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.

Lost Letters From 1679 – Travels To Spain

I have learnt, since this little Adventure, that ’tis the Custom in Spain, when any thing is presented to one, if he likes it, and kisses your Hand, he may take it with him.

Madame d’Aulnoy

A guy took her expensive mechanical watch to have a look(Tompion’s) and then took her hand in his and kissed it. As soon as he did it, he put the watch in his pocket, which she describes would have been bigger than someone’s travel sack, and walked away.

One such Tompion’s mechanical hand watch from 1708, sold for GBP 25,000 at an auction. One of Tompion’s table clocks sold for GBP 2M in 1999.

We arriv’d in good time at St. John de Luz: nothing can be pleasanter than this Borough, which is the greatest in France, and the best built; there are several smaller Cities : its Port lies between two Mountains, which Nature seems to have expressly placed to defend it from Storms ; the River Nivelle disgorges it self therein ; the Sea comes up very high in it, and the greatest Barks come up commodiously to the Key. The Seamen here are very skillful at catching Whales, and other large Fish.

Madame d’Aulnoy

I felt this was very interesting. The fact that in 1600s, there were fishermen skillful and crafty enough to catch whales.

Makes me wonder what did they exactly do with a whale they caught. Not all parts are going to be edible.

What did they use the whale teeth for?

Born to Nicolas – Claude Le Jumel, who was said to have served in the armies of Louis XIV for a long time. Her father Nicolas, was related to a few of the best families in Normandy, and her mother worked to provide special services to the Spanish Court.

Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness of Aulnoy, was a french fairy tale writer who became famous to the family for her works done in the late 17th century among other female fairy tale writers.

Her notable works included La Chatte Blanche, La Grenouttle Bien-complaisante, Le Prince Lutin, L’Oiseau Bleue

Baroness of Aulnoy
Baroness of Aulnoy

She got married at the age of 16 to Francois de La Motte who was 52 at the time. This fact really tells something about marriages and society of those times.

If the Contes des Fees of Madame Aulnoy have had a remarkable vogue, not so fortunate has been the lot of some of the historical endeavors of this lady. Her Memoires de la Cour d’Espagne (1679-1681) and Memoires de la Cour d’Angleterre (1695) have been quietly laid aside, together with the Histoire d’Hippolyte, Comte de Douglas (1690), and the Histoire de Jean de Bourbon (1692), for, though always interesting, the qualities of imagination which combine to the writing of a fairy tale are not quite those needed for the making of history, and unfortunately for the clever lady, it is in the field of “delicate frivolity that she has been placed.”

Most Faithful Servant

She traveled with little mules, her banker, and servants. She tells various stories in her letters out of which a couple I have highlighted.

Gateway Of Fuenterrabia
Gateway Of Fuenterrabia

Some who came to feed me, brought little little Sucking Pigs under their Arms, as we do little Dogs: it’s true they were very spruce, and several of ’em had Collars of Ribbons, of various Colours: However, this Custom looks very odd, and 1 cannot but think that several among themselves are disgusted at it: When they danced, they must set them down, and let these grunting Animals run about the Chamber, where they make a very pleasant Harmony.

Madame d’Aulnoy

She wrote this in her first letter, written to her cousin. She had to travel through France into Spain, her journey included riding with the litter through multiple mountains, then to cross the sea to finally come to a junction where you had to pay toll to enter Spain.

Both Spain and France had decided that at this toll, the two countries would split the collection irrespective of the political situation. To come to a conclusion like that feels a big deal to me, as it would be but natural for one country to want all the money collected during 1600s.

Medina Del Campo
Medina Del Campo

She explains in great detail the events that took place throughout her journey through Spain in 1679 through these long letters she wrote.

Her words resonate very well, seems like she is writing a fairy tale to take you through the towns, castles, and people she encountered on her long journey.

Definitely a great but lesser known storyteller.

She traveled a lot, wrote a great deal about her experience and died in her house in the Rue Saint-Benoit in January, 1705.