Syncretism and creating your unique advantage.

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.” Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings.


Musashi is considered the greatest Japanese swordsman to have ever lived. He was also a polymath who excelled in military strategy, writing, painting, teaching, and philosophy. Though Musashi clearly believed a warrior (athlete) should believe in themselves, he also advised his students to be flexible in their approach, deeply aware of their surroundings, and take advantage of external opportunities as they present themselves.


The word syncretism is a word that describes the blending of different concepts into one new and unique idea. Often used in a religious contexts as something to avoid, syncretism is something that all athletes should strive to develop. At the core of syncretism is the process of developing an advantage by blending your unique insight.


Musashi was a master of syncretism.


Musashi developed the “Two Sword Technique"- a method of sword fighting in which a warrior uses a sword in both hands, while tradition of the time dictated that a warrior keep both hands on their sword. This technique was effective but not easily mastered. It's greatest advantage was versatility and flexibility: the warrior who had mastered the Two Sword Technique could attack and defend simultaneously, or chose to throw one sword and fight with the other.


Musashi had nine rules for putting his technique into effect, and four of those rules involved syncretism. Those four rules are:


  • Touch upon all the arts
  • Know the way of all occupations
  • Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything
  • Pay attention to even small things.


I do not think it is an accident that triathlon is often at the leading edge of innovation in endurance sports. Syncretism is at the very nature of triathlon: triathletes blend their experiences across the three sports on a daily basis, often with an eye on functionality, practicality, and versatility, with zero regard for tradition. It's not surprising that the most iconic piece of bike equipment in triathlon was invented via syncretism. Ski racers in Sun Valley, Idaho observed their position when skiing downhill. They thought, "Why don't we mount these ski poles onto our road bikes?" Not long after the aerobar was born, and still to this day the aerobar carries a strong resemblance to ski poles.


Musashi would have been proud.


- Antonio Gonzalez



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