Mokuhyō matsu utsu 目標待つ撃つ [pronounced “mokoo-yoh ma-tzoo, ooh-tzoo”] literally means “Aim. Wait. Fire.” — and describes a powerful process of identifying and seizing opportunity.
To understand mokuhyō matsu utsu is to understand both the way of the universe and the path to success; mokuhyō matsu utsu teaches us to anticipate and appreciate uncertainty, and to understand the role of uncertainty as the great engine in our lives.
We are taught by almost all philosophers — classic and modern — that an aimless life is an empty, chaotic one. It is impossible to navigate without a destination in mind; to do so is simply wandering without purpose.
Taking aim is really a process of defining destinations or outcomes. Simply put, to aim in life is to set goals.
Goals serve two major roles in our lives: they help us to focus our energies and resources, and by doing so, they enable us to have a serious and significant purpose. And goals also serve as a metric by which we can define success or failure. Both of these roles are incredibly important for our mental and spiritual well-being.
To have purpose gives us the foundation for happiness and for fulfillment. And defining success and failure gives us the opportunity to build pride on top of that foundation in our success, and to correct our course and redouble (or redirect) our efforts in the event of failure.
It is hardly possible to build a happy life without purpose; and it is so much more fulfilling to have the pride of success that accompanies achievements with those purposes.
Remember, the very first part of mokuhyō matsu utsu is “to aim” — to set goals. Nothing can follow without that happening first.
And further consider that if we are to be more than simply random wandering beings adrift in our universe, we must set those goals early, and often, and revisit them constantly. The real threat to our goals is that we risk being buffeted by the forces of life and the events and people around us, and eventually being taken so far off-course from our goals that we can no longer keep them in sight.
This means we must constantly revisit our goals, work hard to keep them in clear focus before us, and re-evaluate them as needed. In other words, we must constantly re-check and correct our aim. This process is a fundamental part of life, and never, ever, ends.
Waiting is something that many of us feels has a negative connotation. No one likes to wait on lines, or wait for a package to arrive, or wait for their turn.
Yet, waiting is another fundamental part of life. And as such, we need to understand and yes, even appreciate waiting.
Why do we wait at all? After all, if we’ve set goals, won’t we reach them faster if we immediately get started working towards them?
Certainly, that’s usually the case: the earlier we start working on a goal, the earlier we’ll achieve it. And for more pedestrian goals, that’s probably all that needs to be said about the process.
However, the larger goals in our life, the “big picture” goals aren’t like that. Oh yes, certainly there are steps to execute, things to be done. But these goals are life-changing, high-impact goals. And all the resources and people and events necessary to bring them to a successful conclusion simply may not be in their proper place yet. Waiting for these things to happen is a key part of achieving our goals.
Examining the options during the uncertainty of chasing our goals generally uncovers opportunity.
Consider carefully: the uncertainty that is intrinsic to waiting is in and of itself deeply valuable. Uncertainty creates and reveals the paths to opportunity. Without uncertainty, there is no opportunity. We absolutely must have uncertainty, because without it, our lives becomes locked in a static straight-jacket, and a straight-jacket from which we cannot escape.
Uncertainty gives the chance to seize opportunity, but even more to the point: uncertainty is opportunity.
The author Margaret Drabble is credited with having said “When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” But her famous quote about the value of uncertainty is hardly original. Sun Tzu stated almost two millennia ago that “war is of a varying nature and that orthodox and unorthodox attacks are endlessly varying in nature” and in this case, we can easily draw the line of analogy from conflict on the battlefield to struggle in our daily lives.
The challenge with uncertainty is that it often throws a monkey-wrench into our plans. And that, of course, is disturbing. And when this happens, we have several choices to make:
- is this uncertainty teaching us that our goal needs to be modified, or our plan changed;
- is this uncertainty revealing a new plan, a new path to our goal;
- is this uncertainty revealing an entirely new goal that we can or should have;
- or is this uncertainty simply a wrinkle on the path of our present plan, to our present goal?
Note further that sometimes uncertainty can introduce more than one of these possibilities at the same time: this is completely normal and natural. But usually, there is one overarching characteristic to the uncertainty in our lives, and understanding its purpose, and its opportunity, is a key element of success and happiness.
Waiting, and the uncertainty that accompanies it, is vital and integral to success in life. Take aim, yes. But then patiently wait, and wait with the expectation that uncertainty will occur, and with it, bring opportunity.
Setting goals, accepting and mining uncertainty to search for opportunity, and patiently waiting are all meaningless without “firing” — without executing the plans we make.
How many people do you know who have goals and plans, and yet…. don’t seem to reach those goals? This is not accidental.
Mokuhyō matsu utsu is not “Aim. Wait. Hope.” Or “Aim. Wait. Wait some more.” It is important to understand that whether or not we achieve our goals is entirely our responsibility.
And in realizing this, we should take great solace and comfort: our destiny is in our hands, our ability to succeed or fail is entirely ours.
“Aim. Wait. Fire.” — the basic recipe for long-term success and achievement.
Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei in San Rafael, California on 17 June 2015, and then again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 5 April 2023.