21 Laws of Dokkodo: The Japanese Way of Walking Alone


Do you want to live like a badass who is not bothered by drama or negativity? Do you want to be unfuckwithable and live with inner peace? Then legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi’s book Dokkodo can help you get in touch with your inner self and be a ruthless Ronin.

Miyamoto Musashi: The sword-saint of Japan

Miyamoto Musashi's Dokkōdō
Miyamoto Musashi: The Kensei of Japan

Also known as Niten Dōraku and Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Musashi is a legendary Japanese samurai, philosopher, Buddhist monk and writer. Born as Shinmen Musashi-no-Kami Fujiwara no Harunobu in Harima Province in 1584, he became a highly skilled swordsman and rōnin who was popular for double-bladed swordsmanship. Musashi gained legendary status as a warrior by remaining undefeated in over 60 duels and killing his adversaries. Due to his achievements as a swordsman, he was bestowed the title of Kensei, meaning the sword-saint of Japan. In his later life, Miyamoto Musashi founded his own style of swordsmanship called Hyōhō Niten Ichi-Ryu.

While he was a highly skilled martial artist, Musashi was also a philosopher and a Buddhist monk, who was well-versed in the arts of practicing inner peace. Two years before his death, Musashi retreated to a cave, where he meditated and lived the rest of his life in seclusion. During this time, he wrote two books – Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) and Dokkōdō (The Path of Aloneness).

Related: Mono No Aware: The Japanese Awareness Of The Impermanence of Things

Dokkodo: The way of walking alone

While his first book Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings focuses on the importance of his martial arts style Niten Ichi-Ryu, Musashi’s second book Dokkodo: The Path of Aloneness focuses on the mindset and philosophy that a warrior needs to become the best they can be. Both the books were dedicated to famed swordsman Terao Magonojō, who was Musashi’s favorite disciple.

Miyamoto Musashi’s Dokkōdō contains the philosophy, the knowledge and the wisdom of Miyamoto Musashi as he wrote the book a few days before his passing in 1645. Both the books are pregnant with all the knowledge he gathered throughout his life as a samurai, a ronin and a Buddhist monk. Dokkōdō is an enigmatic text that is full of wisdom yet impressively concise in its presentation. The book contains 21 principles or precepts that a warrior must live by in order to be mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually strong and undefeatable. The 21 tenets of Dokkodo show us the way we need to follow alone in order to become unbothered by external factors and become more resilient in life. 

These general rules of life are nothing but guidelines for living a life of strength, solitude and inner peace. Each of the 21 principles focus on different facets of life and it is still relevant in this day and age even though it was written almost four centuries ago.

The wisdom of Dokkodo

Dokkodo The Path of Aloneness

Dokkōdō: The Way to be Followed Alone is Miyamoto Musashi’s way of passing his knowledge to future generations. Here are the 21 precepts on self-discipline mentioned in Miyamoto Musashi’s Dokkodo:

1. Accept everything just the way it is.

Unconditional acceptance is not just good for your mental health, it also leads to an internal locus of control. Instead of blaming everything and everyone else for all the bad things going on in your life, accept life as it and focus on what you can do to change the situation in your favor. Whether in your career, relationships or personal life, accept the things that you cannot change instead of being stressed, anxious, overwhelmed and worried about them. 

Avoid opposing the laws of nature and ways of the world and focus on improving yourself. Be flexible in your approach and don’t stick to a rigid worldview.

2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.

Yes, all of us like to relax, chill and party on the weekend after a long week of work, responsibilities, stress and frustration. But seeking pleasure for the sake of being happy will not make you a badass or a ronin. In the simplest terms, Musashi’s advice can be interpreted as emotionally detaching ourselves from pleasure. When you seek temporary happiness and pleasure, such as drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs, it may make you feel better for a while, but in the long run it may lead to addiction. Dokkodo mentions that instead of seeking pleasure that is fleeting & damaging, engage in pleasurable activities that can make you happy throughout your life, like pursuing passions or learning a new skill.

Seeking pleasure is an animalistic need, while pursuing inner peace and purpose will help you become an evolved individual. Happiness and pleasure should be earned, not pursued.

Related: Kaizen: A Japanese Technique for Overcoming Laziness

3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.

Being emotional and making decisions based on fleeting emotions can spell certain doom, as most of us are aware. Yet, we often rely on our feelings to make crucial life decisions. This is why it is important that we consider different factors, other than our feelings, before making a decision and are always sure about a decision before acting on it. This can help you avoid self-doubt, be more confident and gain more clarity in life.

Certain decisions need total conviction and hence, we should be cautious before acting on our feelings. A warrior never attacks their opponent without clear and proper thought as the counterattack can lead to defeat.

4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.

While narcissists may think highly of themselves, a noble warrior never takes themselves too seriously. They never act selfishly nor are overly self-absorbed as it can cloud their judgment. According to Dokkodo, only the weak look for their personal gain, while the strong always look out for the needs of others. Caring about others allows you to experience kindness, love and generosity from others. It helps you see the true beauty in the world and in people, making you appreciate life better. 

Taking yourself seriously all the time and being too egoistic can restrict your ability to improve yourself and experience inner peace. The path to wisdom is always closed to the selfish fool. Only those who help others traverse the path can truly reach the destination, where happiness, satisfaction and peace can be found.

5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.

Being detached from attachment and desire is one of the core principles in Buddhism. When we are too attached to our goals, dreams and wants, our mind, heart and life is completely dominated by them. It is only by truly detaching from desire can we observe ourselves, think independently and become the best version of ourselves. However, it does not mean that we should not be ambitious or pursue our dreams, it simply means that we need to put in the effort to reach our goals without trying to manipulate the outcome. 

Letting go of your expectations of the outcome will empower you to be happy regardless of what lies ahead in life. When we are too attached to our desires, we become vulnerable to mistakes, manipulation and desperation.

6. Do not regret what you have done.

While it is natural to regret our past mistakes, in his book Dokkodo, Miyamoto Musashi suggests that we should never feel guilty for our actions as we can never change the past. Regret is an useless feeling. What is important is that we learn from our mistakes and make sure not to repeat them again. Mistakes allow us to understand ourselves better, be more mature and gain experience about life. Constantly regretting the past will limit our abilities and prevent us from living the way we want to live life. 

Criticizing yourself for past mistakes serve no purpose as you did not know any better. You did your best in that particular moment and learned a valuable lesson from it. We must use the lessons learned to create a better life for ourselves and others.

Related: How To Embrace Being A Lone Wolf and Walk Your OWN Path

7. Never be jealous.

Jealousy is born out of insecurities. When we compare ourselves to others, we put ourselves down and tell ourselves that we are not good enough. This can dampen our warrior spirit and demotivate us. Instead of being jealous of others, be inspired by their skills and achievements. Invest your energy in building yourself rather than drowning in such a toxic and negative emotion. 

Jealousy will only make you feel hurt and steal your happiness. It will make you ungrateful for what you already have and make you falsely believe that your life is not satisfying. Use that energy to do what you want to do.

musashi's dokkodo
Miyamoto Musashi stepping on a crocodile-like creature (Yamazame).

8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.

Where love goes, pain follows. While a breakup or the loss of a loved one is undoubtedly painful, we should not carry the pain in our hearts for too long, suggests Musashi in his Dokkodo. Love never leads to pain and suffering, only attachment does. Instead of holding onto people who are no longer in your life, let them go and accept the present situation. Separation is an unavoidable part of our lives and relationships are never permanent. 

What matters is that we love them unconditionally, and keep their memories alive in our hearts. When someone wants to leave, allow them to go, wish them well and keep them close to your heart. Physical separation can never end emotional love. 

9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.

Badass warriors and ronins do not nag, whine and complain in life. They face whatever challenge life throws at them and emerge victorious. Warriors who walk alone don’t pretend to be the victim nor do they complain about life not being fair. Having a victim mindset can fill you up with cynicism, bitterness, frustration and resentment that will hold you back in life and erode your inner peace and happiness. Instead focus your energy on being productive, improving your abilities to deal with your situation and moving forward.

10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.

Love and sex can certainly feel great and make life worth living, but when your mind, heart and life are controlled by love and lust, your judgment will get negatively affected. The trappings of desire and lust can drive people mad and make them sacrifice their reputation, freedom, accomplishments, family and life, all due to a lack of self-control. But it is not worth it. 

Having self-respect will help you make the right decisions, even in moments of weakness and keep you from ruining your life and relationships. While love is certainly important in life, losing your social reputation and your accomplishments for it is not something you would want.

Related: Kintsugi: The Art Of Owning Your Shit

11. In all things have no preferences.

While we live in an era where we believe that our opinions, choices and preferences matter and we should always stand up for our preferences, it can lead to a rigid mindset that can affect our life adversely. But according to Dokkodo, being open-minded and having a flexible attitude can help you gain new experiences, learn new things, and go to places you never knew existed. While it is okay to have your personal preferences, you should not be too attached to them and restrict yourself. That’s not how a warrior lives. 

Unless you want to live a small life trapped inside the mental boundaries you created for yourself, develop a more flexible, and open approach towards life.

12. Be indifferent to where you live.

Do not be overly concerned with where you live, rather focus on what you do in life to make it better. Whether you live in the forest or in a mansion, your happiness or sadness should not depend on your living conditions. 

While in this era of social media madness, we are overtaken by FOMO (fear of missing out), be happy with right where you are if you want to be a ruthless ronin. And if you feel unhappy or frustrated with where you live, then move away. Work hard so that you can live in a better way without getting too attached to our house or living arrangement.

Related: Shinrin-Yoku: How The Japanese Art Of Forest Bathing Can Improve Your Health

13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.

Most of us love to eat good, tasty food and some of us really enjoy our daily dose of junk food. Thanks to the surge of food photos on social media apps like Instagram, eating good food on a daily basis has become a norm these days. But for the sword-saint of Japan Miyamoto Musashi, the objective of eating food is to get the necessary nutrition & energy. 

So if you wish to be an unfuckwithable warrior, you need to focus on eating food that is good for your health, and not become obsessed with food that only tastes good. Eat mindfully. Eat nourishing food that makes you full and satisfied. While the taste of the food you eat may be important at times, it should not be your primary concern when it comes to eating. Always focus on eating for nourishment, advise Dokkodo.

14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.

Badass warriors are never materialistic, rather they practice minimalism as a lifestyle. According to Musashi’s Dokkodo, you should not hold onto things that you no longer need or don’t serve any purpose in your life. Avoid hoarding and remove all the clutter from your home, workspace and your life. Keep what you actually need and give away the rest to those who are in need of it. Once you get rid of all the clutter, you will become mentally, physically and spiritually free. 

The more junk you possess in life, the more challenging your path will be as a warrior. Think of yourself as a wandering traveler who carries the minimal luggage so that you can move from one place to another easily. 

15. Do not act following customary beliefs.

To become a wise ronin, you must become an independent thinker first. Think freely, ask questions and make decisions based on your values and beliefs. Your actions should not be influenced by customs, traditions or the opinions of others. Do not mindlessly do what you are told, rather live your life the way you want to. Be fearless and courageous, instead of following the herd like a sheep who never questions authority. By avoiding the incessant noise around you, you will be better able to think for yourself and form independent opinions that question the rules of the world. 

Just because everyone around you is doing something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to do it. Simply because you are walking the path alone, doesn’t necessarily make you wrong. Walking alone is the true path of the rebellious ronin.

Related: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret That’ll Transform Your Outlook On Life

16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.

Words of wisdom for only the true warriors. Samurais are masters of weapons, especially the katana, a curved, single-edged blade sword. However, in his second book Dokkodo: The Path of Aloneness, Miyamoto Musashi says that it is better to be the master of one weapon, than dabble with many. Being a Kensei, Musashi himself was seen as a sword-saint of Japan. 

For us, it may mean that we should focus on the skill that we are best at, instead of multitasking, using multiple gadgets or trying to do too many things at once. When you hone your craft and gain mastery over a specific skill, you will become untouchable, whether in the battlefield, in your career or in your life. Be a specialist, not a generalist.

17. Do not fear death.

Death is inevitable, yet all of us take steps to avoid it. The secret to be a strong and courageous warrior is to overcome your fear of death and accept it openly when it arrives. It may sound kind of morbid, but there is some deep wisdom here if you think about it. Death is hard to accept for most of us. It is a reality we prefer to deny. But the truth is all of us will die eventually and we can never know when and how it will happen. While it may be sad to realize this truth, accepting death instead of fearing it can encourage us to live our life to the fullest. 

It can make us appreciate our life more, be more grateful and live in the present moment instead of worrying about the future. When a warrior is afraid, they become mentally weak and they can be defeated easily. Being calm, focused and unafraid of death increases your chances of victory.

Related: Ichigo Ichie: 10 Principles Of The Japanese Art of Living Every Moment

18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.

How will material possessions serve you when you are dead? Being a ronin himself, Musashi believed collecting valuable possessions was a waste of time and energy. He believed that a true warrior should invest their time in honing their skill, not lust after collecting possessions. Things and objects cannot give you happiness and satisfaction. Even if possessing a valuable object may make you feel better, it will be fleeting. 

While we should save money and have adequate resources for our old age, we should not be greedy nor become too attached to “things”. So if you are wondering “How do you practice Dokkodo?”, then you need to start by detaching yourself from material possessions and embracing minimalism.

19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.

Ever heard of the old saying “God helps those who help themselves”? Loving God and worshiping God with the expectation of being blessed in return are fundamentally very different. Don’t leave the fate of your life in the hands of God – that is not the way of a true lone warrior, according to Dokkodo. If you want to develop a warrior mindset, you need to take charge of your life, be self-reliant and love God for the sake of loving God. 

Respecting Buddha or God because you want something in return is a way of disrespecting God. Do not rely on luck or chance. Rely on your own self and your abilities. Realize that God resides within you. Within all of us. Dokkodo is the way of self-reliance.

Related: Mushin: How The ‘No Mind’ State Can Help You

20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honor.

A samurai always fights for his honor. Being a true badass warrior, you should never engage in any activities that are considered dishonorable. While you should not regret your past actions, it doesn’t mean you should do things that will tarnish your reputation and legacy. We are formed by our actions, so you should not do anything that goes against your values or something that you will not be able to accept for the rest of your life. 

Our character is something we build through hard work, and a true warrior will always protect their character. Think before you act. Even if you may need to sacrifice your life, never sacrifice your values or internal code of ethics. Musashi believed that it is better to lose your life than your honor.

21. Never stray from the way.

A warrior walks on their path alone and never gets distracted. Be determined to walk on the path you have chosen and stay on it no matter what. This symbolizes that you believe in yourself, your values and your choices. If you don’t wish to continue on that path whole-heartedly, then move away and choose a new path. But you should never stray away or be distracted. Walk ahead on your path with full conviction, otherwise don’t walk on it at all. Go all in and cast away all your doubts and insecurities. This simple approach mentioned in the Dokkodo can make life a lot simpler and more satisfying.

Dokkōdō 21 laws of life
Man looking at Miyamoto Musashi through a magnifying glass.

Dokkōdō: A warrior’s way of walking alone

If you ever wondered “How do you live like a ronin?”, then Musashi’s principles are the answer you are searching for. These 21 laws of life mentioned in the Dokkōdō by Miyamoto Musashi are full of wisdom that can be hard to follow. But if you are determined enough to apply these principles in your life, you will gain the mental strength of a samurai and be able to boldly and confidently walk your path alone, without depending on others. 

This classic samurai wisdom will turn you into a fearless, focused, intelligent and ruthless ronin. 

Related: The Power of Solitude: How To Get In Touch With Your Inner Quiet

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Dokkodo pin

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