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#134895 - 01/10/02 04:12 PM Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
As was noted in the Book Talk introduction, the first book we'll be discussing is Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings." The book is broken up into five sections (scrolls), so I thought we could approach our discussions based on the following schedule...

Jan. 28th - Begin discussion by covering the "Earth" scroll, as well as discussing Musashi himself.

Feb. 4th - Discussion of the "Water" scroll.

Feb. 11th - Discussion of the "Fire" scroll.

Feb. 18th - Discussion of the "Wind" scroll.

Feb. 25th - Discussion of the "Void/Emptiness" scroll (different publications of the book will sometimes interpret the title of this scroll somewhat differently).

Of course there may be folks who join the discussion in the middle, so this schedule is not set in stone -- feel free to post a discussion topic/point from an earlier section even if we're in the last week of discussing the book. (Plus, you never know what topics might spark more interest than others and carry over into another week.)

I'm excited to see how this discussion goes, and look forward to hearing from my fellow martial artists on this interesting text.

Andrea Yarbrough

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#134896 - 01/28/02 12:26 PM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
When I first read Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings" (Gorin no sho), I'm not sure if I truly expected for it to contain any wisdom/information that I could really use in my martial arts study (more or less my everyday life). After all, it was written in feudal Japan way back in the 17th century by a ronin (masterless samurai). Musashi's is not merely a book on sword fighting, in it he presents his martial strategy (which is relevant to martial arts in general, not just the sword arts). Not only has Musashi created a work that speaks to all martial artists, but he has written it in very straightforward terms. He even tells us that he has chosen not to use the language of Buddhism or Confucianism (as was the style of some of the other martial arts treatises written around his time -- a style that often shrouded the true lessons behind the jargon). Instead, he says it is with a "sincere heart" that he sits down to write. And anyone who sits down with the same sincere heart to read and learn from Musashi's writings won't come away empty-handed.

Musashi calls his first scroll "Earth" because in it he lays out the general principles of his martial strategy -- the "groundwork" or preparation needed to set those who are seeking on the "straight" (or true) path. Does anybody have any thoughts about the "path" or "way" that Musashi is teaching? (For example, his concept of winning at all costs -- is this still the aim/path of martial artists today? Should it be?)

Musashi uses the metaphor of the master carpenter to convey some of the precepts of his strategy. In this example, he is teaching (among other things) the importance of using the "right tool" for the job (using the right weapon for the situation, using the right technique based on your opponent and the situation, and even utilizing the right person for a specific task). Musashi's school of two swords indicates this belief. He says that no one should be content to die without having used all the tools at his disposal.

As martial artists today, what does it mean to you to use all the tools at your disposal? How can we acquire the necessary tools for a complete toolbox? (What's your opinion about cross-training in the martial arts?) (Christopher Caile has written an interesting article on this very subject for this site entitled, "Gripping Budo By More Than One Corner.")

Musashi also talke of the master carpenter keeping his tools sharp. How do you keep your tools sharp? (What are some practice habits you've picked up over the years that really help keep your tools sharp?)

As we're talking about practice, it's important to note that Musashi uses the example of the carpenter using the same care and mastery whether he's building the largest thing (a house) or the smallest and seemingly insignificant (a pot cover). He's talking about focusing on the details -- without focusing/mastering the footwork, body posture, hand position, etc of a larger movement (kata, self-defense set, etc), you can never master that larger movement. (What are your thoughts and opinions about the importance of mastering each small detail in the martial arts?)

This is just a broad look at the Earth Scroll. I'll post other ideas/topics later, and I encourage any and all comments/ideas on the book so far.

Andrea Yarbrough

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#134897 - 02/05/02 04:57 PM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
Water Scroll discussion - The Water Scroll is a natural progression from Musashi's first section, The Earth Scroll. In his Earth Scroll, Musashi lays the groundwork for a "road that will lead to the straight path," then in The Water Scroll he lays out the steps that can take the reader/practitioner along that path.

Even though Musashi discusses some very specific sword-wielding techniques and postures in this scroll, it is important to note that the main concept to be garnered from this scroll is the importance of keeping a fluid, free mind and body, and never losing focus of the primary aim of defeating or killing one's opponent. This water-like fluidity applies to one's mind (don't be set on one specific technique, be prepared to flow between techniques as the situation dictates), one's body (don't be set on one sword position -- each position should easily blend into another as the situation dictates), one's hands on the sword (as is still taught in modern kendo, Musashi suggests a grip where only the ring and pinky fingers grip tightly with the middle gripping a little looser and a very light grip with the index and thumb, allowing a greater freedom of movement of the hands), and even the gaze of one's eyes (Musashi recommends that one's eyes be slightly narrowed and their focus be broad -- so that you can see everything but look at nothing).

Musashi says, "fixation is the way of death, fluidity the way of life." This is another way his teachings are applicable to every day life today. Does anybody have any comments on living with an open mind as compared to being unbending? Looking at an example in nature here in North Carolina, I can tell you from experience what trees survive a hurricane...it's the supple/bending ones, not the stiff/unbending ones!

I'd be very interested to hear from some fellow martial artists on, not only what you think about Musashi's concept of fluid mind/body/spirit, but also hearing some ways you work to keep yourself fluid in your art. I've heard some debate on where to focus the eyes in sparring. Some people say look at your opponents eyes, others say look at the trunk of the body in order to peripherally see all motion, etc. -- What do you think? Also, are there any techniques you've discovered to keep your mind the same in combat as in everyday life? (I've never been in a life-or-death combat situation, so I can only equate combat to sparring in karate or geiko in kendo vs everyday life.) Musashi is pretty clear on the main way to obtain this sort of fluidity...practice, practice, practice.

These are just a few observations from The Water Scroll. I'll post more later and look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

Andrea Yarbrough

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#134898 - 02/14/02 02:30 PM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
Fire Scroll Discussion -

In The Fire Scroll, Musashi talks about combat. He lays out combat tactics that go beyond the small (like the flick of a wrist, or relying on speed). He lays out tactics that are relevant to both a large scale battle situation and one-on-one. In this scroll, he applies the theories he's discussed in his earlier scrolls.

Musashi gives practical advice about controlling your physical situation like: keep the sun to your back, stand on higher ground than your opponent, don't give your opponent a chance to fully access his/her surroundings, and chase your opponent into uneasy ground/obstacles. Does anybody have any comments about these tactics? Have you ever had a situation in which you used any of these tactics?

Along with controlling your situation in regards to your physical surroundings, Musashi also talks about controlling the rhythm of combat. He lays out 3 different ways: 1) forcefully initiating the attack, 2) waiting to see what your opponent will do/how he will react before you attack, and 3) attacking simultaneously with your opponent.

Even given these 3 methods of controlling the situation, one must have keen insight for them to be of any use. He says you must closely observe your opponent...to "know" them. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that if you know yourself and your opponent, then you'll win 100% of the time. If you only know yourself or only know your opponent, then your chances of victory or defeat are 50/50. And if you know neither yourself, nor your opponent, there is no way you'll win. Does anyone have any thoughts/ideas on how we as martial artists can hone our skills of "knowing" both our opponents and ourselves?

Musashi does say not to become too preoccupied with reading your opponent, making yourself passive. He makes it clear that it is through training that you can learn to take control and obtain victory. Through practice, you can control the situation without conscious effort (or with an "empty mind"). I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have on the idea of empty mind...in some ways similar to the concept of "Beginner's Mind" in Zen philosophy.

Much of Musashi's strategy is mental. He speaks several times of "empty mind" -- it is only through this calm, relaxed, fluid state of mind and body that victory is achieved. (With an empty mind, that is fluid and constantly changing based on the situation, it is impossible for your opponent to read you and thus defeat you.) Musashi's concept of "empty mind" is both a necessary state to achieve victory and to avoid defeat -- he's giving us offensive/defensive advice all in one idea.

It's not only our mind that Musashi says should remain fluid/ever changing...but our fighting techniques as well. He talks about the concept of "Becoming New", where if one tactic/technique doesn't work, change your gameplan and try something different. This is sometimes hard to make yourself do in a sparring match -- either you have those few techniques that you like to consistently rely on, or you feel that you're playing someone else's karate/kendo/judo, etc. if you change in reaction to a situation they've caused. (Note: I use the word "play" above for lack of a better one...noting that some fights are far from play and the martial arts are not a game.)

I won't go into the other individual tactics he discusses in this scroll, but would like to hear any thoughts you may have about them.

Keep reading...keep practicing...keep on the path that leads to the Way.

Andrea Yarbrough

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#134899 - 02/21/02 10:24 AM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
Wind Scroll discussion -

In the Wind Scroll, Musashi talks about other schools of Martial Arts with the purpose of promoting better understanding of his own school. (Sound familiar? Know your opponent...know yourself.) Through these discussions of other styles, we learn that the primary focus of Musashi's school is to win at all costs.

One of the ways he advocates to help one win at all costs is keeping an unbiased, open mind (not being confined to the use of only one particular type of weapon, only one style, etc). As he has in past scrolls, Musashi tells us to first observe each situation and then act accordingly (using the most appropriate weapon/tactic) -- remaining fluid.

In talking about the schools that utilize mainly the short sword, thus relying on defensive tactics (parrying, eluding, etc), Musashi admonishes us to fight in a straight forward way...to manipulate the opponent/situation, not vice versa. He also says not to focus on the guard position because it will force you to have to wait, rooted, thus letting your opponent control the action.

I find it interesting that modern Kendo focuses on just this -- straight forward attacking, with little elusive tactics. Yet in Karate, often some of the hardest opponents to beat are those that fight defensively. Any opinions on this? Is a strong offense the best defense?

I read with interest the part about eye focus. I'm constantly struggling with where to fix my gaze in sparring/keiko. Musashi's answer -- to focus on your opponent's heart and mind -- is very insightful. Now remains the task of developing that skill. Any suggestions on developing these powers of observation over seeing?

In talking about both footwork and speed, the underlying concept Musashi is teaching is rhythm/timing. Again, he says to adjust as the situation dictates...in rhythm with your opponent/the situation. Finding your own rhythm and learning to adjust that rhythm to the circumstances takes practice. Within the art(s) you practice, do you have any suggestions/comments on developing this sense of rhythm/timing? I know one thing that has helped me in both Karate and Kendo is kata. Does anybody else value kata in this same way?

Looking forward to your comments.

A. Yarbrough

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#134900 - 02/27/02 10:47 AM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
The Emptiness/Void Scroll Discussion --

Although this is the shortest scroll of the Book of Five Rings, The Emptiness/Void Scroll is definitely the hardest for me to "wrap my mind around."

It is very fitting that Musashi addresses the Void last, as it is the embodiment of his ultimate achievement from his lifelong following of the way of the samurai.

In this scroll, he's saying that human skill, knowledge, and even martial strategy are limited, but the realm of void/emptiness is limitless. When he speaks of the void, he speaks of something positive and boundless -- something far greater than the individual and the world we live in.

Musashi speaks of the void as the state where there is no confusion -- in Zen terms, this would be a state of enlightenment. He says that the way to attain this level of understanding/awareness is through constant practice and study -- in other words, faithfully following "The Way".

Much like his strategy for fighting, Musashi says the way to obtain understanding of The Way (to enter into a state of emptiness/void) is to pursus it in a straightforward manner with sincerity.

I find it intriguing that he's speaking here in his practical, easily understood way of something that on the surface seems so complex that it will take a lifetime to understand, yet at its center is simple truth. In other words, I can "see" what he's talking about, but in no way can I have full "understanding/awareness" of his words without my own lifelong journey. We've all read parables giving numerous exapmles of others on a quest for enlightenment or knowledge that find what they're seeking only through their personal pursuit/search. These are things that the masters can point us toward, but they're not disclosed in easy answers -- we can't be told -- instead, we must continue to follow our chosen way with sincerity until we achieve the state of void Musashi is talking about here.

I have a feeling (if I even half-way understand some of the Zen teachings I've read) that once we do attain a void state, we'll find ourselves back at the beginning!

This last scroll circles around itself and gives much to ponder. What are YOUR thoughts? I'd love to hear them, and I hope that all who've read (or will read) this book get as much out of it as I have.

A. Yarbrough

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#134901 - 05/02/02 03:43 AM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
Sanjuro Offline
Newbie

Registered: 05/01/02
Posts: 8
Loc: Makati City, Metro Manila, Phi...
Dear A. Yarbrough,

It's been a very long time since I last read "The Book of Five Rings."

Although I genuinely regard Musashi's work as a valuable exposition on swordsmanship and the Way of strategy, I have to say that over the years I have become more critical of the author's legend as Japan's greatest swordsman. Much of what we know about Musashi's life story is based on folklore and unsubstantiated written accounts. In contrast, there is a wealth of historical information on the great swordsmen of the post-Tokugawa era; under modern scholarly scrutiny, great masters such as Yamaoka Tesshu and even Takeda Sokaku may be just as deserving of the acclaim traditionally accorded to Musashi.

Still, whether Musashi deserves his peerless reputation or not, this issue does not detract from the validity of many of the insights he set forth in "The Book of Five Rings."

That said, please accept my thanks, Ms. Yarbrough, for the refreshing clarity of your discussion on Musashi's book. Your synopsis should serve as a commendable guide for those who would be reading Musashi's treatise for the first time. I, for one, certainly enjoyed this Book Talk series.

regards,
Alex Sawit
Makati City, Philippines

PS: In your discussion of the Wind Scroll, you asked for suggestions on how one might develop the ability to focus on the opponent's heart and mind during sparring.

Musashi, in the scroll's section about "Fixing the Eyes," talks about how football players will 'see' the field rather than consciously focus on the ball all the time. Interestingly, modern ball sports such as basketball and soccer are exactly like this. Good players don't fix their eyes on the ball; instead they see and feel the flow of the game on both offense and defense. Thus, on defense they anticipate where the ball will be passed and are able to steal it from the ooposing team (ask any good goalie who plays soccer or hockey and you'll understand why they must anticipate an opponent's mind well in advance). On offense they read the openings in their opponent and are able to score accordingly.

Truthfully, one learns these things intuitively by playing and playing and playing. Would you be willing to play a favorite ball sport as part of a regular team?

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#134902 - 05/02/02 03:40 PM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
Alex,

Thank you very much for your comments in discussion of "The Book of Five Rings."

You are right on target with your observation that we should be wary of taking all accounts of Musashi's life at face value, as the bulk of the biographical information about him is unsubstantiated and has reached legendary status through repeated retelling. Just recently I was loaned a copy of the fictional novel "Musashi" to read, and although it was an interesting, well told story, I had to keep reminding myself that it was mostly just that...a story -- for entertainment and not to be studied as fact. I'm actually glad that I read "The Book of Five Rings" first so that I didn't have the temptation of trying to see the ideas of the real Musashi through the eyes of the character Musashi.

I'll show my ignorance here in that I'm not familiar with Yamaoka Tesshu or Takeda Sokaku, but they are now next on my list of historical figures to research. Do you have any recommendations of sources to read about these two master swordsmen? Did they author any books that are accessible today? Thanks in advance for any further information about these two swordsmen.

Great analogy of seeing the entire field of play (not merely the ball) in modern team sports as a way to teach/explain where to focus the eyes in martial arts practice. Thinking back on experiences playing basketball, I see you're very right -- to be even remotely successful you can't focus only on the ball (or even focus solely on the person you're guarding on defense). You have to feel where everyone is going and anticipate their next move. These are things I've both forgotten and neglected to apply to my martial arts training (especially as they apply to sparring).

One thing you said above all else is key (and echoes the lesson learned from "The Book of Five Rings") -- you said, "Truthfully, one learns these things intuitively by playing and playing and playing." This I think is the essence of the way -- keep playing, keep practicing, keep studying. These actions are what will get us all where we want to go!

Not that it matters, but I'm curious, what sport(s) do you play, and what martial art(s) do you practice? Thank you again for your insight and help.

Andrea Yarbrough
Raleigh, NC

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#134903 - 05/03/02 10:20 PM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
Sanjuro Offline
Newbie

Registered: 05/01/02
Posts: 8
Loc: Makati City, Metro Manila, Phi...
Dear Andrea Y.,

I'm pleased to be of help. Here's some information that should be useful to you for future research on Yamaoka Tesshu and Takeda Sokaku.

Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888) was the founder of the Itto Shoden Muto Ryu (The "No-Sword" School). An enlightened practitioner of the sword, Tesshu was also a teacher of Zen and an outstanding calligrapher. Such was his mastery of the Way that, in Japan, many consider Musashi to be the only other practitioner worthy of comparison. But unlike Musashi, who won his fame by wantonly spilling the blood of his rivals, Tesshu only needed to manifest the power of his imperturbable mind in order to humble his opponents during a match. There are many biographies about Tesshu in Japanese, but as of now I am only aware of one in English. This is "The Sword of No-Sword" by John Stevens (Shambhala Publications). Though it can be a little taxing to read because of the way the narrative diverges from one stream of thought to another, the book also includes many translations of Tesshu's own writings.

Takeda Sokaku (1858-1943) is best known as the 20th century's supreme exponent of Daito Ryu "Aiki" Jujutsu, the martial art from which modern Aikido developed (aikido founder Ueshiba Morihei was Sokaku's student). Often overlooked, however, is that Sokaku is also considered the last of the great samurai swordsmen (he belonged to the last generation of samurai born and raised before the Meiji Restoration). I'm unaware, though, whether any of his writings have been published. An excellent source of info about Sokaku is the official Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu Home Page (www.daito-ryu.org). Its websmaster is Derek Steel, a Nidan-ranked practitioner based in Tokyo who is both an English translator for and one of the top foreign students of Kondo Katsayuki, head instructor of Daito-ryu.

If you need additional help, feel free to contact me at <saiyan@i-manila.com.ph>.

best regards,
Alex Sawit
Makati City, Philippines

Postscript: Regarding my martial art background, I recieved my certification in the traditional martial art of Hwa Rang Do from Grandmaster Yum Ki-Nam of South Korea (senior disciple to Supreme Grandmaster Lee Joo-Bang). In addition, I am also helping fellow Filipinos promote classical Filipino martial arts both at home and abroad. And, like most other Filipinos who grew up with basketball as the national past-time, I try to shoot hoops whenever I can.

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#134904 - 05/29/02 12:16 PM Re: Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi - Discussion
A Yarbrough Offline
Member

Registered: 12/19/01
Posts: 40
Loc: Raleigh, NC, USA
Dear Alex,

Thank you for the additional information on Yamaoka Tesshu and Takeda Sokaku.

Out of curiousity, I typed both names (separately) into my web browser and have found many interesting sites with more information about them both. Some of the calligraphy of Yamaoka Tesshu that is posted on the web is very beautiful, as well as interesting (especially one with the picture of a skull drawn at the bottom -- I'm not sure why this one struck me as so unusual, but it really caught my attention).

I'm definitely going to get a copy of "The Sword of No-Sword" to read.

Both of these men make for interesting study, even though they seem to have very different character traits. While Yamaoka Tesshu seems to embody many of the ideals of Zen and the martial arts, some of the biographical information I found on Takeda Sokaku showed him as very much a man who marched to the beat of his own drum (to the extent that one article I read about him alluded to negative opinions others had of him).

Besides finding much additional information about these two men, I also stumbled upon some martial arts related sites that are of interest to me as well (especially some kendo-related sites that came up when I searched for Yamaoka Tesshu, as well as some on-line martial arts journals).

So, thank you again for your help and your information in pointing me one step further down the path in my martial arts studies.

Andrea Yarbrough

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