'The Book of Five Rings' by Miyamoto Musashi (circa 1645)

'Stike' by Musashi

A selection from Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin No Sho), circa 1645.

Miyamoto Musashi was a legendary Japanese swordsman and samari who lived during the fedual period. It is said that he began his training from the age of 7, had his first dual at the age of 13, and went on to fight 60 duals, as well as in a number of large scale battles, without suffering defeat. In 1612, at about the age of 30, Musashi fought his most famous battle, against Sasaki Kojirō, the founder of a successful school and renown master swordsman, whose weapon of choice was a long sword. The battle was due to take place on Funajima island. Legend has it that Musashi defeated Sasaki with one blow using a sword he fashioned from the oar of the boat which carried him over to the island. In 1643, at approximately 60 years of age, he retired to a cave to live as a hermit, where he began writing the Go Rin No Sho and practice the art of calligraphy. He died of natural causes in 1645.

Interest in the book amongst western readers saw a resurgence in the 1980's when it became popular among American businessmen, to learn the secrets, the 'winning strategy', of the Japanese businessmen with whom they were negotiating deals in boardrooms.

1982 edition translated by the Nihon Services Corporation in New York.

Thomas Cleary's and Scott Wilson's editions are often considered the best available translators.]

A note on Musashi's use of the Japenese word 'Heiho' (from Sword and Brush: The Spirit of the Martial Arts by Dave Lowry):

"Heiho is heiho" goes an axiom that illustrates a role kanji [modern Japenese writing] play in understanding elements of the martial Way. Redundant in romanized form, only through the kanji does meaning emerge. Hei can be written to mean "war," with a kanji pictographically depicting a battle axe grasped in both hands. Written with a different character that is pronounced the same way, hei can also denote a "peaceful prosperity." (This character is pictographic in origin, too, depicting a water lily coming up to rest tranquilly on a pond's surface.) So, through a knowledge of the characters, "heiho is heiho" may be translated to mean "the principles of martial matters are identical to the principles of domestic peace."
The character common to both ways of writing heiho is ho, "laws." To write ho, the calligrapher draws the radical for "water," then, next to it, a "container."

The Earth Book

It is generally accepted that the way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death.

There is rhythm in everything, but the rhythm of Heiho is something which you cannot gain mastery over without practice.
The rhythms of the path of dance, of the minstrels, and of the wind and string instruments are among the commonly known and obvious ones.
In the path of martial arts also, there are rhythm and timings... . 

The rhythm with which things progress and the rhythm with which things deteriorate should be understood and differentiated.
There are many rhythms in Heiho. It is one of the main tasks in Heiho to first of all learn the rhythm which is appropriate and differentiate it from those rhythms which are inappropriate,... and which rhythm will cause the circumstances to be overturned. Your mastery of Heiho cannot be considered firm unless you understand the rhythm with which you can avoid being drawn into the rhythm of the opponent.
Victory is achieved in the Heiho of conflict by ascertaining the rhythm of each opponent, by attacking with a rhythm not anticipated by the opponent, and by the use of knowledge of the rhythm of the abstract.

The Book of Water

[Translators note: Water was used in the Tao Te Ching [see here for a selection] as an analogy for the Way (Tao); both water and the Way permeate everything, with no effort, no sense of doing. Heiho is the Way for Musashi, thus the "Water" book.]

I have entitled this chapter the "Book of Water," because water is the source of inspiration for the method of winning, in the Heiho of the Niten Ichiryu school. It is beyond my powers to describe the doctrine as I would like to, but no matter how much words fail me, the Truth can probably be understand as self-evident.

It is essential to view things broadly.

One cannot master the essence of Heiho just by reading this book alone. One cannot master the things recorded in this book by just reading the notes and trying to imitate them. They are things that are discovered in a true sense from within oneself.

The mental attitude in Heiho is no different from that of everday attitude. In both peaceful times and in times of battle, it is exactly the same. Be careful to ascertain the truth from a broad viewpoint. Do not become tense and do not let yourself go. Keep your mind on the center and do not waver. Calm your mind, and do not cease the firmness for even a second. Always maintain a fluid and flexible, free and open mind.

Do not let the mind be dragged along by the body or the body be dragged along by the mind.

Strengthen your fundamental spirit and act in such a way as to not reveal the depths of your spirit to others.

Broaden your knowledge and know the justice and injustice of the world... .

In all the martial arts, it is essential to make the everyday stance the combat stance and the combat stance the everyday stance.

Vigilance in combat means keeping one's eyes wide open. Make kan primary ["profound examination of the essence of things"] and ken secondary ["observation of the movements of surface phenomena, insignificant actions, what your opponent wants you to see"]. Accurately understand the state of affairs in the distance and grasping the general situation from the movements near you is most important from the standpoint of Heiho. Finding out the swordsmanship [ability] of an opponent and not being deceived in the least by his superficial actions is above all the main object of Heiho.

It is also important to observe both sides without moving the eyes. It is no good trying to learn this kind of thing in great haste. Commit well to memory the things written in this book.

I dislike rigidity. Rigidity means a dead hand and flexibility means a living hand. One must understand this fully.

Very slowly, almost falteringly, like the flow of rivers in the deep parts, strike very deep and very hard.

There is stick-to-it-iveness and there is getting entangled; stick-to-it-iveness is strength and entanglement is weakness. You must know the difference.

When the opponents come forward in attack, judge carefully which of the opponents are coming in first and which ones are coming in late.
Paying heed to the overall movements of the opponents, ascertain the rhythm in which the opponents come in to strike... . Do not wait.

No matter what you do, assume that you will beat back the opponents as if they were one line of fish which are connected to each other, and when you have seen that the ranks of the opponents have been disarrayed and that they are getting on top of one another, push in and strike strongly without allowing any time to lapse.

Study well the rhythm with which the opponents strike and learn how to go about breaking it up.

The Fire Book

In the course of a life-time there are usually a number of difficult situations which could be likened to crossing an expanse.

In order to pass through life, there is need to have a spirit, to be decisive about exerting all of one's energies to overcome difficulties.

The Book of Emptiness
...with a straight-forward spirit as your foundation, and an honest heart as your path, practice Heiho broadly. It is important to judge the general situation clearly and correctly. Make ku [emptiness] your path, and your path as ku.