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Go Rin No Sho - A Book Of Five Rings - Miyamoto Musashi

Updated on December 15, 2015
The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) Source - Eisei-Bunko Museum
The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) Source - Eisei-Bunko Museum
Young Musashi wielding two bokken (Source - Wikipedia.org)
Young Musashi wielding two bokken (Source - Wikipedia.org)

The ronin Miyamoto Musashi strove for a life that fate envies. Born in the Harima Province he left his home at an early age to travel his homeland. Seeking the answer to his life. Coming from a line of warriors and heeding the call of his age he strove to perfect his fighting style. Starting with a duel as young as 13, he rapidly went on to quell and savage the other strategists he met. His most famous duel being between him and Sasaki Kojirō at the age of 30. Mushashi is recognized as a master of weapons as he had never lost a duel to any of the samurai or ronin he encountered.

Dueling against these men he perfected his swordsmanship. With this superb swordsmanship he created a style called niten'ichi. This is a two sword technique using a long sword and a shorter companion sword. An example of this would be the katana and wakizashi. Perfecting his techniques was not enough and he set out again. Seeking the true essence of fighting and a mastery of arts. He continued to seek this knowledge and skill well into the later years of his life. Never relenting in fights or in honor. He died in his sixties; shortly after inscribing his knowledge into his last book the Go Rin No Sho.

Go Rin No Sho

The Go Rin No Sho along with the Dokkōdō were dedicated to his favorite disciple Terao Magonojo under the conditon that he read it and burn it. However his fellow successor Furuhashi Sozaemon borrowed the Go Rin No Sho and made two copies. One for himself and the other for his master Hosokawa.

Given the time this happened they provide great insight into Japanese history, as they reveal the warrior's/artist's/man's mindset. They would have been invaluable guides throughout Terao's life.

The Go Rin No Sho has 5 chapters.

  • Each book is named after a different "element"
  • Complete, it is basically a "tactics book"

The Ground Book

In it, Musashi explains how there is more to sword fencing than the fencing itself. He explains strategy from the viewpoint of his Ichi School. How to find the ground upon which your feet draw strength.

"Know of the smallest things and of the biggest things, the shallowest and the deepest, As if it were a straight road mapped out on the ground".

He explains how to hold your self and the sword. Reading this chapter teaches you the foundations of the Ichi school. It will give all of your sword fighting techniques their base and thus their strength.

Ronin Miyamoto Musashi killing a nue. Artist - Utagawa Kuniyoshi                                              (Source - en.wikipedia.org)
Ronin Miyamoto Musashi killing a nue. Artist - Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Source - en.wikipedia.org)

Water Book

The Water Book tells of one's spirit. Spirit here means many things at once. How you hold yourself, your attitude, your inner emotions; all these come together to make your spirit. To conquer one man is the same as conquering 10,000. The spirit of it is the same. You can think of it as your attitude. If you can always do a backflip then you'll never hesitate when you need to do one. Musashi wants you to approach everything with this calm necessary conviction.

There are five attitudes known as the Upper, Middle, Lower, Right Side, and Left Side respectively. Imagine sectioning your body. Each one has a different feel to it. The Middle attitude is the heart of all attitudes and should be studied accordingly. The other attitudes all draw their strength from the heart. The latter part of this chapter is about sword parries and thrusts, and the strategies and tactics that accompany them.

Fire Book

In this 3rd chapter he speaks of fighting as fire. You must be alive with it. Rapid and fluid but powerful in your movements. Blowing away those in front of you with no mercy or hesistation.

"The training for killing enemies is by way of many contests, fighting for survival, discovering the meaning of life and death, learning the Way of the sword, judging the strength of attacks and understanding the Way of the "edge and ridge" of the sword"

Musashi explains that one must study his enviroment. The difference in position can make the battle. The strategies in attacking are discussed, as in what ways there are to attack and when. He explains how to unsettle men, and what to keep an eye on during a fight.This chapter appears to be about large scale fighting, but the strategy and tactics can be applied in any situation.


Wind Book

The wind chapter describes the strategies of other schools. He goes into detail as to why he disproves with their strategy and the best way to act instead. He speaks in depth about the long swords of various length, as well as the thought behind such methods. This chapter also contains much of his thoughts on footwork.

A shred of his knowledge,"Speed is nor part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast."

Void Book

The final chapter is the shortest of all 5 chapters. Where before he takes his time to explain in detail certain aspects of his strategy; here he is concise. "What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man's knowledge. Of course the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void."

He explains that what you are ignorant of in your craft is not the void. That you must practice with diligence every day, honing your skills as if they are your life. That with years of experience you will slowly come to see what represents your very sword. Miyamoto Musashi finishes the Go Rin No Sho with the line.

"In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness."

Artwork from Musashi
Artwork from Musashi

Comments

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    • KBEvolve profile image

      Kenneth Brown 

      6 years ago from United States

      I really liked the overview of Musashi's life. The summaries of the book chapters was interesting as well, but I would take some issue with the Water chapter assessment.

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      8 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Excellent review of the master of the katana. I have marked your work up as it deserves high ranking. Do the master the honour of spell checking this work on him and thank you for joining HP. I will enjoy your works.

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