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The Book of Five Rings takes the reader back to 1645 to capture the thoughts, experiences and military strategy of the time.  This was a period when Miyamoto Musashi, a famous martial artist and samurai, recorded his life experience and strategy. After his side lost at the battle of Sekigakarai, he was known as a Ronin. This term means ‘masterless samurai’.

Musashi was a Kenjutsu master who was believed to be undefeated. The term ‘Kenjutsu’ is a blanket term for all sword fighting martial arts styles.  His first duel was at the age of 13. In his lifetime, Musashi was known to have won 60 duels as he travelled throughout Japan. However, the exact number is unclear so it could have been more.

The Book of Five Rings is interestingly divided into five chapters to reflect the various elements of battle.  This is similar to the different physical elements in life that are taught by several Eastern religions.

The great thing about this book is the discovery within.  On the surface, the book takes the form of a samurai warrior’s practical guide to war and strategy.  However, as the reader embraces the experience, it becomes clear that the lessons that this book have to offer run far deeper. It provides a blueprint on living and life.

Exploring the philosophy

Looking at the life’s lessons in more detail, this is not a book that tells the reader what to do in straightforward terms.  Instead, the Book of Five Rings depicts a philosophy that allows readers to make their own interpretations.  Therefore, the experience of each reader is unique. 

Let’s take this quote from the book as an example:

“You can only fight the way you practice.”

Yes, when it comes to combat, the muscle memory we drill through training will be how our bodies naturally react in a stressful combat situation.  We could also apply this idea to everyday life.  For instance, our responses can be trained to react in certain ways so that we can keep calm when experiencing stressful or negative situations.

Following this idea, let’s take another quote:

“From one thing, know ten thousand things.”

Thinking again about training to manage a negative reaction, how could we apply this quote?

Perhaps through the first time we react badly, we can see the error in our ways.  We learn that there is a better way to respond in the future, or whether the situation even needs a reaction from us at all.  Therefore, from one situation there are many things to be learned.

And one last quote:

“Know your enemy, know his sword.”

If we follow the theme from the examples above, the “enemy” could be our own stress response. Our “sword” could be what triggers us. So, if we know what triggers our stress, we can learn to control it and live a happier life. If we look beyond what the words say, we can apply these ideas to all aspects of life.

Final thoughts

Miyamoto Musashi was a master swordsman , philosopher and painter. Some of his artwork can be found in the book, depending on the version. These pieces show beautiful minimalistic work and his love of nature.

Miyamoto Musashi has a wealth of knowledge and experience that we can all benefit from. This book is a must read for anyone: martial artists and/or those interested in philosophy and personal development.

Review written by Peter Reeve, Instructor at Norfolk Soo Bahk Do, UK.

Sabrina Mistry

As a qualified Personal Trainer and 2nd Dan traditional martial artist, Sabrina combines both to deliver workout programmes, martial arts instruction and fitness classes that are designed with the longer-term health of the body in mind. Get connected on Instagram and Facebook: @beyondthedojang

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