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The Book of Five Rings

The Book of Five Rings

4.2 103
by Miyamoto Musashi

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Book of Five Rings

is one of the most insightful texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and
victory to emerge from Asian culture. Written not only for martial artists but
for anyone who wants to apply the timeless principles of this text to their
life, the book analyzes the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that


Book of Five Rings

is one of the most insightful texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and
victory to emerge from Asian culture. Written not only for martial artists but
for anyone who wants to apply the timeless principles of this text to their
life, the book analyzes the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that
underlies every level of human interaction.

Book of Five Rings

was composed in 1643 by the famed duelist and undefeated samurai Miyamoto
Musashi. Thomas Cleary's translation is immediately accessible, with an
introduction that presents the spiritual background of the warrior tradition.
Along with Musashi's text, Cleary translates here another important Japanese
classic on leadership and strategy,

The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War

by Yagyu Munenori, which highlights the ethical and spiritual insights of
Taoism and Zen as they apply to the way of the warrior.

Editorial Reviews

On Wall Street, when Musashi talks, people listen.
Library Journal
Written by legendary Japanese swordsman Musashi, this 17th-century exposition of sword-fighting strategy and Zen philosophy has been embraced by many contemporary readers, especially business school students, as a manual on how to succeed in life. There are many English translations, but every one, including this one, suffers from inadequate cultural, literary, and philosophical commentary. Musashi's work should be studied, not simply read, and Cleary's translation lacks commentary; it also makes the prose seems flat and the philosophy simplistic. Yet what makes this new translation worthwhile is the second text, buried deep in the back like an appendix: Yagyu Munenori's The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War . This text, also an exposition on sword fighting and Zen philosophy, is difficult to find in an English translation, and its availability is welcome. Recommended for academic libraries generally.-- Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
John Mort
Here are two Japanese martial arts classics from the seventeenth century, of more than ordinary interest because of their distinguished translation and because of their identification with Zen. Musashi says things like "It is crucial to think of everything as an opportunity to kill," and there's no question his primer on training the would-be warrior's mind and body is, in that respect, as effective as ever. What might interest readers not inclined to bloodlust is Musashi's pared-down philosophy, as exemplified in his nine rules for learning any art. These include "Think of what is right and true," "Understand the harm and benefit in everything," "Become aware of what is not obvious," and the delightful "Do not do anything useless." Following Musashi's last meditation, "The Scroll of Emptiness" (about how, when one masters an art, one separates from it into a state of perfect, contented clarity), is Yagyu's short essay on the art of war. Yagyu, apparently quite a bloody warrior in his youth, in late life worked hard to link martial arts concepts to Zen, and his short essay has a distilled, aphoristic quality. Both writers are marvels of clarity and, oddly, peacefulness.
From the Publisher
"On Wall Street, when Musashi talks, people listen." ---Time

Product Details

Publication date:
Shambhala Library
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Sales rank:
File size:
932 KB

Read an Excerpt

the Translator's Introduction

Book of Five Rings
Book of Family Traditions on the Art

two of the most important texts on conflict and strategy emerging from the
Japanese warrior culture. Originally written not only for men-at-arms, they are
explicitly intended to symbolize processes of struggle and mastery in all
concerns and walks of life.

Book of Five Rings
written in 1643 by Miyamoto Musashi, undefeated dueler, masterless samurai, and
independent teacher.
Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War
written in 1632 by Yagyu Munenori, victorious warrior, mentor of the Shogun,
and head of the Secret Service.

authors were professional men-at-arms born into a long tradition of martial
culture that had ultimately come to dominate the entire body of Japanese polity
and society. Their writings are relevant not only to members of the ruling
military caste, but also to leaders in other professions, as well as people in
search of individual mastery in whatever their chosen path.

Book of Five Rings
Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War
both written in Japanese, rather than the literary Chinese customary in elite
bureaucratic, religious, and intellectual circles in Japan at that time. The
Japanese in which they are written, furthermore, is relatively uncomplicated
and quite free of the subtle complexities of classical high court Japanese.
Although the crudity of Musashi's syntax and morphology make for clumsy
reading, nevertheless the basic simplicity and deliberate clarity of both works
make them accessible to a wide and varied audience.

rise and empowerment of the samurai class in Japan may be seen in the two terms
used to refer to its members,
from the Japanese verb
means "to serve as an attendant." The word
Sino-Japanese and means "armed gentry." The word
used by other social classes, while the warriors referred to themselves by the
more dignified term

original samurai were attendants of nobles. In time their functions expanded to
the administration, policing, and defense of the vast estates of the nobles,
who were mostly absentee landlords. Eventually the samurai demanded and won a
greater share of the wealth and political power that the nobles had called
their own. Ultimately the military paragovernment of the Shoguns, known as the
Bakufu, or Tent Government, overshadowed the imperial organization and
dominated the whole country.

and Yagyu lived in the founding era of the third Tent Government, which lasted
from the beginning of the seventeenth century through the middle of the
nineteenth century. While inheriting the martial traditions of its
predecessors, this third Tent Government differed notably in certain respects.

first Tent Government was established in eastern Japan near the end of the
twelfth century and lasted for nearly one hundred and fifty years. The warriors
of this time were descendants of noble houses, many of whom had honed their
martial skills for generations in warfare against the Ainu people in eastern
Japan. As the Tent Government was seated in Kamakura, a small town near modern
Tokyo, this period of Japanese history is commonly called the Kamakura era.

second Tent Government supplanted the First in 1338. The warrior class had
expanded and become more differentiated by this time, with lesser and thinner
genealogical ties to the ancient aristocracy. The Shoguns of this period
established their Tent Government in Kyoto, the old imperial capital, and tried
to establish high culture among the new samurai elite. This period of Japanese
history is commonly called the Ashikaga era, after the surname of the Shoguns,
or the Muromachi era, after the name of the outlying district of Kyoto in which
the Tent Government was located.

understand Japanese history and culture, it

essential to realize that no government ever united the whole country until the
Meiji Restoration of 1868. The imperial government had always ruled the whole
land in theory, but never in fact. The imperial house had never really been
more than a center of powerful factions, competing with other powerful
factions. Even when everyone recognized the ritual and political status of the
emperor in theory, direct imperial rule only reached a portion of the land.

this is true of the imperial house, so it is also true of the military
governments. The reign of the Shoguns was always complicated and mitigated by
the very nature of the overall Japanese power structure. The rule of the
Kamakura Tent Government was not absolute, that of the Muromachi Tent
Government even less. Separatism, rivalry, and civil warfare marked the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

this time, known as the era of the Warring States, the way of war was open to
anyone who could obtain arms by any means. Lower-class samurai rose up to
overthrow the upper-class samurai, and Japan was plunged into chaos. It was not
until the latter part of the sixteenth century that a series of hegemons
emerged with strategy and power sufficient to move dramatically toward
unification. The third Tent Government was built on the achievements of those

the context of traditional Japanese society, the founder of the third Shogunate
was an upstart and a usurper. Aware of this, he set out to establish a most
elaborate system of checks and controls to ensure the impossibility of such an
event ever occurring again. Moving his capital again to eastern Japan, away
from the heartland of the ancient aristocracy and imperial regime, the new
Shogun disarmed the peasants and disenfranchised the samurai class, removing
all warriors from the land and settling them in castle towns. This period of
Japanese history is commonly known as the Tokugawa era, after the surname of
the Shoguns, or the Edo period, after the name of the new capital city, now
called Tokyo.

Japan was divided into more than two hundred baronies, which were classified
according to their relationship to the Tokugawa clan. The barons were
controlled by a number of methods, including regulation of marriage and
successorship, movement of territories, and an elaborate hostage system. The
baronies were obliged to minimize their contingents of warriors, resulting in a
large number of unemployed samurai known as

of the disenfranchised samurai became schoolteachers, physicians, or priests.
Some continued to practice martial traditions, and to teach them to others.
Some became hooligans and criminals, eventually to constitute one of the most
serious social problems of the later Tokugawa period. Certain differences, both
technical and philosophical, between
Book of Five Rings
Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War
from the fact that Miyamoto Musashi was a masterless samurai pursuing a career
as a dueler and an independent teacher of martial arts, while Yagyu Munenori
was a distinguished war veteran and a servant of the central military government.

Book of Five Rings

properly titled in English
Book of Five Spheres,
Musashi's work is devoted to the art of war as a purely pragmatic enterprise.
Musashi decries empty showmanship and commercialization in martial arts,
focusing attention on the psychology and physics of lethal assault and decisive
victory as the essence of warfare. His scientifically aggressive, thoroughly
ruthless approach to military science, while not universal among Japanese
martialists, represents a highly concentrated characterization of one
particular type of samurai warrior.

a vast body of legend grew up around his dramatic exploits, little is known for
certain about the life of Miyamoto Musashi. What he says of himself in
Book of Five Rings
the primary source of historical information. He killed a man for the first
time when he was thirteen years old, for the last time when he was twenty-nine.
At some point he apparently gave up using a real sword but continued to inflict
mortal wounds on his adversaries until the end of his fighting career.

last three decades of Musashi's life were spent refining and teaching his
military science. It is said that he never combed his hair, never took a bath,
never married, never made a home, and never fathered children. Although he also
took up cultural arts, as indeed he recommends to everyone, Musashi himself
basically pursued an ascetic warrior's path to the end.

into strife, raised in mortal combat, ultimately witness to a transition to
peacetime polity on a scale unprecedented in the history of his nation,
Miyamoto Musashi abandoned an ordinary life to exemplify and hand on two
essential elements of ancient martial and strategic traditions.

first of these basic principles is keeping inwardly calm and clear even in the
midst of violent chaos; the second is not forgetting about the possibility of
disorder in times of order. As a warrior of two very different worlds, a world
of war and a world of peace, Musashi was obliged to practice both of these
fundamental aspects of the warrior's way in a most highly intensified manner,
lending to his work a keenness and a ferocity that can hardly be surpassed.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"On Wall Street, when Musashi talks, people listen." —-Time

Meet the Author

Miyamoto Musashi, who lived in Japan in the 1600s, was an undefeated dueler, a masterless samurai, and an independent teacher. He spent the last decades of his life refining and teaching his military science.

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The Book of Five Rings 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is a great book-although i have only read 40 pages- its just great. i am now a green belt in the korean art of haidong gumdo, which means korean sword art of the eastern sea. i am 13 now and this book can be hard to understand at times, but if you just keep reading that line that you dont understand a few times, you should come to understand it. also, one thing that helps me is to grab a stick or a wooden sword or whatever you can find that somewhat resembles a sword and do what the book says. all in all i just think this book is great and fun to read!
Mr.Krinkle More than 1 year ago
This is a philosophy that caters to a particular type of person. "See what can not be seen", sounds silly however it has its pure logic to the practitioner. Study and train. Defeat a man with a look. The books of Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and lastly and most difficult to understand... Void. These are not easy to understand. How to stand, flare your nose, belly out, bend your knees... Imagine your opponent defeated. One must study at length and beyond and still possibly not grasp what is being said. I cannot vouch for a particular translation. I have read two and thre is something to be learned from both. This is a very serious read. Not lengthy, just complicated. Written by Japan's most revered Samurai. This will help you grow as a practitioner and a person.
gbrutt More than 1 year ago
No matter whether you practice martial arts or have no idea what a dojo is, The Book of Five Rings is a great read. Written by someone who fought and won over sixty contests, it gives wisdom and insight into combat that can be applied to any situation. The book does not detail technique or lay out forms but rather speaks about mastering The Way. I've read it several times and always come away with greater insight and have something to think about. Clear, concise and easy to read, any person can benefit from the concepts contained in this book. "The way of the warrior is to master the virtue of his weapons."
Ringo_Fan999 More than 1 year ago
This book is intended to be read while practicing Martial Arts. In theory, one would read a chapter, wander off and practice it for a few years, return to the next chapter, and then repeat the process. Simply reading the book will not turn you into a Ninja or Zen guru. Practice is required. Re-reading it after physical practice can often be enlightening. Like many Samurai type books, the author focuses on the "Martial" part of Martial Arts. That is, the practice is intended to kill, not just disable, the opponent. Modern practice sees it differently.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Miyamoto Musashi is one of if not the most profound and prolific authors of his and our time. He writes from the perspective of a self experienced man. If you get past the surface of this manual of life you will see that the art that is being disected is for the development of a well rounded person. Only if you can get by the military surface you will see this. He (Mr. Musashi)challenges us to study what he has written and also to apply the principles so that we can see the spirit in which he writes. If you are interested in maintaining a demeanor that is unlike any other in your immediate circle of friends and constituents please purchase this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you are going to sell the book then sell it not just a sample for a dollar!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is still waitting has been up since last night
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Cailalilly More than 1 year ago
Miyamoto Musashi was a brilliant swordsman. His teachings are exceptionally simple but filled with wisdom. My favourite quote of his, “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.” 
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jsoda079 More than 1 year ago
Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings is a must read! Not only does this book, which is charming in its own right in that it is conveyed through a series of comics, talk about strategy as a superficial goal, but it also has underlying tones of how to balance yourself to get through daily battles and be happy in life. What a great book!
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Sianne_Rice More than 1 year ago
Musashi was probably one of the most profound writers in Japanese history. This book is amazing, it applies to not only swordplay but to business and live in general. I'd recommend it to EVERYONE.
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