the book of five rings



No blog of this sort would be complete without mentioning  The Book of Five Rings .

Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-June 13, 1645), also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke, or by his Buddhist name Niten Dōraku, was a Japanese swordsman famed for his duels and fighting style. He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today. 

The Book of Five Rings is separated into five sub-books. The five “books” mirror the belief that there are five physical elements. Earth, Fire, Water, Wind and Void as believed by Buddhism, Shinto, and other Eastern religions. The Five books are descriptions of methods and techniques which are taught to the student via these elements.

  • The Book of Earth is an introduction. It discusses martial arts, leadership, and training through the metaphor of carpentry and the building of a house.
  • The Book of Water describes Musashi’s style, Ni-ten ichi-ryu. It describes basic techniques and fundamental principles.
  • The Book of Fire refers to engaging in battle. It discusses matters such as different types of timing, terrain and battle strategy.
  • The Book of Wind discusses what Musashi considers to be the failings of various contemporary schools of swordfighting.
  • The Book of the Void is a short epilogue, describing Musashi’s thoughts on consciousness and the correct mindset.

Musashi establishes a utilitarian theme throughout the book. He repeatedly states that technical flourishes are excessive and that worrying about such things conflicts with the principle that all technique is simply a method of cutting down one’s opponent. He also makes the point that the concepts expressed in the book are important for combat on any scale, whether a one-on-one duel or a full-scale battle. Descriptions of principles are often followed by admonitions to “investigate this thoroughly” through practice, rather than try to learn by merely reading.

5 thoughts on “the book of five rings”

  1. Would recommend reading Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life Giving Sword” in tandem with Musashi’s Five Rings.
    Munenori was the swordmaster for three successive shoguns. It is worthwhile to compare and contrast the “findings” of Musashi, an inveterate loner to those of Munenori, the ultimate company man. The two were contemporaries and to some (disputed) extent, rivals.
    Just throwing it out there.
    Good summary of 5R.

  2. The Book of Five Rings is perhaps THE book I always go back to more than any other. I have a couple of different versions (translations) which is interesting to read the differences.

    Anyone know of the most accurately translated? That would be nice to know as I don’t speak Japanese unfortunately.

    I will also check out ‘The Life Giving Sword’ as suggested by Boss Mongo.


  3. I’ve got four or five different translations; I couldn’t tell you translated by whom nor recommend one over the other (don’t have my comprehensive library of ass-kickery available to me right now).
    If you really, really want to “get your Musashi on,” I’d recommend Yoshikawa’s “Musashi.” Warning: it’s a long, long read–o/a 1500 pages if I remember correctly. It’s the Japanese version of Gone with the Wind. But, it does a marvelous job of tracking the development of the young, out-of-control Takeo into Miyamato Musashi, a warrior on a journey to become an original human being.

  4. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I wonder if there is a way of viewing MM as an “expert” on some of his 5 Rings topics (Leadership, Battlefield tactics…). I don’t remember any biographical information of MM holding a leadership position in a field battle, so – though his historic work is definitely good wisdom/info, what is some of it based on other than academic reflection?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s