Friday, August 14, 2009

Performance and Effort: Perspectives from Miyamoto Musashi

What is the relationship between performance and effort?

Some might expect a linear relationship: more practice/effort leads to better performance.

Others might expect a curvilinear relationship: at some point too much effort can interfere with performance.

In martial arts and the Japanese practice of swordsmanship, the relationship between effort and performance is far more complicated.

Effort is central to training, but once skills are internalized, performance comes from stilling the mind and allowing automatic skills to take over. The focus is on not-trying.

"To be swayed neither by the opponent nor by his sword is the essence of swordsmanship," Miyamoto Musashi taught.

The goal is to become one with the performance, whether it is writing calligraphy or engaging in martial arts. Stephen Hunter captured a bit of this in his novel "The 47th Samurai".

When you are one with your opponent, you can anticipate his movements and respond flowingly. There is no time to think and analyze.

"You win battles by knowing the enemy's timing, and using a timing which the enemy does not expect," Musashi taught.

Much bad trading comes from minds that are not still, that cannot be at one with markets, and that literally lose their feel for markets. "A violent mind wields a careless sword," Musashi wrote.

There are times when you can *feel* markets turning; it's almost a bodily perception. In the martial arts, one feels an opponent similarly.

"There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord," Musashi wrote. "Similarly, there is timing in the Way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this."

Training requires effort; "The Way is in training," according to Musashi. But the greatest performance is effortless, beyond effort. Musashi understood that.