A Nurse with a Gun

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Complex Simplicity

I took two 1911s to the range today, my Springfield Mil-Spec and my Colt M1991A1. Each is an unassuming pistol, purposeful and effective. I do not know why I brought two pistols, let alone these two similar pistols.

I shot the Colt a bit more than the Springfield, but they shot equally well. The Colt just feels more "right" to me somehow, I suppose. Perhaps it's the Colt legacy, perhaps it's the more traditional style, simple sights and a high ejection port. Click to enlargePerhaps it was because I had to do less to the Colt to make it into what I wanted. I do not know the reason, I just shot it more.

As I shot, my mind drifted to Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai of feudal Japan. Musashi, an unconventional warrior, dressed in rags, rarely bathed, and traveled during the zenith of the samurai period, engaging in duels. Musashi was an outsider with allegiance to no lord, but he was a master of using two swords in a technique called niten'ichi. It was an effective, unembellished way of defeating an opponent. Although he engaged in scores of duels, Musashi himself was never defeated. Today, his technique is known as Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū.

The real legacy of Musashi though, is not one of swordsmanship. It is one of psychological combat. Once his reputation had grown, Musashi challenged one of Japan's most revered samurai of the time, Sasaki Kojirō, to a duel on an island at dawn. A traditional warrior, Kojirō prepared for the duel in prayer. He was known for wielding a katana with extra length, and was an established, well disciplined traditional warrior. Kojirō arrived on time, but his unorthodox opponent was nowhere to be found. For several hours, an enraged and humiliated Kojirō stormed the sands of the island's beach.

When Musashi finally arrived, he was carrying an elongated staff he had carved from the oar of a boat. Kojirō was brought down by a single strike to the head as Musashi side stepped a slash from his opponent's blade. Click to enlargeA powerful thrust to the sternum crushed the renowned swordsman's chest.

What is significant is that Musashi did not bring a sword to fight a swordsman. Some would say he brought an oar. I would go further than that. It did not matter what Musashi brought. He brought his mind. He brought his self control. As he approached the infuriated Kojirō, legend has it Musashi taunted him by saying "You have already lost." There is truth there. When a man becomes so enraged that he acts on his anger rather than in a methodical manner to accomplish the task at hand, he has lost.

In his later years, Musashi studied Buddism and became an author and artist. His most widely read work, Go Rin No Sho, is still a relevant treatise on the way of the warrior. A passage reads "In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm."

I did not use my two pistols as Musashi used two swords. I shot them one at a time, trying to pare away any superfluous movement or pretense. Like the 1911 itself, it is Musashi's singularly simple but effective manner of stripping away the unnecessary flourishes to arrive at the elemental purpose of the actions needed that makes him relevant to me.



Blogger Tim said...

Very nice post. Good blending of the themes.



9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was literature, my friend. Brilliant.

9:17 AM  
Blogger FECH said...

So interesting that you posted this. Last night I watched a documentary type show called "Warriors" on the History Channel and they talked at length about the exact same duel. You should check it out, I'm sure you would enjoy it.

As a completely unrelated aside, I'm the one that sent you the horrible picture of the red and black STI 1911 on gunbroker a few days ago.

9:18 AM  
Blogger daddymax said...

Well done.

9:26 AM  
Blogger tom said...

I've a friend of mine I've known since we were both seven years of age, which is (pun intended), many ages ago.

He's taken up an interest in learning defensive shooting and covets all the whiz-bang new stuff and has a mental fault where he sees a cocked and locked 1911 as seeming "agressive and dangerous"

I've given him the basics and worked with him on his mentality. He's finally coming around to realizing that in many fashions a cocked and locked Series 80 1911 is safer and as, if not more effective, than many a $INSERT_AD_GUN_OF_YER_CHOICE_HERE.

He's realizing JMB was no stupid hillbilly, nor were the folks at Colt, and things were designed and refined in 1911-land very purposefully except some stupid ideas a few have had along the way (maybe you could add a "Brain-dead 1911 Build Monday" to go with "Ugly Gun Sunday"?).

When we finally broke through his mental walls about 1911s, his distaste has always been seeing something that has to have the hammer back to safe it. Now that he's learning more and shooting more, although he still likes and covets my SIG .45, he is seeing the merits of the 1911 (that was really pretty close to complete as a firearm design in 1902, for that matter).

I'm a fan of one of our "this side of the Sabine" singers named Guy Clark, who penned some words I always end up humming on good days with good tools:

I got an ol’ pair of boots
And they fit just right
I can work all day
And I can dance all night
I got an ol’ used car
And it runs just like a top
I get the feelin’ it ain’t
Ever gonna stop

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall

10:47 AM  
Anonymous TJP said...


11:08 AM  
Blogger Less said...

I gotta say that the book that mirror much of Musashi is Brian Eno's book on "Practical Shooting".

Shooting is 90% mental, 10% physical. If it is 90% mental, why aren't more people prepping mentally?

We see custom 1911's, custom holsters, etc... and those are all good things, but can't help as much as developing a good attitude and mental picture.

11:31 AM  
Blogger stbaguley said...

Another nugget from Xavier. Thank you.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:04 PM  
Blogger Albert A Rasch said...


Great post! Great writing!

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.
The Range Reviews: Tactical.
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Louis said...

Really interesting post, Xav. I've often felt shooting is a zen-like experience, and I'm at my best when I'm in a meditative state, totally calm and focused. (Sometimes I even chant sutras in my head.) I'm surprised I didn't see the connection between my "training" and the way of the samurai before. In the end, although the weapons are different, both have the same goal in mind: getting you to survive a violent encounter. And that comment about being calm and focused at all times, especially in an emergency, is right on.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing I like about the 1911 is that it does feel like a basic tool. Steel and wood. Though I sometimes over state it's virtues, there is a connection that I have with it that I have with no other weapon. Mine is well worn, in need of re-bluing, the essence of wabi-sabi.
Heavy as hell, screaming old fashion, worn from carry (and fondling) pamperd but true. I've got plenty of plastic, but why do I still carry steel?

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing I like about the 1911 is that it does feel like a basic tool. Steel and wood. Though I sometimes over state it's virtues, there is a connection that I have with it that I have with no other weapon. Mine is well worn, in need of re-bluing, the essence of wabi-sabi.
Heavy as hell, screaming old fashion, worn from carry (and fondling) pamperd but true. I've got plenty of plastic, but why do I still carry steel?

8:27 PM  
OpenID cortillaen said...

Musashi is a fascinating figure, both the historical man and the myth. Perhaps the best indicator of his reputation is from WWII, the naming of twin battleships. These ships were the largest battleships in existence, carrying the largest guns ever fitted to any vessel. The first was named the "Yamato" (an ancient, poetic name for Japan), while its sister ship was given the name of "Musashi". Of all people in history, though, I find him to be the one who best embodies the concept of a warrior. Go Rin no Sho, his famous book, admonishes constantly that one must study and practice every concept regularly to attain mastery, that over-reliance on a specific weapon is a fault, and that the most basic concept of battle and war is to perceive and disrupt the opponent's rhythm.

A couple of notes on the story of Kojiro's loss, it is said that Musashi carved a bokken (wooden sword) out of an oar on his way to the duel and that this bokken was specifically made slightly longer than Kojiro's famously long sword. Musashi also hid the bokken behind him until the duel was ready to begin, revealing it at the last moment to further unnerve the Kojiro who had been waiting hours in the midday sun. Musashi specifically stabbed at Kojiro's pride in multiple ways before the duel ever began, resulting in Kojiro's immediate, direct, and easily dealt with attack rather than the use of a particular sword stroke that had made him famous. Another story has Musashi predicting an ambush, arriving early to hide at the site, and waiting until his opponent and guards were ready to leave before attacking from above (he had hidden in a tree).

A few of Musashi's quotations: “Do nothing which is of no use.” “Aspire to be like Mt. Fuji, with such a broad and solid foundation that the strongest earthquake cannot move you, and so tall that the greatest enterprises of common men seem insignificant from your lofty perspective. With your mind as high as Mt Fuji you can see all things clearly. And you can see all the forces that shape events; not just the things happening near to you.” “All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this.” “People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment...”

Last, I do have a minor quibble with the description of Musashi as a "samurai". Technically, samurai were high-ranked soldiers, comparable to officers, who served a daimyo (feudal lord), usually in exchange for a grant of land and a stipend. They were literally defined by their service to their daimyo. Musashi was a wanderer for most of his life, refusing to serve any master. He even derided the samurai code, declaring that, rather than seeking an honorable death, the warrior's path was in seeking victory.

8:41 PM  

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