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The Book of Five Rings

The "Earth" scroll

by Andrea Yarbrough

Welcome to the Book Club. The purpose of the club is to offer a forum where martial artists can garner insight from reading martial arts texts, both ancient and modern. The book club can be a powerful tool to augment our martial arts studies through discussions sharing the collective insights gleaned from the books we'll be reading. The exciting part about an Internet book club is the opportunity it offers to share the thoughts and perceptions of participants with a wide range of backgrounds, previous study, and fresh insights.

The first book selected to be read is Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings", which can be ordered using the link at the bottom of the page.

For more discussion of this classic work, go to the discussion in the Book Talk Forum and join in.

Join the Book Club to receive email updates on the discussions and more.

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.

For more discussion of this classic work, go to the discussion in the Book Talk Forum and join in.

Join the Book Club to receive email updates on the discussions and more.

The book of Five Rings
by Miyamoto Musashi, Musashi Miyamoto

Buy it here

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Book of Five Rings, martial arts books, Book Club, Book Discussion, Musashi

Read more articles by Andrea Yarbrough

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