Review of 'The Book of Five Rings (Gorin no Sho)'

The Book of Five Rings (Gorin no Sho) by Miyamoto Musashi

the_book_of_five_rings.jpg Perhaps to accentuate the idea that this translation of the ancient, original work this book is subtitled “The Real Art of Japanese Management” though having read the book I am slightly horrified that some businesses would take some of these teachings to heart as it would make them quite ruthless indeed. Miyamoto Musashi lived in late 16th, early 17th century feudal Japan as a highly successful (ie, undefeated) Ronin - A wandering samurai for hire. Towards the end of his life he wrote “The Book of Five Rings” describing his “Heiho” (philosophy) sent to would-be followers as a series of five short “books”: chi/Earth (setting context), mizu/Water (Musashi's technique), hi/Fire (strategy), kaze/Wind (techniques of other schools) and ku/Emptiness (key to understanding everything). In this translation there is a fairly length introduction including short introductions to Zen, Bushido and Heiho concepts which help set the scene. Then, before each chapter there is an introduction from the translators then an introduction from Musashi himself before tackling specific aspects one at a time. Indeed, the actual “Book of Five Rings” is quite short but this supplementary material greatly helps the reader in understanding the import of what is being said. At the end of each critical bit of insight Musashi always reminds the reader to study and take what is being said to heart.

The essence of Musashi's “Heiho” is to be natural in all things, clean of heart and mind, “living in the moment”. This means not thinking but simply reacting decisively and swiftly to all things. Indeed, this carries through to his style of fighting which is to be fluid and natural in technical, for example, using the same placement of feet you would use in normal walking or standing and “cutting” with a stroke that is clean and unflinching with little emotion (though he argues against calling this “intuition” or “instinct” - but I would argue it is a matter of teaching/practicing these aspects until they point they become such). Obviously this control of body and mind requires a great deal of practice as we turn away from what we have always been taught but here we are told it is essential to be successful. Having said all of this, despite espousing this simplicity of thought there is a great deal Musashi has to say about the technique of not only his fighting style but others (which he severely criticizes as concentrating too much on specifics) as well.

An interesting and contemplative book that is well worth a read though if you want to take it's teachings to heart you have a good amount of time ahead of you to truly put them into practice.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2022-09-04

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Bantam New Age books

Publication Date: 1982

ISBN: 0553270966