Looking to view potential classroom strategies from a fresh angle? If the traditional professional development books and seminars aren’t getting the job done, consider taking the advice of a 16th-Century Japanese swordsman.
Miyamoto Musashi was the most celebrated swordsman of the Tokugawa period of Japan, a time that revered those skilled with a blade. Born at the end of the 16th Century, Musashi spent much of his life in combat. He is alleged to have slain his first challenger at age 13, and fought more than 60 duels—all victorious—before his 29th birthday (Harris, 1982; Musashi, 1982). Shortly before his death, Musashi wrote down his method for conducting battle, now published as The Book of Five Rings. Much like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Musashi’s book enjoyed a renaissance in the business world as a sort of manual for defeating competitors (Chase, 1999). Taken as a metaphor, there are certainly similarities between hostile takeovers on the battlefield and in the boardroom.
But does Musashi’s philosophy carry over into the classroom?
It does. Musashi’s advice was intended for the battlefield, either against a single opponent or in a pitched battle against an army. However, any good and useful philosophy should be adaptable to many situations including the relationship between teacher and student; in fact, Musashi himself appears to approve of adapting his martial ideas to other lines of work (Harris, 1982). This is not to say that the teacher-student relationship should be viewed as specifically adversarial. Rather, Musashi’s basic philosophy is much more universally adaptable than it at first appears (Chase, 1999).
Musashi boiled his basic tenets into nine points contained in the “Ground” section of his book, the first of the five rings. These points are:
Each of these points holds some truth in terms of addressing students, dealing with potential problems, and in keeping students involved and engaged in the classroom environment. In essence, classroom engagement is at the heart of Musashi’s teachings in a school environment. A group of engaged and interested students is a group that has no discipline problems, outbursts, or attendance issues.
Chase, W. K. (1999, August 16). Old book brings fresh perspective to strategic thinking in sales. Business Journal Serving Fresno and the Central San Joaquin Valley, p. 4. Retrieved from EBSCO MegaFILE database. (322500)
Harris, V. (1982). Translator’s introduction. In M. Musashi, A book of five rings (V. Harris, Trans., pp. 1-32) [Introduction]. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press. (Original work published 1974)
Musashi, M. (1982). A book of five rings (V. Harris, Trans.). Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press. (Original work published 1974)
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