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Miyamoto Musashi's Go Rin No Sho: A Book of Five Rings

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The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) Source - Eisei-Bunko Museum

The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) Source - Eisei-Bunko Museum

The ronin Miyamoto Musashi strove for a life that fate envies. Born in the Harima Province he left home at an early age to travel the country seeking an answer to life that could only be found in perfection of his art. Birthed from a long line of warriors and heeding the call of the Sengoku period he strove to perfect his fighting style. Starting with a duel at the young age 13, he rapidly went on to shock and savage the other strategists he met with his uncanny wit and strength.

His most famous duel being between him and Sasaki Kojirō at the age of 30. Where he arrived late and Sasaki, enraged by the insult of his tardiness, lunged at him. Musashi struck him down and leapt back into his boat before Sasaki's entourage could pursue. From this story and more, Mushashi is recognized as a master of weapons simply because he has never lost a duel to any of the samurai or ronin he encountered

Young Musashi wielding two bokken (Source -

Young Musashi wielding two bokken (Source -

Dueling against the numerous and famous swordsman in his land he perfected his swordsmanship. Using the techniques he honed is his art he formed a style called Niten'ichi. Niten'ichi is a two sword technique using a long sword and a shorter companion sword, such as the katana and wakizashi. After perfecting his techniques and creating the Niten'ichi style he was not yet satisfied once again set out seeking the true essence of fighting and an even deep mastery of the physical arts.

The pursuit for this knowledge and skill never ended and he fought well into the later years of his life, never relenting in ferocity or honor. He died in his sixties; shortly after inscribing his knowledge into his last book the Go Rin No Sho.

Go Rin No Sho

The Go Rin No Sho along with the Dokkōdō were dedicated to his favorite disciple Terao Magonojo under the condition that he read it, memorize it, and burn it immediately after. However, his fellow successor Furuhashi Sozaemon borrowed the Go Rin No Sho and secretly made two copies. One for himself and the other for his master Hosokawa.

The Go Rin No Sho provides a great and unique insight into Japanese history, as they intimately reveal the mindset of the greatest warrior in Japan. They would have been invaluable guides throughout Terao's life.

The Go Rin No Sho has 5 chapters.

  • Each book is named after a different "element"
  • Complete it is a "tactics book". Each element a part of the whole.
Ronin Miyamoto Musashi killing a nue. Artist - Utagawa Kuniyoshi                                              (Source -

Ronin Miyamoto Musashi killing a nue. Artist - Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Source -

The Ground Book

Musashi explains how there is more to sword fencing than the fencing itself. He explains strategy from the viewpoint of his Ichi School. How to find the ground upon which your feet draw strength. He explains the correct way to hold your self and the sword. Reading this chapter teaches you the about the foundations of the Ichi school. It will give all of your sword fighting techniques a firm grounded base and thus their strength.

"Timing is important in dancing and pipe or string music, for they are in rhythm only if timing is good. 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 timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is timing in the Way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. In strategy there are various timing considerations. From the outset you must know the applicable timing and the inapplicable timing, and from among the large and small things and the fast and slow timings find the relevant timing, first seeing the distance timing and the background timing. This is the main thing in strategy. It is especially important to know the background timing, otherwise your strategy will become uncertain."

Water Book

The Water Book tells of one's spirit. Spirit here means many things at once. How you hold yourself, your attitude, your inner emotions; all these come together to make your spirit. To conquer one man is the same as conquering 10,000. The spirit of it is the same. You can think of it as your attitude. If you can always do a backflip then you'll never hesitate when you need to do one. Musashi wants you to approach everything with this calm necessary conviction.

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There are five attitudes known as the Upper, Middle, Lower, Right Side, and Left Side respectively. Imagine sectioning your body. Each one has a different feel to it. The Middle attitude is the heart of all attitudes and should be studied accordingly. The other attitudes all draw their strength from the heart. The latter part of this chapter is about sword parries and thrusts, and the strategies and tactics that accompany them.

"In strategy your spiritual bearing must not be any different from normal. Both in fighting and in everyday life you should be determined though calm."

Fire Book

In this 3rd chapter he speaks of fighting as fire. You must be alive with it. Rapid and fluid but powerful in your movements. Blowing away those in front of you with no mercy or hesistation.

"The training for killing enemies is by way of many contests, fighting for survival, discovering the meaning of life and death, learning the Way of the sword, judging the strength of attacks and understanding the Way of the "edge and ridge" of the sword"

Musashi explains that one must study his enviroment. The difference in position can make the battle. The strategies in attacking are discussed, as in what ways there are to attack and when. He explains how to unsettle men, and what to keep an eye on during a fight.This chapter appears to be about large scale fighting, but the strategy and tactics can be applied in any situation.

"As one man can defeat ten men, so can one thousand men defeat ten thousand. However, you can become a master of strategy by training alone with a sword, so that you can understand the enemy's stratagems, his strength and resources, and come to appreciate how to apply strategy to beat ten thousand enemies."

Wind Book

The wind chapter describes the strategies of other schools. He goes into detail as to why he disproves with their strategy and the best way to act instead. He speaks in depth about the long swords of various length, as well as the thought behind such methods. This chapter also contains much of his thoughts on footwork.

"Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast."

Void Book

The final chapter is the shortest of all 5 chapters. Where before he takes his time to explain in detail certain aspects of his strategy; here he is concise. "What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man's knowledge. Of course the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void."

He explains that what you are ignorant of in your craft is not the void. That you must practice with diligence every day, honing your skills as if they are your life. That with years of experience you will slowly come to see what represents your very sword. Miyamoto Musashi finishes the Go Rin No Sho with the line.

"In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness."

Artwork from Musashi

Artwork from Musashi

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Kenneth Brown from United States on November 05, 2011:

I really liked the overview of Musashi's life. The summaries of the book chapters was interesting as well, but I would take some issue with the Water chapter assessment.

Rob Welsh from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time. on October 27, 2009:

Excellent review of the master of the katana. I have marked your work up as it deserves high ranking. Do the master the honour of spell checking this work on him and thank you for joining HP. I will enjoy your works.

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