This is the final entry of the Book of Five Ring review the previous ones can be found Part 1 and Part 2!

The Book of Five Rings            

The edition we utilized was a translation made by a master of karate, Stephen F. Kaufman, although the book is readily available in many editions, and is even online (http://www/, for example).            

Musashi’s masterpiece is a deceivingly short and simple book. Besides a brief introduction in which the author presents himself and explains how the book is organized, the Book of five Rings is divided into five parts, hence the five “rings”: The Book of Earth, the Book of Water, the Book of Fire, the Book of Wind, and the Book of Nothing. The four elements, as well as the void, represent metaphorically the teachings presented in each book.            

The Book of Earth lays the ground for the entire book. It deals with the general aspects of martial arts, strategy and training, which is seen as building a house from the ground up. Musashi discusses the different weapons, such as the naginata(a type of halberd) and the katana. The former is best for the field, while swords are more versatile and useful both indoors and outdoors. He also talks of the bow and guns, the latter having been introduced in Japan recently by the Portuguese. Although the gun is the most powerful, it is not as accurate as the bow, and is practically useless in close combat, at least in the case of guns available at the time he wrote the book.            

The Book of water deals with more intangible aspects of strategy, such as spirituality, religion, and balance. He stresses the importance of a proper stance and a penetrating gaze. He then discusses the different attitudes to adopt when fighting: Upper, middle, lower, left, and right. Just like water flows and always finds an opening, the warrior should be like water.            

The Book of Fire goes into the actual mechanics of combat, and the best ways to take advantage of specific situations, or place the enemy at a disadvantage. Armor, terrain, the presence of buildings, sun and wind, are all factors to evaluate before initiating combat. Exploiting the weaknesses of your opponent, such as moving towards his weaker side, or forcing him to enter into difficult terrain are examples of actions that the warrior can take to get the upper hand. Timing is very important. An easy way to dictate combat is to take the initiative, although sometimes waiting for an opening can be equally fruitful.            

The Book of Wind has to do with other schools that existed during Musashi’s time and of the ways to counter them. /the main lesson to derive from this book is that it is important to know the enemy as much as possible. Knowing the enemy is also a way of knowing oneself. A central observation that Musashi makes is that other schools are concerned only with sword-fencing, while his Ichischool looks at strategy more broadly and holistically.            

The Book of Nothing is the shortest and perhaps the most difficult to understand, as it refers to the philosophical underpinnings of mastering a martial art, or truly anything. Constant practice is the way to elevate your awareness until thinking is bypassed and real understanding is achieved.             “The spirit of the universe is an emptiness which is nothing. Man can have no understanding of this place. It exists and is, but yet it is not. If you know something, you know something. If you do not know something, it does not exist in your world. In the universe, nothing-ness is not a thing that is true and not a thing that is not true”.            

The style of this book is similar to the koan of Buddhist masters, short paradoxical tales that are intended to startle the listener and bypass rational thinking, opening the way for a deeper, intuitive understanding. The goal is to achieve satori, or enlightenment.            

“Perfection is all there is and when you come to realize this, you will have understood my Way of strategy and the Way of the warrior, at which time you can forget about it and just be ‘it’. Best to have it put this way. Simply be!”            

The Book of Five Rings remains even today a basic work for those approaching, not only Kendo, but any martial art, be it as a beginner or as an expert. It is an enduring classic that has applications outside of the field of martial arts and military strategy. Many Japanese politicians and business leaders have well-worn copies of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings together with Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

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