If you ask a martial artist to name the greatest warriors of all times, among them they might say Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), the author of The Book of Five Rings. Musashi was a legendary Japanese swordsman who is known by having cut down 60 men in his time as a duelist. Far from being the only duelist in Japanese history, what separates Musashi is that he took the time to document everything into the paper in the form of the Go Rin No Sho – The Book of The Five Rings, a manual on swordsmanship strategy.
At first sight this seems like simply another book about martial arts, however the truth is that when Miyamoto wrote the book he was already old and had nothing to lose about revealing his fight secrets. Although a lot of the content is specific to the feudal period of Japanese swordsmanship, there are endless things that martial artists and others can learn from the text. Strategy can be transcendent to context.
Mushashi’s book is divided into 5 different parts:
In the first chapter of the book, Miyamoto clearly focuses on the idea that if you want to succeed in combat, you need to have a plan. This is something that you learn in each martial arts style in varying degrees. You need to first study and, only then, fight.
Knowing your capabilities and skills as well as understanding the dynamics of the conflict will help you succeed. Despite not knowing in advance who will win any situation, the better you’re prepared the better odds you have to be the winner.
Within this part of his book, Miyamoto refers to one of the major difficulties many martial arts have: adaptability. When fighting an opponent, you need to utilize all the tactics and techniques you know and use the best one to defeat your opponent; not the one that you prefer. Before the fight even begins, you need to know what movements you’ll be applying to your opponent and always be ready to change your tactic.
This is the part of the book that concerns about being a fierce fighter. One thing is for sure: you may have been trained by a renowned master and be in great shape. But if you lack the ferocity, you will lose the fight if your opponent has only ferocity. You don’t have to be like Miyamoto who never slept or never washed his body. You just need to apply what he said: “The way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death.”
You need to focus not only on your martial art system but also to study your opponents. And who are they in the 21st century? You need to learn who they are, what they wear, and how they operate.
The lesson behind this part of the book is pretty simple: let’s say that you’re learning karate. You can consider taking Eskrima or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, to expand your horizons.
No matter how much you want to run away from the idea, you know, even though it may be deep in your heart, that combat is animalistic, violent, and simple. You can only understand it and accept it.
In this last part of the book, Miyamoto explains that you need to focus on 2 different aspects:
— Mental: When you’re with the right mindset, even though you’re in the middle of combat, you won’t have any fear. This doesn’t make you either stupid or brave; it just shows that you were focused on winning. When you study the martial arts as well as you can, when you know all the parameters, when you have a backup plan for any action, you will know what to do.
— Technical: Knowledge and learning are meant to be forgotten. And only when you are able to fully acknowledge this, is that you’ll be ready to fight because your body will move as if it is automatic.
As you can see, the Miyamoto’s The Book Of The Five Rings couldn’t be relevant to the modern era. Yes, things have changed since Musashi’s age. However, all the knowledge and insights written in the Book of Five Rings can still be applied to everyone’s lives.