You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have.

Unique Leadership Axiom: Empty pockets, Empty hands.

Musashi Miyamoto

Philosophers and shrinks tell us that to truly love another we must first love ourselves. That sounds and feels right to me. The same concept comes up in many fields. But the cryptic way oriental pictographic writing translates into English gives special impact. Take archery: If you want to master archery, be the arrow. What? Then there was Marlin Brando and the Method School of acting. I didn’t get that either at the time that I first heard it. Or, how about our big shots in D.C.? They spend money that neither they nor the tax payers have. So what is this stuff about you can’t give what you don’t have? Not enough proof for you? Check out the stats on individual credit card debt!

Years ago in a bookstore I was captured by the image you see above this text. It was on the cover of Musashi Miyamoto’s book: The Book of Five Rings[i]. I bought the book and started reading. Ironically the last chapter is about the Void. At that point my understanding of that chapter was a total Void! Later I have come to believe that The Void is removing yourself from the center of your attention when you work toward mastery of any skill or capability. Note that I did not say understand, only believe. I truly believe that Mastery is the product of repeatedly demanding of yourself total tightly constrained focus!

I am a father, grandfather and have been a university professor. In those roles as teacher I have emphasized that all of life requires hundreds of pushups every day in every way. Most people in our electronic world can’t just drop down and rip off 20 pushups. But if your current limit is 10 and survival depends on 20, you don’t get there by thinking about your pain, you get there by focusing on the act of doing it! In that sweat drenched struggle from 10 to 20 you succeed by total concentration on the act of the pushup. Not the pain. Not the consequence of failure. Not even the reward at the end. Only the pushup. You become focused. Yes, you become the pushup.

In archery if you have in mind the peep-sight and the sight pin and the target and the release trigger and the arrow rest and the tension in the rhomboids, you have not mastery. You have very poor arrow groups on the target. By becoming the arrow, you shoot like “Robin Hood,” where the second arrow splits the first arrow. Become the arrow.

Leadership Focus: What has all of this to do with “Winning the Army Way?”  When a young man or woman enters the military of any country they are typical people, just humans whether ordinary or extraordinary. When they return to civilian life after having engaged in mortal combat they are more than ordinary or extraordinary. They have learned to be what Musashi tries to teach in The Void. They have learned the personal cost of survival in mortal combat. The cost for those who survive is that in order to kill, in order to give death, you must be death. You cannot give what you do not have.

This is the true cost of war!

My take: Politicians and clerics speak at Memorial Programs about these brave youngsters, and yes most of them are still just children, who have given the last full measure of devotion in dying for their country. These public buffoons should be ashamed of trying to hide from all of us the truth that they themselves have not been devoted to this country. They should confess the failure of their actions which led our soldiers to either die or make some other poor bastard die for his country[ii].


[i] Believed to have been originally published in the 17th century. A good current edition available from Barnes & Noble

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