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How a famous Ronin can elevate your teaching with one important technique

“What’s your favorite book Mr. Theriault?”

Yeah I get asked that question more than a few times. As an English literature teacher I have too many favorite books to list, but I do spend time sharing books I like. There are books you like, books you love, and foundational books. To me foundational books are books that shape who you are. Some of my most foundational books are:

Books I love Theriault

But perhaps my favorite book of all time is this one:


That’s right it’s a book about a young Ronin cast adrift on the world trying to find himself and where he fits in the world. Strangely enough it’s one of this punk singer’s favorite books


And it’s very similar to another favorite book of mine about a young man finding his way in the world


So what does this have to do with teaching Theriault? What can a Ronin from over 300 years ago teach me about how to reach kids in my class? What does cutting people down with a sword have to do with teaching?


Well Musashi Miyamoto wasn’t your ordinary Ronin. You can read a more in depth Wikipedia treatment on Musashi Miyamoto, but I’ll just summarize the main points quickly:

  • He fought over sixty men one on one and never lost
  • He fought large groups of men and never lost
  • He became so good at fighting he started using a wooden sword in combat just to make it more challenging
  • He painted and carved and thought it was crucial to cultivate outside interests
  • He wrote a strategy book called The Book of Five Rings which is used today by business schools everywhere
  • He invented/popularized/perfected the concept of fighting with two swords: one in each hand.

It’s that last concept I want to talk about.

Fighting with two swords symbolizes many important concepts. First, it was a unique, innovative, novel form of fighting at the time and if you want to stand out, you need to be unique, innovative and novel. Secondly, not everyone has the strength or skill to fight with a long sword with just one hand or to use two swords without cutting yourself. Teaching with two swords means that you PRACTICE and BUILD your strength and technique BEFORE you start teaching and DURING the summer.

But to me the MOST important concept of fighting with two swords is this:

“When in a fight to the death, one wants to employ all one’s weapons to the utmost. I must say that to die with one’s sword still sheathed is most regrettable.” 
― Miyamoto MusashiA Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

If you REALLY want to hit a home run with your students and your lesson plan or any activity or role you take on, then you are going to have to PULL OUT ALL THE STOPS. You MUST “go the distance” and think non-stop and outside the box about ways that will give your kids a unique experience, a special experience, an edge against the challenges that will confront them in the future.

Here’s an example:

Last Thursday I held the first ever Orange County Rising Talent Blogging Awards during lunch for my students who blogged online. (If you want to know more about my blogging project go read about the RE:Framed Blogging Project) I knew I would be swamped during the last two weeks of school, but I knew we needed a public celebration of their amazing success. I allowed students to nominate their peers for the various categories and then I used an online Google form to conduct voting.

As a part of the celebration I spent “too much” money on buying certificates and certificate holders and then I spent “too much” on pizza, water and supplies. I ended up getting pizza for over 95 students. The pizza line looked like this.


Thank you to the students who volunteered to serve others pizza before eating their own

Then we started the ceremony.

great ocrta image

It was awesome. (Each category is a link to their blog or post) The winners were:

Funniest Blog Post

Best Original Artwork or Photography

Best Blog Design (There was stiff competition for this award)

The Mr. Theriault “En Fuego” Award– For the student who was most ON FIRE to write all the time

Best Promotional Campaign (Tie)

Best Promotional Campaign

Best example of the RE:Framed Concept

Best Blog Post

Best Blog

great 5

If you want to see the finalist you can click on the link for my OCRTA Google voting form

When I came home and sheepishly told my wife how much money I spent on the pizza she wasn’t happy. Well she didn’t care about the money one bit, she was mad at the quality of pizza I bought. I laughed, she gets it. She is up at all hours of the night (seriously I’ve seen her prep for her classroom at 3am if she gets a good idea) and she spends money on her own students like they are OUR children or better yet grand children cause she spoils the heck out of them.

Other teachers do this as well. The picture below is of one of my co-workers John Lloyd. John decorates his room for Halloween every year and wears outrageous costumes. He also dresses up for a day for almost every unit. His students understand that John is so excited about his teaching and their learning that he doesn’t care about what others think of his extra step approach.


Was I REQUIRED to create the Orange County Rising Talent Blogging Awards… of course not, but I HAD to. My students deserved it for being so amazing this year. I wasn’t going to leave one of my swords in its sheath. When you enter the classroom you have to be armed to the teeth and ready for any possibility.

I hear teachers say “I don’t have time for that.” “I’m too busy.” “My plate is full.” “I don’t have money for that.”

What you are really saying is: “That’s not a priority for me.”

Now that’s okay- I’d rather hear the truth about priorities than the other excuses. I make decisions about priorities all the time. I place my family ahead of my students from time to time, but then I switch it around when needed and it’s needed.

If your child was in a teacher’s class would you want the teacher to do a good job, a professional job, or go ALL OUT, to take the time and energy to grab that second sword and leave no strategy, no extra-step unused. You must make learning memorable you must show your students that it’s a priority, otherwise when your students leave school here is what will echo through the community.

So what did you do in school today “I don’t know…. nothing really?”

So what did you learn in high school “Not much… I don’t remember that much.”

Grab that second sword my friends and let’s prepare to fight for our students’ minds and hearts and as a parent… thank you to all of you out there who already do.



I finished writing this blog post this morning. As I walked into the lounge who did I happen to run into?

Willy 2

It’s Jon Lloyd as Willy Loman– such a sad spectacle

I’d also like to take a moment to thank Steven Schultz (you can follow him @LeadTeachWrite). Steven is my former student teacher and is a big fan of fighting with two, sometimes three (?) swords. He dresses up as Hulk Hogan once a year to talk about heroes.  Steven lent me his WWF championship belt to use in my Google Teacher Academy Video.

Schultz Theriault 2

You can watch the video here. I had a blast making it. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.


  1. Fight with two (or three swords) I love it and will aim for two and a hidden dagger or shuriken.
    You wife must be one cool lady and her concern over the quality of the pizza shows true awesomeness.

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