Know A Thousand Things: Miyamoto Musashi On Strategy In His “The Book Of Five Rings In 1645”

Book of five rings by Miyamoto Musashi

He knew his end was near, he wanted to share everything he had learnt through countless duels, battles with enemies and with himself throughout his life.

This was around the year 1643. There was a cave in the mountains north of Kumamoto, Japan. It was the perfect spot for this 60 year old man to retire into.

He was getting frail, his hair unkempt as usual. His receding hairline had retired to almost the back of his head.

Although old and frail, his mind was sharp as ever. He had chosen this cave to be the spot to transfer everything he had learnt about life throughout his travels across Japan, lessons he had learnt from his enemies and the battles he had fought. This would be his philosophy on life and martial arts compiled into text.

This text he named Go Rin No Sho.

Miyamoto Musashi is arguably the best swordsman our world has ever seen. He was born in 1584 in Miyamoto village in Japan.

He is known for his Book Of Five Rings where he highlights his philosophy of living a worthy life.

Although he garnered a reputation for not obeying a few rules such as not dressing the Samurai way, keeping his hair unkempt, he also had a reputation for using unusual weapons in duels.

One of his most famous battles was when he defeated a master with just a piece of wood derived from a boat oar, with one blow. He is also claimed to have defeated 60 opponents in 1 on 1 combat.

I believe his unusual choice of weapons, unkempt hair and body were simply means to throw off opponents. He was a master in the art of deception.

He would do exactly the opposite of what his opponents might have expected him to do. He arrived late to the duels when expected to be on time.

Once upon a time, his opponent set a trap with his partners to lure him into a 1 on 1 duel, while arriving with a platoon of people. As Musashi had a reputation of arriving late, they could easily ambush him.

Well, on that day he arrived early, earlier than the opponents and with one fell swoop beheaded their leader. This caught everyone off-guard, where he was able to then win over all those people.

Miyamoto Musashi, followed Bushido. Bushido is the way of the Samurai.

This code was practiced by all Samurais in all of Japan. And the basic premise of this code was honesty.

Honesty does not just mean being honest with other people, it also means being honest with yourself. Being honest about your shortcomings and your strengths in order to build a better you. Musashi in his book of five rings constantly talks about the importance of improving yourself from all fronts and how your death is dishonorable if you haven’t given something all you had.

Miyamoto Musashi promoted people to take up arts such as calligraphy that teach precision, patience and attention to detail as a means of winning in life. He was a master artist along with other things as well.

Art By Miyamoto Musashi

This is a truth: when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet undrawn.

Miyamoto Musashi

Life can be easy at times, and at times it can be hard. We all have our fights, small or big.

We do not want to look back at our lives when we are 75 and say I wish I would have tried that thing I always wanted. Never leave your weapon undrawn.

It will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.

Miyamoto Musashi

And we must fight our fights. To do that however, we must train ourselves to be stronger, wiser and better human beings. With time and delibrate training things start to become easier and easier as they get ingrained into our minds and bodies.

The letter below depicts one of the stories where Miyamoto’s way of thinking shows us that almost all hurdles in life can be crossed with adequate training of he mind and the body.

Dear Mookung, How are you?

I have been staying at Yagyu’s house. He is a really kind friend, so I am doing very well. However, a month ago, while I was learning swordsmanship from Yagyu, I met another friend, who is named Miyamoto Musashi. Before I met him, Yagyu told me that Miyamoto Musashi was the strongest Samurai in Japan. I asked him, “Is he stronger than you?”

He answered, “I did not compete with him, but I talked with him about swordsmanship many times. At that time, I always thought he was stronger than me.” I was surprised at his answer because Yagyu had very great swordsmanship. I met Miyamoto Musashi at his home.

Yagyu and I went to his home together, and I had an opportunity to learn swordsmanship from him, so many people envied me. Before teaching us swordsmanship, he showed us his swordsmanship. He said this style of swordsmanship was ‘Niten ichi ryu’. While learning swordsmanship, I asked how to have great swordsmanship to him. He pointed to a straw mat and said, “Can you walk on edge of the mat?” I walked on the edge of the mat as he said.

He asked again, “If the width of a bridge whose height is six feet is as narrow as the edge of the mat, can you walk on it?” Actually, the width of the mat was approximately three inches, so I thought it might be very dangerous to walk on the narrow bridge.

I answered, “Hmmmm… I am not sure…” He asked, “If the width is three inches, can you walk on it?” I said, “Of course, I can walk on it.” “How about this? What if the bridge links a mountaintop and the other mountaintop? Can you walk on it?” I answered with a serious look, “It is impossible. It is too dangerous to walk on it. I will never walk on it.”

Miyamoto Musashi laughed and concluded this argument. “The width of the bridge is same, so if you walk on the six-feet-height bridge, you can walk on the 3000-feet-height bridge. However, because we have distracting thoughts like fear of danger, people cannot walk on it.

Swordsmanship is the same as this. Thus, training in swordsmanship means throwing away the distracting thought.” I am impressed by his explanation. Before I met him, I just thought Samurais were only strong but not smart, and I saw many Samurais who swaggered because of their swordsmanship.

However, he was very different from them although he was the strongest Samurai in Japan. Thus, I believed that because of his personality, most warriors respected him. However, Musashi was also humorous, and he described swordsmanship and  object greatly, so he could be much famous than other Samurais.

After that day, we became good friends. He taught me swordsmanship, and I taught him accounting. He was very interested in learning accounting and good at math. However, he was going to have a big battle with his biggest rival, Sasaki Kojiro the following month.

Thus, I have not seen him for a while.What do you think about stories about my friends, Musashi and Yagyu? I hope that you enjoy my stories. After introducing two more friends, I will be able to go back home. I miss you a lot. I hope to see you soon.


Dongpyo Hong 

With enough deliberate practice put into something, we can master that art. Training of mind, training of body are the most important things.

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