Crossing at a Ford | Strategy Explained Simply

“Crossing at a ford” is a principle that lies right at the heart of what strategy is all about: following the path of least resistance.

If you want a less zen way of putting it, then that’s simple: It’s about taking the easiest route to your goal. Just think about the example it’s named after.

When you’re wanting to cross a river, do you wade right through the deepest part, with the water high around your waist while you fight against the current? No. That’s a waste of effort.

What you naturally look for instead is a crossing point, like a ford, which is just a part of the river where the water is so shallow that it only licks the top of your boots.

Do you see the huge difference between those two approaches here? That’s the spirit of “crossing at a ford.”

Great, now you know how to cross rivers without getting soaked. The next step is to apply the principle to everything you do.

In general, that means achieving your goals exploiting pre-existing shortcuts that allow you to avoid difficulty or busyness almost entirely.

Applications of “Crossing at a Ford”

There’s a whole bunch of ways in which you already do this without knowing you’re “crossing at a ford.”

Here’s a quick list of some of them, off the top of my head. Hopefully this will give you an “Aha!” moment.

Crossing at a Ford in Daily Life

  • Drying your clothes outside in the sun – The sun’s warmth is free, and doesn’t require you to do anything on your part. That also stacks with the already existing currents of air outside that automatically aerate your clothes for free.
  • Drying dishes upside down – Gravity is also free, and doesn’t require you do anything else on your part to be able to use it. Leaving your dishes upside down to dry means you don’t get a pool of water in the bottom that you have to pour off and wipe dry again. It also lets them dry quicker too, with gravity running most of the water off your upside-down dishes, leaving far less that has to evaporate.
  • Avoiding traffic by taking less busy roads – The roads are there; all you have to do is use them. Even if the distance home is longer on these less busy roads, you’ll pretty much always get there sooner if it means not getting stuck in the rush hour traffic standstill.
  • Having windows in your house – The sun’s light is already there, so you’re basically lighting your home for free by having windows. Again, you’re exploiting a resource that’s already there to make things easier for you.

Or on a simpler level:

  • Turning on a light, instead of rooting around in the dark – Turning on the light is far less effort than straining your eyes in the dark when you’re up early or heading to bed late. Again, it’s the theme of not wasting effort by putting up with doing things less efficiently.
  • Waiting for the rain to stop before going out – If you know it’ll stop raining soon, then there’s no use getting wet by going right away or having to carry an umbrella around. You’ve now become less inconvenienced by simply doing nothing.
  • Letting food cool down before trying to eat it – All the flavor, none of the burns. We take this one for granted because it’s so obvious, but it’s still another simple example of how we already “cross at a ford” for so many things we do.

Next, let’s get onto the really good stuff. Coming up are some top-tier examples of crossing at a ford. They’re not so much daily life examples like the ones before, but they do show how you the principle works to achieve bigger things:

Crossing at a Ford in Skills and Hobbies

  • Putting up a sail – When there’s a good wind behind your boat, why waste all that effort rowing when you can just put up a sail? Even if you have a motor, putting up a sail saves you fuel or electricity, and it’ll often still be faster anyway.
  • Sailing into the wind – This one is crazy. Not too many people have heard about it, and it sure sounds ridiculous if you don’t already know how it works. Basically, with a slight angle into the wind, a boat can sail into the wind at that angle faster than if the wind was directly behind the boat. It’s basically abusing how physics works.

Crossing at a Ford in Games and Sports:

All of this pretty much amounts to the idea of “gamesmanship,” rather than “sportsmanship.” That is, using any legitimate underhanded tactics you can in order to win at all costs.

  • Using overpowered stuff – There’s almost always some kind of gear or tactics you can abuse that is just so good that it trivializes the game. This is also a very quick way to make other players hate you, when you beat them anyway no matter how much better than you they are.
  • Cheesy tactics – There’s two kinds of cheesy tactics, and both of them are often complained about as “ruining the game” in some way.

    The first are those designed to be ridiculously hard for a new player to beat. It quickly becomes unfun for them when they have no idea how to counter your cheap tactics. This comes down to abusing their lack of knowledge or skill at the game.

    The second are those that require no skill to use but are surprisingly effective. These effortless tactics basically let you overcome challenges way above your skill level. Think of that hilarious swordsman scene in Indiana Jones.

More Ways You Can Apply the Principle

And finally, here’s some useful extra ways you can apply the principle of “crossing at a ford.”

  • Going to the store when it’s less busy – You can avoid the lines entirely if you time it right. Google maps even tells you how long the wait is for different times of day.
  • Looking at product buying guides with honest reviews – If someone has already done all the work for you sifting through all the marketing crap and has gotten to the truth about whatever it is you’re thinking of buying, then you’ll either flat out save money or get something better value for money, simply by making a better choice in what you buy.
  • Buying fewer, but better products – This isn’t just a minimalist thing. If you buy something that’s cheap but unreliable, you’ll end up buying another one before long when it inevitably breaks. Now you’re basically paying as much for that subpar budget product as you would for the better one.

How Miyamoto Musashi Explained “Crossing at a Ford”

Crossing at a ford is one of the many core principles of strategy that come from the genius mind of Miyamoto Musashi, the masterless, wandering samurai who was undefeated in over 60 duels during his lifetime.

This is how he explained it in his main book, The Book of Five Rings:

“Crossing at a ford” means, for example, crossing the sea at a strait, or crossing over a hundred miles of broad sea at a crossing place. I believe this “crossing at a ford” occurs often in man’s lifetime.

It means setting sail even though your friends stay in harbor, knowing the route, knowing the soundness of your ship and the favor of the day. When all the conditions are met, and there is perhaps a favorable wind, or a tailwind, then set sail. If the wind changes within a few miles of your destination, you must row across the remaining distance without sail.

If you attain this spirit, it applies to everyday life. You must always think of crossing at a ford.

He then explains how it applies to military strategy and martial arts.

In strategy also it is important to “cross at a ford.”

Discern the enemy’s capability and, knowing your own strong points, “cross the ford” at the advantageous place, as a good captain crosses a sea route. If you succeed in crossing at the best place, you may take your ease.

To cross at a ford means to attack the enemy’s weak point, and to put yourself in an advantageous position. This is how to win large−scale strategy.

The spirit of crossing at a ford is necessary in both large− and small−scale strategy.

You must research this well.