As the saying goes, it’s a pity that youth is wasted on the young.
But in my twilight years, it’s equally disconcerting to find that I have become not a Renaissance Man, but merely—at best—a Renaissance Boy. And the only reason I’d even consider pompously using the word “renaissance” is that I tried many things over a full life, and succeeded at most.
Sadly, even though I put in Sir Winston Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat,” I apparently expended them on predominantly useless subject material. Chasing young girls and racing powerful motorcycles are lots of fun, but even if successful, you’re not gaining wisdom or knowledge for yourself. You’re just living your life—young or old—for what other shallow people may think of you, no matter how proficient you may become in an inconsequential pursuit.
When I was 16, I knew everything. When I was 30, I knew very little. Now I find myself the self-inflicted target of Alexander Pope’s “a little learning is a dangerous thing”—and it’s almost too late to salvage. If I’m granted a long stay on this planet, I may be able to attain ten percent of what I could have learned. If not, I squandered decades of fast-flying years.
So what’s the point of this column? The point is this treatise on unasked-for advice is for you, Young Man, not for me.
While you still have a healthy body and an agile mind, use them—because they will both fail you soon enough. In-stead of texting the other members of your football team 30 times describing your amorous exploits, text them 20 times. Use the remaining time to study the writings of Musashi and Sun Tzu. In a year’s time, text them ten times and increase the study percentage.
In two years’ time, you’ll hardly be texting at all, but spending most of your waking hours mentally pacing the path of knowledge—because nobody really believes your lies now anyway, and wisdom and knowledge last forever. If you don’t, you’ll go from being a Young Fool to an Old Fool—no more, no less.
Why Musashi? Because nobody else ever was—or ever will be—the ultimate combination of a master of hand-to-hand combat and a philosopher. Why will this never be duplicated? Because since his time, nobody ever has, nor ever will again, partake in half-a-dozen battles and 60 duels in a lifetime, that’s why.
He went from being a psychotic killer at the age of 13 to a philosophical genius at his death (from cancer at the age of 62). Does this mean you have to butcher dozens of people to attain his abilities, both mental and physical? Absolutely not. In fact, you don’t have to be a human-to-human combatant to reach the dizzying heights of knowledge he acquired.
The point is that he faced his mortality so many times, in an age when most Samurai didn’t make it past their mid-20s, that he had to be the best of the best to survive, both mentally and physically. While Sun Tzu was—and probably still is—the ultimate military strategist and tactician, Musashi’s ability with swords and blades led him to the path of philosophy.
So if you are a professional warrior (or for that matter, have ever considered the possibility that you may wind up in a force-on-force confrontation), study both The Book of Five Rings and The Art of War. If not both, at least study The Book of Five Rings. And that means study it/them, not just read them—they’re not Spiderman comics.
If you get Miyamoto Musashi’s message early in life, you will go on to be a wise man. If you don’t get it, you will never have wisdom and knowledge. You may become a great NFL quarterback or the next Bill Gates—and there’s nothing wrong with those in their own right. But there will always be another quarterback and another computer guru who change life superficially, even if it’s on a large scale.
Philosophers who overcome everything—even after death itself—reach their zenith in a full life through incredible determination and dedication, and nothing less will cut it. While Musashi voluntarily faced death in physical battle, he finally packed it in after the battle of Osaka, and it was only then that his true genius came to light.
You will face as many battles as he did in the near future, Young Man, even if they’re not of a physical nature. You may as well short-circuit wasted mortal years now and learn from a great sage like Miyamoto Musashi. Sharpen your sword and your mind. Guns, cartridges, and technology will never supersede sagacity and wisdom—they are complementary on a battlefield, with knowledge and wisdom being the only indispensables.
For those who think these are a lunatic’s ravings, so be it. But history repeats itself, and you might want to read William Boetcker’s Ten Cannots (often mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln), and then see if you think your little empire can possibly last another 20 years. Have a nice life, Young Man. I’m off to desperately try to play catch-up on so many wasted years.