I must admit these texts aren’t quite what I’d expected. The impression I had beforehand was that this was almost a philosophical guide to the life of the Samurai. Although some of the content could be interpreted in that way, what we actually have is a series of books written by Miyamoto Musashi to explain and advertise his school of fighting. Large parts of the Book of Five Rings actually read more like an advert for the dojo, pushing the benefits of his fighting style, combined with a series of attacks on his commercial rivals.
The key reason for the long life and influence of the Book of Five Rings is the career of its author. Miyamoto Musashi was a famous swordsman and dualist, who probably fought on the losing side at Sekigahara. He developed a unique form of double bladed swordsmanship, and was undefeated in 61 duals. He went on to found his own school of swordsmanship (both as a style of fighting and as the teacher of students). He wrote the Book of Five Rings late in live, and it was given to one of his senior disciples, who used it as a teaching aid.
This book begins with a detailed biography of Musashi and his times, tracing his own military career, his duals, his family life and the development of his school of fighting, finishing with a look at the development of his reputation in the years after his death. This is followed by the Book of Five Rings itself and then by five other works also attributed to him. This includes the Heiho Sanjugo-Kajo (Combat Strategy in 35 Articles), an earlier work on swordsmanship that was used as the badge of office for his successors as head of the Niten Ichi-ryu school. These earlier books are useful as they allow us to trace the way in which his theories evolved over time.
This is a very good edition of this important document, made more valuable by the lengthy introduction and the inclusion of all six of the works currently attributed to Miyamoto Musashi, which allow us to see how his views developed, and places the famous Book of Five Rings into the context of his life.
The Book of Five Rings – Gorin-no-Sho
- The Earth Scroll – Chi-no-Maki
- The Water Scroll – Sui-no-Maki
- The Fire Scroll – Ka-no-Maki
- The Wind Scroll – Fu-no-Maki
- The Ether Scroll – Ku-no-Maki
Mirror on the Way of Combat – Heidokyo
Notes on Combat Strategy – Heiho-Kakitsuke
Combat Strategy in 35 Articles – Heiho Sanjugo-Kajo
The Five-Direction Sword Pathways – Goho-no-Tachimichi
The Path Walked Alone - Dokkodo
Author: Miyamoto Musashi