Miyamoto Musashi 宮本 武蔵 (c. 1584 – 13 June 1645) was a famous Japanese swordsman, believed to have been one of the most skilled swordsmen in history. He founded theHyoho Niten Ichi-ryu, or Nito Ryu style of swordsmanship and wrote Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) a classic work on strategy, tactics, and philosophy.
Go Rin No Sho (1645)
- Translated as The Book of Five Rings or A Book of Five Rings
The following synopsis from the first volume, “The Ground Book” (or “The Earth Book”) summarizes the subjects of all 5 volumes of the work:
- The Way is shown in five books concerning different aspects. These are Ground, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void.
The body of the Way of strategy from the viewpoint of my Ichi school is explained in the Ground book. It is difficult to realise the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things. As if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground, the first book is called the Ground book.
- Second is the Water book. With water as the basis, the spirit becomes like water. Water adopts the shape of its receptacle, it is sometimes a trickle and sometimes a wild sea. … If you master the principles of sword-fencing, when you freely beat one man, you beat any man in the world. The spirit of defeating a man is the same for ten million men. … The principle of strategy is having one thing, to know ten thousand things.
- Third is the Fire book. This book is about fighting. The spirit of fire is fierce, whether the fire be small or big; and so it is with battles. The Way of battles is the same for man to man fights and for ten thousand a side battles. You must appreciate that spirit can become big or small. What is big is easy to perceive: what is small is difficult to perceive. In short, it is difficult for large numbers of men to change position, so their movements can be easily predicted. An individual can easily change his mind, so his movements are difficult to predict. You must appreciate this. The essence of this book is that you must train day and night in order to make quick decisions.
- Fourthly the Wind book. This book is not concerned with my Ichi school but with other schools of strategy. By Wind I mean old traditions, present-day traditions, and family traditions of strategy. Thus I clearly explain the strategies of the world. This is tradition. It is difficult to know yourself if you do not know others. To all Ways there are side-tracks. If you study a Way daily, and your spirit diverges, you may think you are obeying a good way, but objectively it is not the true Way. If you are following the true Way and diverge a little, this will later become a large divergence. You must realise this. Other strategies have come to be thought of as mere sword-fencing, and it is not unreasonable that this should be so. The benefit of my strategy, although it includes sword-fencing, lies in a separate principle. I have explained what is commonly meant by strategy in other schools in the Wind book.
- Fifthly, the book of the Void. By Void I mean that which has no beginning and no end. Attaining this principle means not attaining the principle. The Way of strategy is the Way of nature. When you appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation, you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally. All this is the Way of the Void. I intend to show how to follow the true Way according to nature in the book of the Void.
- I have been many years training in the Way of strategy, called Ni Ten Ichi Ryu, and now I think I will explain it in writing for the first time.
- I have climbed mountain Iwato of Higo in Kyushu to pay homage to heaven, pray to Kwannon, and kneel before Buddha. I am a warrior of Harima province, Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, age sixty years.
From youth my heart has been inclined toward the Way of strategy. My first duel was when I was thirteen, I struck down a strategist of the Shinto school, one Arima Kihei. When I was sixteen I struck down an able strategist Tadashima Akiyama. When I was twenty-one I went up to the capital and met all manner of strategists, never once failing to win in many contests.
- When I reached thirty I looked back on my past. The previous victories were not due to my having mastered strategy. Perhaps it was natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other schools’ strategy was inferior. After that I studied morning and evening searching for the principle, and came to realise the Way of strategy when I was fifty.
Since then I have lived without following any particular Way. Thus with the virtue of strategy I practise many arts and abilities — all things with no teacher. To write this book I did not use the law of Buddha or the teachings of Confucius, neither old war chronicles nor books on martial tactics. I take up my brush to explain the true spirit of this Ichi school as it is mirrored in the Way of heaven and Kwannon. The time is the night of the tenth day of the tenth month, at the hour of the tiger.
The Ground Book
- Also translated as “The Earth Book” Online text
- Strategy is the craft of the warrior. Commanders must enact the craft, and troopers should know this Way. There is no warrior in the world today who really understands the Way of strategy.
There are various Ways. There is the Way of salvation by the law of Buddha, the Way of Confucius governing the Way of learning, the Way of healing as a doctor, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, tea, archery, and many arts and skills. Each man practices as he feels inclined.
- It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.
- Variant translation: First, as is often said, a samurai must have both literary and martial skills: to be versed in the two is his duty. Even if he has no natural ability, a samurai must train assiduously in both skills to a degree appropriate to his status. On the whole, if you are to assess the samurai’s mind, you may think it is simply attentiveness to the manner of dying.
- Students of the Ichi school Way of strategy should train from the start with the sword and long sword in either hand. This is the truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.
- There is no fast way of wielding the long sword. The long sword should be wielded broadly, and the companion sword closely. This is the first thing to realise.
According to this Ichi school, you can win with a long weapon, and yet you can also win with a short weapon. In short, the Way of the Ichi school is the spirit of winning, whatever the weapon and whatever its size.
- These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of strategy there will not be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard.
- To master the virtue of the long sword is to govern the world and oneself, thus the long sword is the basis of strategy. The principle is “strategy by means of the long sword”. If he attains the virtue of the long sword, one man can beat ten men. Just as one man can beat ten, so a hundred men can beat a thousand, and a thousand men can beat ten thousand. In my strategy, one man is the same as ten thousand, so this strategy is the complete warrior’s craft.
The Way of the warrior does not include other Ways, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, certain traditions, artistic accomplishments and dancing. But even though these are not part of the Way, if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything. Men must polish their particular Way.
- There is a time and a place for use of weapons.
The best use of the companion sword is in a confined space, or when you are engaged closely with an opponent. The long sword can be used effectively in all situations.
The halberd is inferior to the spear on the battlefield. With the spear you can take the initiative; the halberd is defensive. In the hands of one of two men of equal ability, the spear gives a little extra strength. Spear and halberd both have their uses, but neither is very beneficial in confined spaces.
- If you learn “indoor” techniques, you will think narrowly and forget the true Way. Thus you will have difficulty in actual encounters.
- Just as a horse must have endurance and no defects, so it is with weapons. Horses should walk strongly, and swords and companion swords should cut strongly. Spears and halberds must stand up to heavy use: bows and guns must be sturdy. Weapons should be hardy rather than decorative.
- There is timing in everything. Timing in strategy cannot be mastered without a great deal of practice.
- There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is timing in the Way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. In strategy there are various timing considerations. From the outset you must know the applicable timing and the inapplicable timing, and from among the large and small things and the fast and slow timings find the relevant timing, first seeing the distance timing and the background timing. This is the main thing in strategy. It is especially important to know the background timing, otherwise your strategy will become uncertain.
- You win in battles with the timing in the Void born of the timing of cunning by knowing the enemies’ timing, and this using a timing which the enemy does not expect.
All the five books are chiefly concerned with timing. You must train sufficiently to appreciate all this.
- This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy:
Do not think dishonestly.
The Way is in training.
Become acquainted with every art.
Know the Ways of all professions.
Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
Pay attention even to trifles.
Do nothing which is of no use.
- If you do not look at things on a large scale it will be difficult for you to master strategy. If you learn and attain this strategy you will never lose even to twenty or thirty enemies. More than anything to start with you must set your heart on strategy and earnestly stick to the Way. You will come to be able to actually beat men in fights, and to be able to win with your eye. Also by training you will be able to freely control your own body, conquer men with your body, and with sufficient training you will be able to beat ten men with your spirit.
The Water Book
- Language does not extend to explaining the Way in detail, but it can be grasped intuitively. Study this book; read a word then ponder on it. If you interpret the meaning loosely you will mistake the Way.
- The principles of strategy are written down here in terms of single combat, but you must think broadly so that you attain an understanding for ten-thousand-a-side battles.
Strategy is different from other things in that if you mistake the Way even a little you will become bewildered and fall into bad ways.
- If you merely read this book you will not reach the Way of strategy. Absorb the things written in this book. Do not just read, memorise or imitate, but so that you realise the principle from within your own heart study hard to absorb these things into your body.
- In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm. Meet the situation without tenseness yet not recklessly, your spirit settled yet unbiased. Even when your spirit is calm do not let your body relax, and when your body is relaxed do not let your spirit slacken.
- Be neither insufficiently spirited nor over spirited. An elevated spirit is weak and a low spirit is weak. Do not let the enemy see your spirit.
- With your spirit open and unconstricted, look at things from a high point of view. You must cultivate your wisdom and spirit. Polish your wisdom: learn public justice, distinguish between good and evil, study the Ways of different arts one by one. When you cannot be deceived by men you will have realised the wisdom of strategy.
The wisdom of strategy is different from other things. On the battlefield, even when you are hard-pressed, you should ceaselessly research the principles of strategy so that you can develop a steady spirit.
- In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance. You must research this well.
- The gaze should be large and broad. This is the twofold gaze “Perception and Sight”. Perception is strong and sight weak.
In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things. It is important in strategy to know the enemy’s sword and not to be distracted by insignificant movements of his sword. You must study this. The gaze is the same for single combat and for large-scale combat.
- Grip the long sword with a rather floating feeling in your thumb and forefinger, with the middle finger neither tight nor slack, and with the last two fingers tight. It is bad to have play in your hands.
When you take up a sword, you must feel intent on cutting the enemy. As you cut an enemy you must not change your grip, and your hands must not “cower”. When you dash the enemy’s sword aside, or ward it off, or force it down, you must slightly change the feeling in your thumb and forefinger. Above all, you must be intent on cutting the enemy in the way you grip the sword.
- Generally, I dislike fixedness in both long swords and hands. Fixedness means a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand. You must bear this in mind.
- The five attitudes are: Upper, Middle, Lower, Right Side, and Left Side. These are the five. Although attitude has these five dimensions, the one purpose of all of them is to cut the enemy. There are none but these five attitudes.
Whatever attitude you are in, do not be conscious of making the attitude; think only of cutting.
- Knowing the Way of the long sword means we can wield with two fingers the sword that we usually carry. If we know the path of the sword well, we can wield it easily.
If you try to wield the long sword quickly you will mistake the Way. To wield the long sword well you must wield it calmly. If you try to wield it quickly, like a folding fan or a short sword, you will err by using “short sword chopping”. You cannot cut a man with a long sword using this method.
- “Attitude No-Attitude” means that there is no need for what are known as long sword attitudes.
Even so, attitudes exist as the five ways of holding the long sword. However you hold the sword it must be in such a way that it is easy to cut the enemy well, in accordance with the situation, the place, and your relation to the enemy.
- The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.
- Fixed formation is bad. Study this well.
- The spirit of the smacking parry is not parrying, or smacking strongly, but smacking the enemy’s long sword in accordance with his attacking cut, primarily intent on quickly cutting him. If you understand the timing of smacking, however hard your long swords clash together, your swordpoint will not be knocked back even a little. You must research sufficiently to realise this.
- “There are many enemies” applies when you are fighting one against many. Draw both sword and companion sword and assume a wide-stretched left and right attitude. The spirit is to chase the enemies around from side to side, even though they come from all four directions. Observe their attacking order, and go to meet first those who attack first. Sweep your eyes around broadly, carefully examining the attacking order, and cut left and right alternately with your swords. Waiting is bad. Always quickly re-assume your attitudes to both sides, cut the enemies down as they advance, crushing them in the direction from which they attack. Whatever you do, you must drive the enemy together, as if tying a line of fishes, and when they are seen to be piled up, cut them down strongly without giving them room to move.
- You can know how to win through strategy with the long sword, but it cannot be clearly explained in writing. You must practise diligently in order to understand how to win.
- You can win with certainty with the spirit of “one cut”. It is difficult to attain this if you do not learn strategy well. If you train well in this Way, strategy will come from your heart and you will be able to win at will. You must train diligently.
- Step by step walk the thousand-mile road.
- Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men. … Even if you kill an enemy, if it is not based on what you have learned it is not the true Way.
The Fire Book
- In this the Fire Book of the NiTo Ichi school of strategy I describe fighting as fire.
- In my strategy, the training for killing enemies is by way of many contests, fighting for survival, discovering the meaning of life and death, learning the Way of the sword, judging the strength of attacks and understanding the Way of the “edge and ridge” of the sword.
- You cannot profit from small techniques particularly when full armor is worn. My Way of strategy is the sure method to win when fighting for your life one man against five or ten.
- Examine your environment.
- When the fight comes, always endeavour to chase the enemy around to your left side. Chase him towards awkward places, and try to keep him with his back to awkward places. When the enemy gets into an inconvenient position, do not let him look around, but conscientiously chase him around and pin him down. In houses, chase the enemy into the thresholds, lintels, doors, verandas, pillars, and so on, again not letting him see his situation.
Always chase the enemy into bad footholds, obstacles at the side, and so on, using the virtues of the place to establish predominant positions from which to fight. You must research and train diligently in this.
- The Three Methods to Forestall the Enemy
The first is to forestall him by attacking. This is called Ken No Sen (to set him up).
Another method is to forestall him as he attacks. This is called Tai No Sen (to wait for the initiative).
The other method is when you and the enemy attack together. This is called Tai Tai No Sen (to accompany him and forestall him).
There are no methods of taking the lead other than these three. Because you can win quickly by taking the lead, it is one of the most important things in strategy. There are several things involved in taking the lead. You must make the best of the situation, see through the enemy’s spirit so that you grasp his strategy and defeat him. It is impossible to write about this in detail.
- “To know the times” means to know the enemy’s disposition in battle. Is is flourishing or waning? By observing the spirit of the enemy’s men and getting the best position, you can work out the enemy’s disposition and move your men accordingly.
- “To tread down the sword” is a principle often used in strategy. First, in large-scale strategy, when the enemy first discharges bows and guns and then attacks, it is difficult for us to attack if we are busy loading powder into our guns or notching our arrows. The spirit is to attack quickly while the enemy is still shooting with bows or guns. The spirit is to win by “treading down” as we receive the enemy’s attack.
In single combat, we cannot get a decisive victory by cutting, with a “tee-dum tee-dum” feeling, in the wake of the enemy’s attacking long sword. We must defeat him at the start of his attack, in the spirit of treading him down with the feet, so that he cannot rise again to the attack.
- “Treading” does not simply mean treading with the feet. Tread with the body, tread with the spirit, and, of course, tread and cut with the long sword. You must achieve the spirit of not allowing the enemy to attack a second time. This is the spirit of forestalling in every sense. Once at the enemy, you should not aspire just to strike him, but to cling after the attack. You must study this deeply.
- Everything can collapse. Houses, bodies, and enemies collapse when their rhythm becomes deranged.
In large-scale strategy, when the enemy starts to collapse you must pursue him without letting the chance go. If you fail to take advantage of your enemies’ collapse, they may recover.
- “To release four hands” is used when you and the enemy are contending with the same spirit, and the issue cannot be decided. Abandon this spirit and win through an alternative resource.
In large-scale strategy, when there is a “four hands” spirit, do not give up – it is man’s existence. Immediately throw away this spirit and win with a technique the enemy does not expect.
- “To move the shade” is used when you cannot see the enemy’s spirit.
In large-scale strategy, when you cannot see the enemy’s position, indicate that you are about to attack strongly, to discover his resources. It is easy then to defeat hin with a different method once you see his resources.
- Many things are said to be passed on. Sleepiness can be passed on, and yawning can be passed on. Time can be passed on also.
In large-scale strategy, when the enemy is agitated and shows an inclination to rush, do not mind in the least. Make a show of complete calmness, and the enemy will be taken by this and will become relaxed. When you see that this spirit has been passed on, you can bring about the enemy’s defeat by attacking strongly with a Void spirit.
- Many things can cause a loss of balance. One cause is danger, another is hardship, and another is surprise. You must research this.
In large-scale strategy it is important to cause loss of balance. Attack without warning where the enemy is not expecting it, and while his spirit is undecided follow up your advantage and, having the lead, defeat him.
- In large-scale strategy you can frighten the enemy not by what you present to their eyes, but by shouting, making a small force seem large, or by threatening them from the flank without warning. These things all frighten. You can win by making best use of the enemy’s frightened rhythm.
- When you have come to grips and are striving together with the enemy, and you realise that you cannot advance, you “soak in” and become one with the enemy. You can win by applying a suitable technique while you are mutually entangled.
In battles involving large numbers as well as in fights with small numbers, you can often win decisively with the advantage of knowing how to “soak” into the enemy, whereas, were you to draw apart, you would lose the chance to win. Research this well.
- In large-scale strategy, it is beneficial to strike at the corners of the enemy’s force, If the corners are overthrown, the spirit of the whole body will be overthrown.
- In single combat, we can confuse the enemy by attacking with varied techniques when the chance arises. Feint a thrust or cut, or make the enemy think you are going close to him, and when he is confused you can easily win.
This is the essence of fighting, and you must research it deeply.
- The three shouts are divided thus: before, during and after. Shout according to the situation. The voice is a thing of life. We shout against fires and so on, against the wind and the waves. The voice shows energy.
- In battles, when the armies are in confrontation, attack the enemy’s strong points and, when you see that they are beaten back, quickly separate and attack yet another strong point on the periphery of his force. The spirit of this is like a winding mountain path.
This is an important fighting method for one man against many. Strike down the enemies in one quarter, or drive them back, then grasp the timing and attack further strong points to right and left, as if on a winding mountain path, weighing up the enemies’ disposition. When you know the enemies’ level, attack strongly with no trace of retreating spirit.
- What is meant by ‘mingling’ is the spirit of advancing and becoming engaged with the enemy, and not withdrawing even one step. You must understand this.
- In large-scale strategy, when we see that the enemy has few men, or if he has many men but his spirit is weak and disordered, we knock the hat over his eyes, crushing him utterly. If we crush lightly, he may recover.
- The “mountain-sea” spirit means that it is bad to repeat the same thing several times when fighting the enemy. There may be no help but to do something twice, but do not try it a third time. If you once make an attack and fail, there is little chance of success if you use the same approach again.
- When we are fighting with the enemy, even when it can be seen that we can win on the surface with the benefit of the Way, if his spirit is not extinguished, he may be beaten superficially yet undefeated in spirit deep inside. With this principle of “penetrating the depths” we can destroy the enemy’s spirit in its depths, demoralizing him by quickly changing our spirit. This often occurs.
Penetrating the depths means penetrating with the long sword, penetrating with the body, and penetrating with the spirit. This cannot be understood in a generalization.
Once we have crushed the enemy in the depths, there is no need to remain spirited. But otherwise we must remain spirited. If the enemy remains spirited it is difficult to crush him.
- “To renew” applies when we are fighting with the enemy, and an entangled spirit arises where there is no possible resolution. We must abandon our efforts, think of the situation in a fresh spirit then win in the new rhythm. To renew, when we are deadlocked with the enemy, means that without changing our circumstance we change our spirit and win through a different technique.
- There are various kinds of spirit involved in letting go the hilt.
There is the spirit of winning without a sword. There is also the spirit of holding the long sword but not winning. The various methods cannot be expressed in writing. You must train well.
- When you have mastered the Way of strategy you can suddenly make your body like a rock, and ten thousand things cannot touch you. This is the body of a rock.
You will not be moved.
- This book is a spiritual guide for the man who wishes to learn the Way.
My heart has been inclined to the Way of strategy from my youth onwards. I have devoted myself to training my hand, tempering my body, and attaining the many spiritual attitudes of sword fencing. If we watch men of other schools discussing theory, and concentrating on techniques with the hands, even though they seem skilful to watch, they have not the slightest true spirit.
Of course, men who study in this way think they are training the body and spirit, but it is an obstacle to the true Way, and its bad influence remains for ever.
- The true Way of sword fencing is the craft of defeating the enemy in a fight, and nothing other than this.
The Wind Book
- In strategy you must know the Ways of other schools, so I have written about various other traditions of strategy in this the Wind Book.
- Some of the world’s strategists are concerned only with sword fencing, and limit their training to flourishing the long sword and carriage of the body. But is dexterity alone sufficient to win? This is not the essence of the Way.
I have recorded the unsatisfactory points of other schools one by one in this book.
- Some other schools have a liking for extra-long swords. From the point of view of my strategy these must be seen as weak schools. This is because they do not appreciate the principle of cutting the enemy by any means. Their preference is for the extra-long sword and, relying on the virtue of its length, they think to defeat the enemy from a distance.
In this world it is said, “One inch gives the hand advantage”, but these are the idle words of one who does not know strategy. It shows the inferior strategy of a weak sprit that men should be dependant on the length of their sword, fighting from a distance without the benefit of strategy.
- It is difficult for these people to cut the enemy when at close quarters because of the length of the long sword. The blade path is large so the long sword is an encumbrance, and they are at a disadvantage compared to the man armed with a short companion sword.
From olden times it has been said: “Great and small go together.” So do not unconditionally dislike extra-long swords. What I dislike is the inclination towards the long sword. If we consider large-scale strategy, we can think of large forces in terms of long swords, and small forces as short swords. Cannot few men give battle against many? There are many instances of few men overcoming many.
- Your strategy is of no account if when called on to fight in a confined space your heart is inclined to the long sword, or if you are in a house armed only with your companion sword. Besides, some men have not the strength of others.
In my doctrine, I dislike preconceived, narrow spirit. You must study this well.
- Whenever you cross swords with an enemy you must not think of cutting him either strongly or weakly; just think of cutting and killing him. Be intent solely on killing the enemy. Do not try to cut strongly and, of course, do not think of cutting weakly. You should only be concerned with killing the enemy.
- If you rely on strength, when you hit the enemy’s sword you will inevitably hit too hard. If you do this, your own sword will be carried along as a result. Thus the saying, “The strongest hand wins”, has no meaning.
In large-scale strategy, if you have a strong army and are relying on strength to win, but the enemy also has a strong army, the battle will be fierce. This is the same for both sides.
Without the correct principle the fight cannot be won.
The spirit of my school is to win through the wisdom of strategy, paying no attention to trifles. Study this well.
- Some men use a shorter long sword with the intention of jumping in and stabbing the enemy at the unguarded moment when he flourishes his sword. This inclination is bad.
To aim for the enemy’s unguarded moment is completely defensive, and undesirable at close quarters with the enemy. Furthermore, you cannot use the method of jumping inside his defense with a short sword if there are many enemies. Some men think that if they go against many enemies with a shorter long sword they can unrestrictedly frisk around cutting in sweeps, but they have to parry cuts continuously, and eventually become entangled with the enemy. This is inconsistent with the true Way of strategy.
The sure Way to win thus is to chase the enemy around in a confusing manner, causing him to jump aside, with your body held strongly and straight.
- Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast.
- Really skilful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy. From this example, the principle can be seen.
- 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 No-Thing-ness
- The Ni To Ichi Way of strategy is recorded in this the Book of the Void.
- What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man’s knowledge. Of course the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.
- People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment.
- To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.
- Until you realise the true Way, whether in Buddhism or in common sense, you may think that things are correct and in order. However, if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and openly.
Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.
In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.
- Think lightly of yourself and think deeply of the world.
- Respect the gods, without relying on their help.
- You can abandon your own body, but never let go of your honor.
- Miyamoto Musashi, One of the Greatest Warriors in History
- A Book of Five Rings – Go Rin No Sho as translated by Victor Harris (Full text online)
- The Book of Five Rings (Full text online; different translation, in sections)
- Japan’s Art of War Musashi & The Book of Five Rings
- Review of The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi (2004) by William Scott Wilson
- Hyoho Niten Ichiryu – the sword style founded by Musashi
- Tracking Musashi
- List of Musashi Miyamoto Related Films
The Book of Five Rings
The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin No Sho) is a text on kenjutsu and the martial arts in general, written by the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi circa 1645. There have been various translations made over the years, and it enjoys an audience considerably broader than only that of martial artists: for instance, some business leaders find its discussion of conflict and taking the advantage to be relevant to their work. The modern-day Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū employs it as a manual of technique and philosophy.
Musashi establishes a “no-nonsense” theme throughout the text. For instance, he repeatedly remarks that technical flourishes are excessive, and contrasts worrying about such things with the principle that all technique is simply a method of cutting down one’s opponent. He also continually makes the point that the understandings expressed in the book are important for combat on any scale, whether a one-on-one duel or a massive battle. Descriptions of principles are often followed by admonitions to “investigate this thoroughly” through practice rather than trying to learn them by merely reading.
Musashi describes and advocates a two-sword style (nitōjutsu): that is, wielding both katana and wakizashi, contrary to the more traditional method of wielding the katana two-handed. However, he only explicitly describes wielding two swords in a section on fighting against many adversaries. The stories of his many duels rarely reference Musashi himself wielding two swords, although, since they are mostly oral traditions, their details may be rather inaccurate. Some suggest that Musashi’s meaning was not so much wielding two swords “simultaneously”, but rather acquiring the proficiency to (singly) wield either sword in either hand as the need arose. However, Musashi states within the volume that one should train with a long sword in each hand, thereby training the body and improving one’s ability to use two blades simultaneously, though the aim of this was only for training purposes and wasn’t meant to be a viable fighting style.
The five books
Although it is difficult to grasp it from the book, Go Rin No Sho, these books are actually the teachings which Musashi preached to his students in his own dōjō. Despite taking some ideas from others, the books are not based on any other school of teaching.
The five “books” refer to the idea that there are different elements of battle, just as there are different physical elements in life, as described by Buddhism, Shinto, and other Eastern religions. The five books below are Musashi’s descriptions of the exact methods or techniques which are described by such elements.
The term “Ichi School” is referred to in the book, Go Rin No Sho. When referring to such books, it refers to “Niten No Ichi Ryu” or “Ni Ten Ichi Ryu”, which means, when literally translated, “Two heaven, one school”, although many could see the translation as “Two Swords, One spirit”, or “Two Swords, One Entity”. However, the translation of “Two Swords, one Dragon” was thought to be a transliteral misinterpretation of the Kanji word Ryu.
- The Book of Earth chapter serves as an introduction, and metaphorically discusses martial arts, leadership, and training as building a house.
- The Book of Water chapter describes Musashi’s style, Ni-ten ichi-ryu, or “Two Heavens, One Style”. It describes some basic technique and fundamental principles.
- The Book of Fire chapter refers to the heat of battle, and discusses matters such as different types of timing.
- The Book of Wind chapter is something of a pun, since the Japanese character can mean both “wind” and “style” (e.g., of martial arts). It discusses what Musashi considers to be the failings of various contemporary schools of swordfighting.
- The Book of the Void chapter is a short epilogue, describing, in more esoteric terms, Musashi’s probably Zen-influenced thoughts on consciousness and the correct mindset.
The Book of Earth
The Earth book, according to Go Rin No Sho, is mentioned as the book that refers expressly to the strategy taught by Musashi at the Ichi School, and it is said to be how to distinguish the way through “Sword-Fencing”, or “Swordsmanship”. The idea of strategy would be encouraged to be very astute in their study and strategy:
Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things. As if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground … These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of strategy there will not be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard.
Upon their mastery of the strategy and timing listed in the five books, Musashi states that you will be able to defeat ten men as easily as you could defeat one, and asks: “When you have reached this point, will it not mean that you are invincible?”
The strategies listed in this discipline or book relate to situations requiring different weapons and tactics, such as indoor weapons. Musashi states that the use of halberd-like naginata and spears are purely for on the field, whereas the longsword and accompanying short-sword can be used in most environments, such as on horseback or in fierce battle.
Musashi also mentions the gun as having no equal on the battlefield. It is the supreme weapon on the battlefield, until swords clash—then it becomes useless. He also notes that the gun is somewhat lesser than thebow, since at that time guns were not very accurate at ranges any longer than point-blank in addition to the disadvantage of being unable to see the bullet and adjust your aim as you would with a bow. Not to mention, in the 17th century, the gap in reloading speeds between skilled archers and skilled gunmen was rather large.
One of the principles of the Niten Ichi-ryū is that one should be versed in many weaponry skills. Musashi indicates that during battle you should not overuse one weapon—this is as bad as using the weapon poorly since it becomes easy for an enemy to find a weakness in your style after countless uses of the same weapon.
Timing, as explained by Musashi, is the core principle in strategy which is listed in the Earth Book. The idea of timing as explained within the Earth book is that you must be able to adapt your strategy to timing with your skill, in that you must know when to attack and when not to attack.
In The Book of Five Rings he writes on timing:
“Timing is important in dancing and pipe or string music, for they are in rhythm only if timing is good. Timing and rhythm are also involved in the military arts, shooting bows and guns, and riding horses. In all skills and abilities there is timing…. There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is timing in the Way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. In strategy there are various timing considerations. From the outset you must know the applicable timing and the inapplicable timing, and from among the large and small things and the fast and slow timings find the relevant timing, first seeing the distance timing and the background timing. This is the main thing in strategy. It is especially important to know the background timing, otherwise your strategy will become uncertain.”
The Book of Water
The water book concerns strategy, but it also includes various other factors which perhaps a warrior reading the book should take into consideration, such as spirituality, religion, and one’s outlook on life. The meaning of water in relation to life is flexibility. Water demonstrates natural flexibility as it changes to conform with the boundaries which contain it, seeking the most efficient and productive path. So also should one possess the ability to change in accordance with one’s own situation to easily shift between disciplines, methods, and options when presented with new information. A person should master many aspects of life allowing them to possess both balance and flexibility.
The spiritual bearing in strategy, which Musashi writes about concerns your temperament and spirituality whilst in the midst of, or in formulation of a battle. Being a buddhist, most of what is written in the section concerning spirituality refers to principles of calmness, tranquility and spiritual balance;
In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm.
This balance refers to what could be thought of as yin and yang within yourself. The over-familiarity or over-use of one weapon is discouraged by Musashi, as it would be seen to reveal your spirituality to your enemy. The idea is that a perfectly balanced spirit is also a perfectly balanced physical presence, and neither creates weakness nor reveals it to your enemy.
During battle, the spirituality and balance is something of which Musashi notes that you should take advantage. Since small people know the spirituality of big people, they can thus note differences and weaknesses between each other. This is something which seems easy, but it is said to change when you are on the battlefield, as then you must know to both adjust your spiritual balance according to what is around you, and to perceive the balance of those around you to take advantage accordingly.
Just as your spirit should be balanced, your various techniques be honed to a perfectly balanced demeanour. In terms of stance, much like balance within the trooper, Musashi notes that stance is an important part of strategy, or battle: Adopt a stance with the head erect, neither hanging down, nor looking up, nor twisted. This is part of what Musashi notes as wedging in.
In regards to the gaze of someone, he notes that a person must be able to perceive that which is all around him without moving their eyeballs noticeably, which is said to be a skill which takes an enormous amount of practice to perfect. He notes that this is again one of the most important parts of strategy, as well as being able to see things which are close to you, such as the technique of an enemy. It is also used to perceive things far away, such as arriving troops or enemies, as that is the precursor to battle. You can then change your actions according to what you see.
Attitudes of swordsmanship
- Right Side
- Left Side
The five attitudes of swordsmanship are referred to as the five classifications of areas for attack on the human body. These are areas which are noted for their advantages when striking at an enemy, and the strategist is said to think of them when in situations where, for any reason, you should not be able to strike them. Then his mind should adjust accordingly.
Your attitude should be large or small according to the situation. Upper, Lower and Middle attitudes are decisive. Left Side and Right Side attitudes are fluid. Left and Right attitudes should be used if there is an obstruction overhead or to one side. The decision to use Left or Right depends on the place.
As each is thought of as an attitude, it could be thought of that Musashi means to practice with each “attitude” so that you do not become over-reliant upon one, something which Musashi repeatedly notes as being worse than bad technique.
“No Attitude” refers to those strategists who do not go with the use of the “Five Attitudes” and prefer to simply go without the attitudes of the long sword to focus entirely on technique, as opposed to focusing on both technique and the five attitudes. This is similar to taking chances as opposed to making chances.
The attitude of “Existing – Non Existing”, mixes the Five Attitudes with the Attitude of “No Attitude”, meaning that the user of the longsword uses the techniques and principles of both at whichever moment he or she finds most opportune.
“In-One Timing” refers to the technique of biding your time until you can find a suitable gap in the enemies’ defense, to which you will deliver one fatal blow to the enemy. Although this is said to be difficult, Musashi notes that masters of this technique are usually masters of the five attitudes because they must be perceptive of weaknesses. It is rumoured that Musashi disgraced a former sword master by using such a technique with a Bokken, but there are no descriptions mentioning “In one” timing.
“Abdomen Timing of Two” refers to feinting an attack, then striking an enemy as they are retreating from the attack, hitting them in the abdomen with the correct timing of either two moves or two seconds. Although the technique seems relatively simple, Musashi lists this as one of the hardest techniques to time correctly.
“No Design, No Conception” refers to When word and actions are spontaneously the same. Aside from this philosophical approach to the meaning, the technique is relatively simple to explain: if you are in a deadlock with the enemy, using the force from the cut, you push with your body and use the disciplines outlined in the Void Book to knock the enemy over.
This is the most important method of hitting. It is often used. You must train hard to understand it.
“Flowing Water Cut” technique refers to if you come into a fight with an enemy of a similar level to you in swordsmanship. When attacking fast, Musashi notes that you will always be at stalemate, so like Stagnant water, you must cut as slowly as possible with your long sword. At the beginning of this technique you and your opponent will be searching for an opening within each other’s defense. When your opponent either tries to push off your sword, or to hasten back as to disengage it, you must first expand your whole body and your mind. By moving your body first and then that of your sword, you will be able to strike powerfully and broadly with a movement that seems to reflect the natural flow of water. Ease and confidence will be attained when this technique is continuously practiced upon.
“Continuous Cut” refers to when you are again faced with stalemate within a duel, where your swords are clasped together. In one motion, when your sword springs away from theirs, Musashi says to use a continuous motion to slash their head, body, and legs.
“Fire and Stone’s Cut” refers to when your swords clash together. Without raising your sword, you cut as strongly as possible. This means cutting quickly with hands, body, and legs.
“Red Leafs Cut” refers to knocking down the enemy’s long sword in the spirit of the “No Design, No Conception” cut.
The Book of Fire
The Fire Book refers to fighting methods unlike the specific fighting techniques listed in the Water Book. It goes into a broader scope in terms of hints as to assess a situation, as well as specific situational instructions.
He notes obvious advantages of armor and preparedness before a duel or battle as it applies to one man or a whole group of men:
As one man can defeat ten men, so can one thousand men defeat ten thousand. However, you can become a master of strategy by training alone with a sword, so that you can understand the enemy’s stratagems, his strength and resources, and come to appreciate how to apply strategy to beat ten thousand enemies.
The dependence of location according to the Go Rin No Sho is crucial. You must be in a place where man-made objects such as buildings, towers, castles, and such do not obstruct your view, as well as facing or standing in a position where the sun or moon does not affect your vision. This is purely so that your vision is focused on nothing but the enemy, and thus there is more concentration upon the enemy’s stratagems. Musashi also seems to note the age old strategy of the High Ground:
You must look down on the enemy, and take up your attitude on slightly higher places.
Other kinds of tactics which of Musashi tells are way of ensuring that the enemy is at a disadvantage. Forcing yourself on the non-dominant side of a trooper is one way because the left side is difficult for a right-handed soldier. Other disadvantages, such as forcing enemies into footholds, swamps, ditches, and other difficult terrain, force the enemy to be uncertain of his situation.
These things cannot be clearly explained in words. You must research what is written here. In these three ways of forestalling, you must judge the situation. This does not mean that you always attack first; but if the enemy attacks first you can lead him around. In strategy, you have effectively won when you forestall the enemy, so you must train well to attain this.
Ken No Sen (Attacking) is the most obvious method of forestalling an enemy because a head on collision forces both parties to a standstill. Although it is not mentioned, Musashi must have been well aware that this method would also be the most likely to have a higher death count than the others due to the sheer mass of enemies because more than one enemy could then attack a single soldier or trooper.
As the name suggests, Tai No Sen (Waiting for the Initiative) is invented for very opportunistic and decided battles between parties. The main idea being to feign weakness as to open a weak spot, or Achilles’ heel, in the opposing force, and then regrouping to exploit such a hole by attacking deep within the enemy’s party. Although it is not mentioned, this would most likely be to kill the officer of the highest rank as an attempt to remove the tactical centre of a group of soldiers. A method particularly useful for Musashi or others, if attacking a general directly would signal the end of the battle upon his defeat.
Only a small amount of text is written about Tai Tai No Sen (Accompanying and Forestalling). Albeit very confusing, the idea of Tai Tai No Sen is circumventing an ambush or quick attack from the enemy by taking the initiative and attacking in full force. Musashi admits himself that this is a difficult thing to explain.
Although there are other methods, they are mostly situational methods relating to the crossing of rough terrain, and battling within such rough terrain. Although it spreads over two or more paragraphs, most information is common sense, relating to caution and avoidance of such situations.
The idea of timing, as with singular battles, is known as the most important part of attacking next to the skill of participants. However, the type of timing in this instance is somewhat different from the timing noted inThe Ground Book since this variety of timing requires looking at the various physical factors which affect an enemy during battle, such as determining if strength is waning or rising within a group of troopers.
The idea of treading down the sword is a very simple technique. Squashing an enemy’s attack before it starts by using a form of charging and then attacking under the veil of gunpowder smoke, and arrow fire, the initial attacks used when starting battles can be highly effective. Individually, it refers to attacking the enemy’s sword, breaking it, removing it from play, and a technique of controlling it through direct blade on blade contact.
Like Musashi mentions in his philosophical style, there is a cause for a collapse. As there is collapse within an enemy, such as waning in his numbers, Musashi notes that one must observe such events and use them to his advantage.
Interestingly, he notes that an enemy’s formation can fall if they lose rhythm. It was known that in such battles, drummers drummed a tune for their other fellow soldiers to march to; and, if the rhythm was lost, it led to a “collapse when their rhythm becomes deranged”.
The Book of Wind
Whereas most of the information given in the previous books is useful in such a way that it could still be applicable today, this book is primarily concerned with the specific details about other strategies that existed at the time. The broader lesson from this book is that an important part of understanding your own way is to understand the way of your opponent as precisely as possible.
Musashi notes that although most schools have secret and ancient strategies, most forms are derivative of other martial arts. Their similarities and differences evolved through situational factors, such as indoor or outdoor duelling, and the style adapted to the school. He indicates that his appraisal may be one sided because the only school he had interest for was his own, and, in a way, he does not see parallels to his own creation and work. However, he still admits that without basic understanding of these alternate techniques, you will not be able to learn Ni Ten Ichi Ryu, probably for reasons of finding the wrongs in other techniques, and righting them within yourself in Ni Ten Ichi Ryu.
The main difference that Musashi notes between the Ichi School and other strategists and schools is that other schools do not teach the “broader” meaning of strategy. There is a strategy above sword-fencing: “Some of the world’s strategists are concerned only with sword-fencing, and limit their training to flourishing the long sword and carriage of the body.” The book has many paragraphs on the subject of other schools’ techniques, and much of the text lists the ways that other schools do not conform to the ideals which he himself writes about in the Book of Five Rings, such as footwork, sight, and over-reliance or over-familiarity with a weapon.
The Book of Void
Although short, the void book lists, philosophically, the nature of both human knowledge and other things. The void book expressly deals with “That which cannot be seen”.
“By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist.”
The Book of Nothing, according to Musashi, is the true meaning of the strategy of Ni Ten Ichi Ryu. It seems very esoteric in nature because he seems to note that you must learn to perceive that which you cannot understand or comprehend. He notes that in this Void, what can be comprehended are things which we do and see, such as the way of the warrior, martial arts, and Ni Ten Ichi Ryu. At the same time, in the Void, things we do not do or see (which he calls Spirit), are part of the information which we perceive on a conscious level, but with which we have no physical relationship. It is arguable whether Musashi is referring to religious spirituality or if he is actually explaining a way to live a life and process thoughts.
“In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.”
In the above quote, Musashi speaks of “virtue and no evil”. This may mean “goodness and banishment of evil” or “purpose and non-existence of good and evil”, and the exact meaning is open to debate.
With this method, you will cause your adversary’s sword to drop through a strike from your sword, then bring yourself immediately back to a readiness to strike. This method is combined with The Strike of Nonthought, in which you will always strike with true force by swinging your sword toward the ground when your opponent’s sword is about to drop.
Autumn Monkey’s Body
With this method, you are to start off by assuming a posture in which you are not to use your hands. You are to think of getting your body close to your opponent before striking him. However, if you think of reaching out both of your hands, your body will remain distant. This is why you must always think of quickly getting your body close to the enemy. When you are distant, you will exchange blows of the sword, and it will be rather easy to move closer to your opponent.
Thomas Cleary translates this technique as “Body of the Short-Armed Monkey”.
Blow Like a Spark from a Stone
If you are currently within a situation in which you and your opponent’s swords are to clash, you must strike extremely hard without raising your sword to any extent. This is The Blow Like a Spark from a Stonetechnique. If you are to perform this technique, you must first strike quickly with the three combined forces of your legs, your hands, and your body. This blow will be rather difficult to perform if you do not train it at frequent times. If you diligently train yourself, you will be able to increase the overall force of the technique’s impact.
Body of Lacquer and Paste
With this technique, one’s objective is to get close to the opponent and stick to him. When one is to do this, one must first behave as though one had been strongly glued to him with one’s feet, head, and body. It is generally known that during combat, most fighters will have a tendency to have their body hang back while their heads and feet are extended forward. One must attempt to paste one’s body against the opponent’s without leaving any area in which the bodies are not touching.
When you first start off by striking, your opponent will try to parry by hitting or by blocking your sword. At this point in time, you need to completely equip yourself into the action of striking with your sword, and strike whenever you may see an opening, whether it may be the legs, arms, or head. Following the single way of the sword and performing a strike such as this is known as the Chance-Opening Blow. This technique will be useful at moment while fighting, so it should be trained regularly.
Strike of Non-thought
You should always make your mind into a mind that is striking, and your body into a body that is striking when you and your adversary are about to launch an attack. If this method is followed, your hand will attain movement through emptiness, with speed and power, without taking note of any point in which movement had begun.
References and further reading
- De Lange, William (2011). The Real Musashi, part 1-2. New york: Floating World Editions.
- Miyamoto, Musashi (1974). A Book of Five Rings, translated by Victor Harris. London: Allison & Busby; Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press.
- Tokitsu, Kenji (2004). Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc.
The Book of Five Rings has been published in English multiple times. The Thomas Cleary translation is the most widely available and has been reprinted multiple times. A translation by William Scott Wilson is aimed towards practitioners of Japanese classical swordsmanship. A translation by D. E. Tarver is marketed as a motivational book with a commercial bias. Additional published translators include Stephen F. Kaufman and Kenji Tokistu (due May 2010).
- The Book of Five Rings: A Classic Text on the Japanese Way of the Sword, Miyamoto Musashi (translator Thomas Cleary), 2005, Shambhala Publications, Boston, USA. ISBN 978-1-59030-248-4.
- The Book of Five Rings: a graphic novel, by writer Sean Michael Wilson and Japanese artist Chie Kutsuwada, 2012, Shambhala Publications, Boston, USA. A graphic novel version of The Book of Five Rings, based on the translations of William Scott Wilson. With evocative drawings and a distilled but faithful text adapted by acclaimed manga writer Sean Michael Wilson, the illustrated version helps bring alive this guide to swordsmanship and Musashi’s world.
- ^ A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (translation from Japanese by Victor Harris), London: Allison and Busby, 1974.