heiho seems to be a good example of him stepping outside of his lane, or as Socrates noted- experts who falsely thought that their expertise in one area meant expertise in another.

No, it was taken from his participation in a number of battles. He wasn't in command of the entire fielded force, but was part of the command structure, particularly in his later career (with the Hosokawa).

We have to be careful about believing Musashi was martially infallible and unbeatable...an idea promulgated by ‘that novel ‘ <shudder> about him.

In the opening of Gorin no Sho, Musashi states that he engaged in as many as 60 duels, and "I did not lose even once". The novel added some more fantasy to it all, but the core idea of Musashi was never beaten is from the historical record itself (as far as the Shinto Muso Ryu story, that is not corroborated, not documented, and exists only in the oral tradition of the school itself).

It is said, for example, he carefully chose this opponents to ensure he didn’t take on anyone who was likely to defeat him and he used his greater physical size and strength to overwhelm challenging and diminutive duellists!

That, I would suggest, is part of the fantasy... there is no record of him "choosing" opponents for such reasons... the Yoshioka, for example, were highly regarded and famous swordsmen... as was Sasaki Kojiro (who, for the record, was just as much a giant as Musashi was). He took on members of a large number of ryu-ha, including many swordsmen and otherly armed opponents, such as Hozoin In'ei, a master of the spear, and apparently quite a bullying brute himself. And don't forget, his first fight was when he was 13 (by our reckoning, that would be 12) against a 25 year old experienced warrior named Arima Kihei. He beat the man to death with a staff. We can also revisit the story of Muso Gonnosuke, founder of Shinto Muso Ryu... their one documented encounter had Gonnosuke beaten easily, and with a small twig that Musashi was carving into a toy bow at the time. Gonnosuke was another huge (by Japanese standards) man, and highly skilled, being a licenced practitioner of both Katori and Kashima traditions. His fame was such that he had a large retinue of followers, and, in a time of subdued fashion, apparently wore a gaudy kimono in gold and red, emblazoned with the words "The Greatest Martial Artist Under Heaven, Muso Gonnosuke!".

While Musashi does freely admit/acknowledge that his success in his teens through to when he was 30 (and ended his duelling career) was possibly due more to his attitude than truly transcendent skill, as well as potentially the lacking skill in his opponents, which is why he then dedicated the next 20 years to deepening his study well beyond physical strength and sheer force. It was only when he was over 50 that he felt he'd really gotten a handle on it all. The Gorin no Sho was written around 14 years later.

There is so much misinformation about him that it’s hard to ‘get into his mind’. My late dojo president from many years ago was the first to translate ‘Go Rin no Sho’ into English and even he said he didn’t know what a lot of it meant!

Victor Harris? Yes, he's said a number of times that, if he was to go back again, there's a lot of his translation he'd change... mind you, I would tell you that no-one outside of Musashi's school, most particularly the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu (rather than schools such as Enmei Ryu, which is largely an earlier school) could really grasp much of what is written, as a large proportion of the book refers specifically to techniques and methods within the school itself. Even martial artists from other schools have trouble really understanding what much of the text actually refers to.

Well, I have a little more respect for Musashi than Beiber... It's just weird how Musashi talks about being able to defeat 10,000 opponents as if he ever did that. If I wanted to have insight into defeating 10,000 opponents, I would read Napoleon or Genghis Khan.

The thing to remember there is that "10,000" is kinda Japanese shorthand for "heaps and heaps"... it's not a literal number, but is used to represent any large amount of something. Basically, he's saying that, if you follow these principles, you can take on immensely disadvantageous odds.

In large scale strategy there are many moving parts to come together at the same time. During this time the force is somewhat disrupted, out of position and vulnerable to the side that has its order of battle already situated. So the side which is late must rush to get into position and maneuver under duress. The time scale here is days or hours and distance is measured in miles or hundreds of yards.

In single combat (small scale) we shouldn't use the same definition of time and space as used above. If we are to compare and make them analogous, we must shrink these factors to small scale as well. Time is in seconds, or fraction thereof, and distance is in feet or several inches.

With this in mind, the fighter who has his guard up, balance set, and is mentally ready to rumble, while the opponent is still in the process of getting similarly settled, can be said to be occupying the field first with the opponent playing catch-up. Similarly, the one that has established center line control while the opponent is turned and out of position, unable to bring his weapons to bear and so is under duress, can be said to be successfully occupying the field of battle.

Now the comparison of small vs large scale strategy has greater validity and the concept of their being the same is more evident. Sun Tzu and Musashi are both correct and in accord with each other.

One other note - The side (large or small) that gets to the battleground first gets first choice of ground to fight on: High ground vs low, facing or away from the sun, on firm/smooth ground or broken/muddy ground, and so on.

As for Musashi making his opponent wait for the duel, Musashi comes to the battleground at the time of his choosing, and ready to fight. After waiting for a while, the opponent has probably relaxed and, upon seeing Musashi ready to go, has to get himself physically and mentally pumped up - so, in essence, is late to the fight, even though he was at the site first.

This. I was going to basically write the same kind of thing, but Isshinryuronin has put it wonderfully, and correctly. Nicely done!
 
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