The Book of Five Rings 
The Classic Masterpiece by Miyamoto Musashi

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About Miyamoto Musashi


Strategy is the craft of the warrior. Above all someone in a commander's position must practice it, and even troopers should know this Way. Yet today there is no warrior in the world who really understands the Way of strategy. [The term hyoho, here rendered as strategy, has a variety of meanings in Japanese, from large-scale military strategy, to martial arts or sword-fencing, and even - through play of words - the arts of peace and proper government. 'Strategy' is used as the translation largely for convenience, this should not be taken to imply that the other meanings are less appropriate - Musashi may even be referring to all of them at once.]

First let us illustrate the idea of a Way. There are various Ways. There is the Way of salvation by the law of Buddha, the Way of Kon Fu Tzu governing learning, the Way of healing as a physician, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, [a type of poem]. Others follow the way of tea, archery, and many arts and skills. Each man practices as he feels inclined. Few are those that prefer the Way of martial strategy.

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. When it comes to the manner of dying, of course, there is no difference between the samurai, priests, women, and even peasants; everyone must know his obligations, think of what would be disgraceful, and be prepared for death when the moment comes. The samurai pursues martial strategy, however, in order to excel in everything, be it winning a duel or winning a combat with several men, be it for the benefit of your master or to establish your own reputation and distinguish yourself. The samurai does these things through the virtue of strategy. Some people may think that even if you learn martial arts, they will be useless in actual battles. That may be so, but the true spirit of martial strategy requires that you train to be useful at any moment and teach men so that they may become useful in everything.

The Way of Strategy [Hyoho no michi]

In China and Japan, practitioners of the Way have been known as "masters of strategy". Warriors should all learn this Way.

Recently people making a living as strategists are usually just teachers of sword techniques. The attendants of the Kashima and Katori shrines of the Hitachi province claim they received instruction from the Gods, and established schools based on this teaching, traveling from province to province to pass on their instruction. But this is only a recent meaning of the term strategy. [The Kashima shrine is dedicated to the warrior deity Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, the Katori shrine to his colleague Futsunushi no Kami. The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto ryu is documented to have existed in Musashi's time.]

Since ancient times Strategy [Hyoho] has been included among the juno [ten skills] and hachigei [eight arts] as rikata [profitable measures - divine favour in Buddhist Law, in other words the way benefiting oneself and others]. Truly, rikata is one of the arts, although it is not just limited to standard sword techniques. The true value of swordsmanship cannot be seen solely by means of sword techniques. Needless to say swordsmanship limited to techniques alone can never rival the principles of Strategy.

Today we see the arts for sale. Men sell their own selves as commodities. As with the nut and the flower, the nut has become less important than the flower. In this kind of strategy, both those teaching and those learning the way are concerned with flamboyant style and showing off their technique, trying to hasten the bloom of the flower with commercial popularization. They speak of "this Dojo" and "that Dojo". They are looking only for quick benefits. Someone once said "Amateuristic strategy is the cause of serious grief". That was a true saying.

Generally speaking, there are four Ways in which men pass through life: as warriors, farmers, artisans and merchants.

The Way of the farmer is in using agricultural instruments; he sees springs through to autumns with an eye on the changes of season.

Second is the Way of the merchant. The Sake brewer obtains his ingredients and puts them to use, making his living from the profit he gains according to the quality of the product. Whatever the business, the merchant exists only by taking profit. This is the Way of the merchant.

Third is the gentleman warrior, carrying the weaponry of his Way. The warrior has to master the various properties and virtues of his different weapons. If a gentleman dislikes martial arts he will not appreciate the specific advantages of each weapon. For a member of a warrior house this shows a lack of culture.

Fourth is the Way of the artisan. The Way of the carpenter [architect and builder, all buildings were of wood] is to become proficient in the construction and use of his tools, to lay his plans correctly using the square and ruler, and then perform his work diligently according to the plan. Thus he passes through life.

These are the four Ways of life, of the warrior, the farmer, the artisan and the merchant.

I will now illustrate the way of strategy by likening it to the way of the craftsman.

The comparison with carpentry is a metaphor in reference to the notion of houses. We speak of houses of the nobility, houses of warriors, the Four houses [there are also four different schools of tea], ruin of houses, thriving of houses, the style of the house, the tradition of the house, and the name of the house. Since we refer to houses all the time, I have chosen the carpenter as a metaphor.

The word for carpenter is written as "great skill" or "master plan", and the Way of strategy is similar in that it requires great skill and masterful planning.

If you want to learn the art of strategy, ponder over this book. Let the teacher be as a needle, the student as a thread. You must practice constantly.

Comparing the Way of the carpenter to strategy

[In the following section, Musashi demonstrates his detailed knowledge of carpentry in comparing a command structure to the carpenters' guild. However, comparing samurai to carpenters appears to have been common in his days.]

The master carpenter is the organizer and director of the carpenters and it is his duty to understand the regulations of the country and the locality, and to abide by the rules of his guild.

The master carpenter must know the architectural theory of towers and temples, the plans of palaces and all sorts of structures, and must employ people to raise up houses. In this way, the Way of the master carpenter is comparable to the Way of the commander of a warrior house.

In the construction of houses, careful selection of woods is made. Straight unknotted timber of good appearance is used for the revealed pillars, straight timber with small defects is used for the inner pillars. Timbers of the finest appearance, even if a little weak, is used for the thresholds, lintels, doors, and sliding screens. Good strong timber, though it be gnarled and knotted, can always be used thoughtfully in consideration of the strengths of the other members of the house. Then the house will last a long time.

Even timber which is weak or knotted and crooked can be used as scaffolding, and later for firewood.

The master carpenter distributes the work among his men according to their levels of skill. Some are floor layers, others makers of sliding doors, thresholds and lintels, ceilings and so on. Those of poor ability lay the floor joists, and those of even lesser ability can carve wedges and do such miscellaneous work. If the master knows and deploys his men well the work will progress smoothly and the result will be good.

The master carpenter should take into account the abilities and limitations of his men. Circulating among them, he can know their spirit and different levels of morale, encourage them when necessary, understand what can and cannot be realized, and thus ask nothing unreasonable. The principle of strategy is like this.

The Way of Strategy

Like a soldier, the carpenter sharpens his own tools. He carries his equipment in his tool box, and works under the direction of his foreman. He makes columns and girders with an axe, shapes floorboards and shelves with a plane, cuts fine openwork and bas reliefs accurately, giving as excellent a finish as his skill will allow. This is the craft of the carpenters. When the carpenter becomes skilled, he works efficiently and according to correct measures. When he has developed practical knowledge of all the skills of the craft, he can become a master carpenter himself.

The carpenter will make it a habit of maintaining his tools sharp so they will cut well. Using these sharp tools masterfully, he can make miniature shrines, writing shelves, tables, paper lanterns, chopping boards and pot-lids. These are the specialties of the carpenter. Things are similar for the soldier. You ought to think deeply about this.

The attainment of the carpenter is that his work is not warped, that the joints are not misaligned, and that the work is truly planed so that it meets well together and is not merely finished in disjoint sections. This is essential.

If you want to learn this Way, deeply consider all the things written in this book one at a time. You must do sufficient research.

Outline of the Five Volumes of this Book of Strategy

In order to explain different aspects of the Way in individual sections, I have written this book in five volumes. These are entitled Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void. [the void, or Nothingness, is a Buddhist term for the illusionary nature of worldly things.]

In the Earth book, I give an overall picture of the art of fighting and my own approach. It is difficult to know the true Way through swordsmanship alone. From large places one knows small places, from the shallows one goes to the depths. Because a straight road is made by leveling the earth and hardening it with gravel, I call the first volume Earth, as if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground.

Second, the Water volume. We make water our model and turn our spirit into water. Water adjusts itself to a square or round vessel with ease, turns itself into a single droplet or into a vast ocean. [Possibly a reference to Lao Tzu: Supreme good is like water. Water benefits everything, yet doesn't compete]. It has the color of aquamarine depths. With that clarity I will write out my approach in this volume.

Once you definitely understand the principle of swordsmanship, the ability to defeat a single person at will means the ability to defeat all the people of the world. The spirit of defeating one man is the same for defeating ten million men. A commander's strategy, which requires him to make something large out of something small, is comparable to the making of a giant Buddhist statue from a foot-high scale model. I cannot write in detail how this is done. The principle of strategy is to know ten thousand things by having one thing. A few things of My Niten Ichi School are explained in this Water book.

Third is the Fire volume. 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 to do battle is the same for man to man fights and for the clash of armies of ten thousands. You must appreciate that the spirit can become big or small. Big things are easy to see: small things are difficult to see. In other words, it is difficult for large numbers of men to change position, so their movements can be easily predicted. An individual can change his mind so quickly that his movements are difficult to predict. You must appreciate this. You must train day and night in order to get used to the quick changes of the mind in battle, until you begin to perceive them naturally. It is necessary to treat your training as part of everyday life. Then your spirit will remain unchanging.

Thus combat in battle is described in the Fire volume.

Fourthly the Wind volume (also the schools volume). This book is not concerned with my own Niten Ichi school but with other schools of strategy. By the term Wind I mean style or tradition, as in old traditions, present-day traditions, and family traditions of strategy. Here I clearly explain the strategies of the various schools in the world. This is tradition. It is difficult to know yourself if you do not know others [a possible reference to Sun Tzu: If you know your enemy and yourself, you will not be in danger in a hundred battles]. To all Ways there are side-tracks. Even if you study your Way daily, if your spirit diverges, objectively it is not the true Way, even though you may think you are following a good Way. What may be a little divergence in the beginning will later become a large divergence. You must realize this.

Strategy has 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 different matter entirely. I have explained what is commonly meant by strategy in other schools in the Wind (Tradition) book.

Fifthly, the book of the Void. By void I mean that which has no beginning and no end. What can you call its innermost depths or its entrance? Attaining this principle means letting go of principles. The Way of strategy is the Way of nature. It has its own freedom. Once you detach from principles, you will acquire exceptional skill spontaneously and independently. Once you know the power of nature, you will discern the rhythm of any situation, and you will hit the enemy naturally with your every strike. All this is the Way of the Void. I intend to show how to enter the true Way naturally in the book of the Void.

Two Swords as One

Samurai, both commanders and troopers, carry two swords at their belt. In olden times these were called the tachi [long sword] and the katana [sword]; nowadays they are known as the katana [sword] and the wakizashi [companion sword]. I don't need to explain this in detail. Let it suffice to say that in Japan, a warrior carries two swords as a matter of duty, whether he knows how to use them or not. It is the Way of the warrior.

I have decided to call my approach "Nito Ichi Ryu" [two swords as one] to show the advantages of using both swords.

As for the spear and the halberd, and so on, these are considered additional weapons.

Students of the Nito Ichi School of strategy should train from the start with the sword and the long sword in either hand. This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you would want to make fullest use of your available weaponry. It is unnatural not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.

If you hold a sword with both hands, it is difficult to wield it freely to the left and to the right, so my method is to get used to wielding the sword in one hand. This does not apply to large weapons such as the spear or halberd, but swords and companion swords can be used in one hand. It is encumbering to hold a sword in both hands when you are on horseback, when running on uneven roads, on swampy ground, muddy rice fields, stony ground, or in a crowd of people. To hold the long sword in both hands is not the true Way, for if you carry a bow or spear or other arms in your left hand you have only one hand free for the long sword. If or when you find it difficult to cut an enemy down with one hand, then by all means use both hands. There is nothing complicated about this.

It is not difficult to wield a sword in one hand; the Way to learn this is to train with two long swords, one in each hand. It will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first. Bows are difficult to draw, halberds are difficult to wield. In each case, you get used to the tool: as you become accustomed to the bow your pull will become stronger, and as you become used to wielding the long sword, you will gain the power of the Way and wield the sword easily.

As I will explain in the second book, the Water Book, 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 basic idea for the beginner.

In my school, you can win with a long weapon, and yet you can also win with a short weapon. For this reason I don't specify the length of the sword but regard the essence of my approach as the resolve to gain victory by any means, whatever the weapon and whatever its size.

It is better to use two swords rather than one when you are fighting a mob, and especially if you want to take a prisoner.

These things need not be explained in detail. From each point, ten thousand things can be inferred. When you attain the Way of strategy there will be nothing you cannot see. You must study hard.

The Principles behind the Characters reading "Strategy"

Masters of the long sword are traditionally known as heihosha [strategists]. As for the other military arts, those who master the bow are called archers, those who master the spear are called spearmen, those who master the gun are called marksmen, and those who master the halberd are called halberdiers. But we do not call masters of the long sword "long swordsmen", nor do we speak of "short swordsmen". Bows, guns, spears and halberds are all tools of the warriors and each should be a way to master strategy.

Nevertheless, the sword alone is associated with mastery of strategy. There is a reason for this. To master the virtue of the long sword is to govern the world and oneself, thus the long sword is the basis of strategy [this observation is based on ancient Japanese sword worship]. 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 can beat ten thousand. In my strategy, things are no different for one man or for ten thousand. This strategy is the complete warrior's craft.

The Way of the warrior does not include other Ways, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, tea, artistic accomplishments and dancing. But even though these are not part of your Way, if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything. It is essential for each of us as human beings to polish our individual Way.

The Advantages of Weapons in Strategy

There is an appropriate time and place for the use of the various weapons.

The companion sword is most useful in a confined space, or when you are engaged at close quarters with an opponent. The long sword can generally be used effectively in any situation.

The halberd is inferior to the spear on the battlefield. With the spear you take the initiative, the halberd is more defensive. In the hands of men of equal ability, the spear gives a little extra strength. Spear and halberd both have their uses depending on the situation, but neither is very helpful in a confined space. They are also not appropriate for taking a prisoner. They are essentially weapons for the field.

Anyway, if you only learn to use weapons indoors, you will narrow your focus to unimportant details and forget the true way. Thus you will have difficulty in actual encounters.

The bow is tactically strong in both charges and retreats, especially during battles on an open field, as it is possible to shoot quickly from among the ranks of the spearmen or others. However, it is inadequate in sieges, or when the enemy is more than forty yards away. Nowadays the schools of archery as well as other arts have more flowers than fruit. In times of real need such kind of skill is useless.

From inside fortifications, the gun has no equal among weapons. It is the supreme weapon on the field before the ranks clash, but once swords are crossed the gun becomes inadequate.

One of the virtues of the bow is that you can see the arrows in flight and correct your aim accordingly, whereas the path of a bullet cannot be seen. You must appreciate the importance of this.

Your horse should have good endurance and no defects. To summarize the essentials on weapons, horses should walk strongly, and swords and short swords should cut strongly. Spears and halberds must penetrate strongly and stand up to heavy use, bows and guns must be strong and accurate. Weapons should be sturdy rather than decorative.

You should not have a favorite weapon, or any other exaggerated preference for that matter. To become overly attached to one weapon is as bad as not knowing it sufficiently well. You should not imitate others, but use those weapons which suit you, and which you can handle properly. It is bad for both commanders and troopers to entertain likes and dislikes. Pragmatic thinking is essential. These are things you must learn thoroughly.

Rhythm in strategy

There is rhythm in everything, however, the rhythm in strategy, in particular, cannot be mastered without a great deal of hard practice.

Among the rhythms readily noticeable in our lives are the exquisite rhythms in dancing and accomplished pipe or string playing. 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 also rhythm in the Void.

There is a rhythm in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is a rhythm in the Way of the merchant, of becoming rich and of losing one's fortune, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling rhythm. You must be able to discern this. In strategy there are various considerations. From the outset you must attune to your opponent, then you must learn to disconcert him. It is crucial to know the applicable rhythm and the inapplicable rhythm, and from among the large and small rhythms and the fast and slow rhythms find the relevant rhythm. You must see the rhythm of distance, and the rhythm of reversal. This is the main thing in strategy. It is especially important to understand the rhythms of reversal; otherwise your strategy will be unreliable.

In combat, you must learn the rhythm of each opponent, and use the rhythms that your opponents don't expect. You win by creating formless rhythms out of the rhythm of the Void.

All the five books are chiefly concerned with rhythm. You must train sufficiently to appreciate this.

If you practice diligently day and night in the strategy outlined above, your spirit will naturally broaden. Thus you will come to comprehend large scale strategy and the strategy of one on one combat. This is recorded for the first time in these five volumes of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void.

Those who sincerely desire to learn my way of strategy will follow these rules for learning the art:

  1. Do not harbor sinister designs. Think honestly and truthfully.
  2. The Way is in training. One must continue to train.
  3. Cultivate a wide range of interests in the ten skills and ten arts. Then one can definitely find the benefits of hyoho and develop oneself.
  4. Be knowledgeable in a variety of occupations, and learn the thinking of people who work in them.
  5. Know the difference between loss and gain in worldly matters.
  6. Nurture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters. It is important to build up an intuitive judgment and understand true values.
  7. Be aware of those things which cannot be easily seen with the eye. Develop intuitive judgment and a mind that freely controls one's body.
  8. Do not be negligent, but pay attention even to the smallest details. Keep them in mind all the time, so as to avoid unexpected failure.
  9. Do not engage in useless activity. Do not argue about useless things. Concentrate on your duties.

It is important to start by setting these broad principles in your heart, and train in the Way of strategy. If you do not look at things in a larger context it will be difficult for you to master strategy. If you learn and attain these principles, you will never lose even in individual combat against twenty or thirty enemies. First of all, you must set your heart on strategy and work earnestly while sticking to the Way. With time you will be able to beat men with your hands, and to defeat people by using your eyes. When through training you become able to freely control your own body, you can conquer men with your body. And because strategy develops the mind, with sufficient training you will be able to beat people with your spirit. When you have reached this point, will it not mean that you are invincible?

Moreover, in large scale strategy the superior man will attract and keep able subordinates, bear himself correctly, govern the country and care for the people, thus preserving the ruler's discipline.

The Way of strategy is to be self-reliant, not losing at anything, to guide others, to gain benefits and honor, and to make peace with others.


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