Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings – Review

Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings is a classic text on Japanese Swordsmanship and martial arts philosophy.  Musashi was a swordsman, philosopher and ronin who lived in 16th century Japan and was the founder of the Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship. He had an undefeated record of 61 duels.

Musashi’s Book of Five Rings details his strategy on fighting, but as with many martial arts philosophical texts, the ideas can be applied to everyday life.

The book is divided into 5 parts as the title would suggest:

  • The Book of Earth (also known as the Ground Book) – this section deals with the way of  “strategy” which Musahsi taught to his students. He says there are four Ways which men pass through life: as gentlemen warriors, farmers, artisans, and merchants. It’s Musashi’s intent to show that the Way can be found in walks of life outside of the warrior’s.
  • The Book of Water – this section speaks of spirituality and philosophy. Water takes the shape of any receptacle the contains it, in other words his advice in this book is to seek the most efficient and productive path. This section also goes into details of various swordsmanship techniques.
  • The Book of Fire – this section concerns itself with fighting methods. Here Mushahsi goes into more broad strategy, as in how to assemble on a battlefield, where to try to keep the sun in relation to your stance, and how to forestall or set up the enemy. “When you decide to attack, keep calm and dash in quickly,forestalling the enemy”
  • The Book of Wind – this section talks about other strategies that existed at the time.  Musashi notes that his school talks about seeing the Way of strategy broadly while other schools limit their training to combat technique. “When your opponent is hurrying recklessly, you must act contrarily and keep calm. You must not be influenced by the opponent. Train diligently to attain this spirit.”
  • The Book of Void (the Book of Emptiness) – speaks of the nature of knowledge. This “Book of Nothing” is considered to be the true Way of strategy. This is a short book and a bit esoteric, but makes sense in a way that is difficult to put into words after having read the rest of the book. “When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.”

Musashi says the way for men to learn his strategy is to set these principles in your heart:

1. Do not think dishonestly.
2. The Way is in training.
3. Become acquainted with every art.
4. Know the Ways of all professions.
5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6. Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for
7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
8. Pay attention even to trifles.
9. Do nothing which is of no use.

The Book of Five Rings is short, and some of the descriptions of technique may not directly apply to all readers, but there is a wealth of philosophical value contained in it’s pages. It’s well worth the read.

I’ll end with my favorite quote from the book:

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

You can check out the full book online at this link: http://www.bookoffiverings.com

If you’d like to own a physical copy you can get one here: The Book of Five Rings