I found this very interesting review of The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi and I wanted to share it with you.
The Book of Five Rings is one of the classic books on martial arts to come out of Japan during a turbulent transitional period of its history. To get a better understanding of the teachings in this book, it is useful to learn a little about the historical context in which it was written. We will talk about feudal Japanese society and culture; then about Musashi, the author of the Book of Five Rings, and finally deal with the book itself and its cultural impact.
Between the 12th and the 19th centuries, Japanese society resembled somewhat the feudal regime of Western Europe during the Middle Ages. The Emperor and his court had lost power to local warlords or daimyo who, at the head of their clans, ruled over significant landholdings, attended by their personal armies, composed by the equivalent of Western knights, the samurai, although Japanese society did not emphasize horses as much as the West. These daimyo were constantly jockeying for power, trying to achieve the coveted status of Shogun, or military dictator (ruling in the name of the Emperor, of course).
The samurai lived and died under the strictures of Bushido, or the Way of the Warrior, that emphasized obedience, military prowess, honor, and loyalty. The samurai had to be willing to give their lives to their lords at any moment, and any action that brought loss of face to themselves or to their masters led to seppuku or ritual suicide (better known as harakiri). Samurai had the exclusive use of the long sword, or katana, which together with the short sword, or wakizashi, constituted the main weapons of the Japanese panoply. However, samurai were expected to be able to fight with any available weapon, be it bow and arrow, spear, lance, or even unarmed. Kenjutsu, or “The Art of the Sword” and Kendo, or “The Way of the Sword”, refer to the techniques and skills of Japanese fencing. The Book of Five Rings is a book of martial strategy, specifically focused on sword fighting.
If for any reason a samurai lost his master, or was fired from his service to a lord, he became a ronin, or “drifting person”. Ronin used to roam the land, looking for adventure and glory, and hoping eventually to enter the service of a daimyo or perhaps even to become one themselves. For many years Musashi lived the life of a ronin before he retired to write his masterwork.
Musashi was born around 1584, during what is known as the Azuchi-Monoyama period, which came towards the end of centuries of constant fighting among feudal warlords to attain dominance. During this period, political unification was achieved, initiated by Oda Nobunaga and his follower, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but eventually completed by their rival, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu would move the seat of power from the imperial capital of Kyoto to Edo (modern Tokyo), and usher in a period of peace and stability that would last from 1603 until 1868 (the Meiji Restoration). Ieyasu controlled the daimyo by forcing them to alternate between residing at Edo and their own lands, much as King Louis XIV of France (Le Roi Soleil) would do later with the French nobility attending the court at Versailles. Another thing that Ieyasu did was to keep family members of the clans as hostages during the time that they were not forced to reside at Edo, to make sure of their loyalty.
This era of peace and stability would slowly lead to the decline of the samurai class, although their values and ethos have never completely disappeared.
reviewed by Henry Georget”
I’ll be posting another part of this review in later blogs! Read it HERE!