“I have been many years training in the Way of Strategy, Ni Ten Ichi Ryu, and now I think I will explain it in writing for the first time.
“It is now during the first 10 days of the tenth month in the twentieth year of Kanei (1645). I have climbed mountain Iwato of Higo, in Kyushu, to pay homage to heaven, pray to Kwannon and kneel before Buddha.
“I am a warrior of Harima province, Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, age 60 years.”
So begins Go Rin No Sho, A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi.
Musashi was born in 1584 in a Japan struggling to recover from more than four centuries of internal strife. He was born in an upper-class structure that, like so many, have separated and marginalized people according to their background and circumstances.
Although fortunate to be born in the upper class, he suffered hardship at a young age through the loss of his mother and father.
An uncle, who was a priest, raised the boy.
He began studying Kendo (the way of the sword) at a very young age and had his first combat at the age of 13. He left home at the age of 16 to embark on a warrior’s pilgrimage.
During his lifetime, he was engaged in more than six wars and had over 60 personal contests before the age of 29. He was the victor in all.
In the majority of his matches, he used wooden swords against the real blades of his opponents.
He developed the art of two swords instead of one.
Throughout his life, Musashi avoided comfort. His life was one of violence, yet tempered with his studies in arts and crafts. His masterpieces of ink painting are more valued than any other Japanese artist. He was a calligrapher and wood sculptor.
On a few occasions, he would carve his sword before an arranged fight. The most famous in which he carved an oar as he was rowed to an island to fight another famous swordsman.
He spent the last two years of his life in a cave, living in isolation and contemplation. It was during this period that he wrote A Book of Five Rings.
The book was never meant to be a thesis on strategy, but rather a guide for men who want to learn strategy. Even though it was written from a Kendo perspective, it also has been adopted around the world by businesses in their pursuit to gain an advantage over other competition.
Musashi devoted the majority of his life to the search for enlightenment by the way of the sword. He ultimately became the most famous swordsman in Japan.
“In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the way has existence and spirit is nothingness” (A Book of Five Rings).
The first technique is the last: the beginner and the master behave in the same way. Knowledge is full circle.
Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts for over 38 years and has trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at [email protected]