from
A Book of Five Rings
by
Miyamoto Musashi
(1584 – 1645)
translated by Victor Harris

This page:

translator’s introduction

A Book of Five Rings

Category:

Conflict

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translator’s introduction to
A Book of Five Rings

by Victor Harris

Copyright © 1974 by Victor Harris

Japan during Musashi’s lifetime The education of the sons of the Tokugawa Shoguns was by means of schooling in the Chinese classics and fencing exercises. Where a Westerner might say “The pen is mightier than the sword”, the Japanese would say “Bunbu Itchi”, or “Pen and sword in accord”.
Kendo and Zen In Zen there are no elaborations, it aims directly at the true nature of things. There are no ceremonies, no teachings: the prize of Zen is essentially personal. Enlightenment in Zen does not mean a change in behaviour, but realisation of the nature of ordinary life. The end point is the beginning, and the great virtue is simplicity.

Topic:

Zen

The first technique is the last, the beginner and the master behave in the same way. Knowledge is a full circle. The first of Musashi’s chapter headings is Ground, for the basis of Kendo and Zen, and the last book is Void, for that understanding which can only be expressed as nothingness.

Concerning the life of Miyamoto Musashi

In the same way that Musashi seems to have been a horribly cruel man, yet was following logically an honest ideal, so successful business seems to most people to be without conscience.

text checked (see note) Jan 2007

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A Book of Five Rings
(Go Rin No Sho)

translated by Victor Harris

Copyright © 1974 by Victor Harris

The Ground Book

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.

Outline of the Five Books of this Book of Strategy

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 strategist makes small things into big things, like building a great Buddha from a one foot model. [...] The principle of strategy is having one thing, to know ten thousand things.

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.
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.
Timing in strategy
This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy:
  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 everything.
  7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
  8. Pay attention even to trifles.
  9. Do nothing which is of no use.
The Water Book

Spiritual Bearing in Strategy
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.
The Gaze in Strategy
In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.

Compare to:

Terry Pratchett

The “Attitude No-Attitude” Teaching
Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. [...] If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.

Attitude in strategy on a larger scale is called “Battle Array”. Such attitudes are all for winning battles. Fixed formation is bad.

No Design, No Conception

In this method, when the enemy attacks and you also decide to attack, hit with your body, and hit with your spirit, and hit from the Void with your hands, accelerating strongly.

There are Many Enemies
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.

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. Next, in order to beat more skilful men, train according to this book, not allowing your heart to be swayed along a side-track. Even if you kill an enemy, if it is not based on what you have learned it is not the true Way.

Topic:

Education

The Fire Book Of course you cannot assemble a thousand or ten thousand men for everyday training. But 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 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.

To Hold Down a Pillow

“To Hold Down a Pillow” means not allowing the enemy’s head to rise.

In contests of strategy it is bad to be led about by the enemy. You must always be able to lead the enemy about. [...]

The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions. However, doing this alone is defensive.

To Become the Enemy

In the world people tend to think of a robber trapped in a house as a fortified enemy. However, if we think of “becoming the enemy”, we feel that the whole world is against us and that there is no escape. He who is shut inside is a pheasant. He who enters to arrest is a hawk. You must appreciate this.

In large-scale strategy, people are always under the impression that the enemy is strong, and so tend to become cautious. But if you have good soldiers, and if you understand the principles of strategy, and if you know how to beat the enemy, there is nothing to worry about.

In single combat you must also put yourself in the enemy’s position. If you think, “Here is a master of the Way, who knows the principles of strategy”, then you will surely lose.

To Release Four Hands

“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.

In single combat also, when we think we have fallen into the “four hands” situation, we must defeat the enemy by changing our mind and applying a suitable technique according to his condition.

To Move the Shade

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 him with a different method once you see his resources.

In single combat, if the enemy takes up a rear or side attitude of the long sword so that you cannot see his intention, make a feint attack, and the enemy will show his long sword, thinking he sees your spirit. Benefiting from what you are shown, you can win with certainty. If you are negligent you will miss the timing.

To Mingle

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.

Topic:

Tactics

The Mountain-Sea Change

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. If you attempt a technique which you have previously tried unsuccessfuly and fail yet again, then you must change your attacking method.

If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack like the sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack like the mountains.

To Renew
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.
Rat’s Head, Ox’s Neck
Whenever we have become preoccupied with small details, we must suddenly change into a large spirit, interchanging large with small.
The Wind Book

Other Schools Using Extra-Long Swords

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 spirit that men should be dependent on the length of their sword, fighting from a distance without the benefit of strategy.

Topic:

Weaponry

The Strong Long Sword Spirit in Other Schools

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.

Use of the Shorter Long Sword in Other Schools

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 defence 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. The same principle applies to large-scale strategy. The essence of strategy is to fall upon the enemy in large numbers and bring about his speedy downfall. By their study of strategy, people of the world get used to countering, evading and retreating as the normal thing. They become set in this habit, so can easily be paraded around by the enemy. The Way of strategy is straight and true. You must chase the enemy around and make him obey your spirit.

Other Schools with many Methods of using the Long Sword
In order to cut the enemy you must not make twisting or bending cuts. This is completely useless. In my strategy, I bear my spirit and body straight, and cause the enemy to twist and bend. The necessary spirit is to win by attacking the enemy when his spirit is warped.
Use of Attitudes of the Long Sword in Other Schools

Attitudes are for situations in which you are not to be moved. That is, for garrisoning castles, battle array, and so on, showing the spirit of not being moved even by a strong assault. In the Way of duelling, however, you must always be intent upon taking the lead and attacking. Attitude is the spirit of awaiting an attack. You must appreciate this.

In duels of strategy you must move the opponent’s attitude. Attack where his spirit is lax, throw him into confusion, irritate and terrify him. Take advantage of the enemy’s rhythm when he is unsettled and you can win.

I dislike the defensive spirit known as “attitude”. Therefore, in my Way, there is something called “Attitude-No Attitude”.

Fixing the Eyes in Other Schools

“Perception” and “sight” are the two methods of seeing. Perception consists of concentrating strongly on the enemy’s spirit, observing the condition of the battlefield, fixing the gaze strongly, seeing the progress of the fight and the changes of advantage. This is the sure way to win.

In single combat you must not fix the eyes on details. As I said before, if you fix your eyes on details and neglect important things, your spirit will become bewildered, and victory will escape you.

Speed in Other Schools

In the Way of dance, accomplished performers can sing while dancing, but when beginners try this they slow down and their spirit becomes busy. [...] Very skilful people can manage a fast rhythm, but it is bad to beat hurriedly. If you try to beat too quickly you will get out of time. Of course, slowness is bad. Really skilful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy. From this example, the principle can be seen.

What is known as speed is especially bad in the Way of strategy. The reason for this is that depending on the place, marsh or swamp and so on, it may not be possible to move the body and legs together quickly. Still less will you be able to cut quickly if you have a long sword in this situation. [...]

In large-scale strategy also, a fast busy spirit is undesirable. The spirit must be that of holding down a pillow, then you will not be even a little late.

When your opponent is hurrying recklessly, you must act contrarily and keep calm. You must not be influenced by the opponent.

The Book of the Void

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.

In the Way of strategy, also, those who study as warriors think that whatever they cannot understand in their craft is the void. This is not the true void.

Until you realize 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.

text checked (see note) Jan 2007

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