By Michael Higgins Jr.
THINK 8/27/2018 2:01 PM ET
THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS REVIEW
The Way of Strategy
A few years ago, when my cousin was locked up at Fort Knox, we were on the phone chopping it up. We were on the exchanging good reads and he put me on to ‘The Book of Five Rings’, which was written by Miyamoto Musashi, AKA Sword Saint. Within that week, I picked up this quick read, which is only 96 pages. For someone who was a free spirit in all ways, I read the novel and instantly saw many flaws in my lifestyle. I noticed that I was living without strategy and I was running away from the true way.
At the beginning of The Book of Five Rings, you get an idea of Japanese history (from 700 A.D. to 1600 A.D.) and its culture. That turmoil that had been going on in that country for centuries, was the melting pot that cooked up Kendo Martial arts. Students that venture into kendo martial art, diligently train with both long and short sword at the same time. Kendo without Zen is not the true way. Practicing your craft diligently and keeping a leveled spirit is the true way. I may use the word, ‘way’ a lot in this book review, because this novel is about understanding the way of the warrior, which is the way of strategy. Teachers mix Zen into Kendo, so warriors will stay realistic about the nature of ordinary life.
After giving you the lay of the land and culture, the book goes into the history of Miyamoto Musashi. The Sword Saint was born in 1584, in a village called Miyamoto in the province of Mimaka, Japan. By the age of seven, Musashi had lost both of his parents and he was being raised by an uncle. By the age of thirteen he had caught his first body, by striking a man in the head with a stick. He left home at the age of 16 and began his 34-year pilgrimage, on his way to mastering his craft as a samurai. During his pilgrimage, Musashi defeated tons of opponents one on one. He also served different warlords, during war campaigns. The way of the warrior is, ‘the way of the sword’. Over that period, he embodied a ferocious single-mindedness in the way of the sword and he avoided society in general. He may not have cared about his personal hygiene on a regular basis, but he did carry swords in bathrooms when he did clean up. The bible says, “A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men”; Musashi has trained Emperors in the way and discussed warfare with Shoguns. At the end of his life, Musashi decided to live in a cave and write about his understanding of the way of Kendo. His writing turned into The Book of Five Rings.
The next chapter is the introduction into the way. This book has 54-foot notes, that give you the definition of words, and the first footnote/definition is “Way”, and the second footer is “Strategy”. I will go into these to definitions because they are used repeatedly throughout this book. The ‘Way’ is defined as “the whole life of the warrior, his devotion to the sword”. Strategy is defined as a warriors method (my understanding). Musashi gave his perception of his life and how he has always knew he was inclined in the way of the warrior. Keep this sentence in mind, “Thus with the virtue of strategy I practice many arts and abilities”. When you truly understand the way, you will understand that you can apply the way in any endeavor you choose to embark on.
Once you get passed the two-page introduction, you get into the real meat and spaghetti of the way. The first chapter is called ‘The Ground Book’. It is a lot to perceive, so I will highlight the good stuff. They say that the way of strategy is based on over coming men. The way of the warrior is death. If you choose a path to the death, you will never be a failure. Warriors die on purpose, for a cause larger than themselves (Like Lieutenant Dan’s family in Forest Gump). True warriors don’t follow emotional flare ups, they act out based on wisdom.
A true warrior is prepared and on time. Musashi wrote, “Immature strategy is the cause of grief”. That makes a lot of sense, because people plan for success, but their plans were not good enough and the results they receive causes grief.
The way of the warrior is to master the virtue of his weapons. To become a better warrior, he believed that it is your advantage to study the other ways men make a living. The four ways is the way of the carpenter, merchant, farmer, and warrior. The way of the carpenter is to plan your work with accurate measurement and to work the plan. The way of the merchant is to make profit by any means. The way of the farmer is to plan his work around the seasons, mastery of agro tools, and to stay vigilant. A warrior works in the same manner as all three. A warrior must plan his work like the carpenter, making sure to cut accurately. Like the farmer a warrior must know the season, so he will know when the sun will rise and fall and based upon the season suns rise early or late. Like the merchant, a warrior must be able to sell their ideas. A Warriors is like these craftsmen in other ways, I want you to investigate these ways or see the similarity between those ways of life and your way of life.
The book goes into deep understanding of the carpenter and comparing the two ways. The carpenter and the warrior both take pride in maintaining their tools. A carpenter should be very familiar with the type of wood he uses on a regular basis. A warrior should be familiar with the different types of weapons he will encounter on a regular basis. A carpenter knows that certain wood structures should be used on certain parts of the house. A warrior knows that certain attacks should be used on certain opponents. Like a carpenter knows his wood, the foreman must know his workers capability and not force his workers to do task that is beyond their ability. Like the carpenter, a warrior must know his troops, and he must put them in the best position to be successful. A foreman will observe his workers and promote them once they have mastered their task. Warlords think the same way. If you compared the farmer or merchant, to the warrior, you will find similar characteristics.
A warrior must know his weapon very well. What are the strengths and weakness of that weapon. You must understand when is the best application of that weapon. How to effectively wheel that weapon. Like in any craft, certain tools have its disadvantages and advantages. Musashi wants his pupils to know their weapons very well. He also believed in owning weapons that will stand the test of time and the elements that come with the change of seasons. The way of a warrior is not to have a favorite tool over the other. You must train with all tools equally. You don’t want to have your enemy expecting your favorite attack coming their way.
Throughout this novel you will constantly be motivated to practice. You will find quotes like, “You must train diligently.”, “Practice this well.”, “Reach this principle and train diligently.”, and “You must master this.”. That is one thing you will take away from the way of the warrior, that the true way is practicing relentlessly.
If you were to think like a general, you would want to be familiar with each weapon on the battle field. A general wouldn’t put his warriors to work doing things that would compromise the mission. General things will catch his eyes like quality of work, how good a soldier takes care of his weapons and work space. Like a foreman, a generals watches his workers, to see when they have mastered skills, and a the general will give that soldier more responsibility.
The book goes on to focus on the weapons characteristics. You should know your weapons strengths and weakness. The weapon, that a knowledgeable soldier would lean towards, would be sturdy tool that will stand the test of warfare and could with stand the elements. They wouldn’t invest in fancy weapons. When it comes to weapons usage, a well-trained soldier, wouldn’t have favoritism towards one weapon or attack.
Here are some rules that kendo soldiers will follow:
· Do nothing which is of no use
· Become acquainted with every art that concerns your business
· The way is in training
· Know the way of all profession that will have a hand in your project
· Pay attention to the smallest detail in every project
The next chapter, in The Book of Five Rings, is the Water Chapter. This chapter is about how your spirit should stay even all the time. A soldier should keep his spirit even, throughout all situations. A soldier must be determined but stay calm. It is very important that a person interpret this book from their way of life. Like I’m a writer and I replace the word warrior with writer. So, a writer must practice diligently, just like a warrior should practice diligently.
Another topic that is covered in the water chapter is knowing your opponent. You must be mindful of that natural nature of a small and large people. Smaller people are known to be scrappier and they don’t stay down. Larger people are known to use more powerful attacks and those attacks will cause him to be tired faster. It is very good to know your opponent. A great quote from this novel is, “When you cannot be deceived by men you have realized the wisdom of strategy.” Wisdom is gained by study and experience.
Just like the Art of War, these warriors will need to know the lay of the land. You will want to know the laws that you must abide by in your craft and in your country. This is important, so you know how to carry yourself in general. He would know other crafts in that land, so he could survive in that land.
This book teaches you how to train your body to become a superior warrior. They focus on how you should set your gaze broadly, so you can see more of the battlefield. How you should stand is covered in this novel. Your stance should put strength in your legs. You should focus on how you are perceived by the world. They also go over how you should hold your tools. The importance of having a constant foundation is, once your body has built the habit of standing in a certain way, your mind will take the focus off your form and put more focus on cutting down your opponent.
Once you have mastered your body, you move on to how to handle the sword. This is called the five attitudes. The attitude is where is the tip of the sword located. Upper, Middle, Lower, left and right is the place where your sword will start. Then it goes into the way of the long sword and how you should handle it and operate it. The book goes into different attacks and how you should be conscious of using your environment to your advantage. You should be conscious of the cause and effect of your attack.
The Fire Book follows The Water Book. The Fire book talks about mastering your craft and the power you will receive from mastery. They reiterate the importance of practicing your craft and how you should stay selfless. You must keep your focus on the victory, this is called “Crossing at a Ford”.
Apart of warfare is knowing where you stand with your enemy. This could be knowing if they are tired, fearful, aggressive, or any other feeling an opponent is giving off. Recognize enemy attacks, so you can strategically counter and win the battle. Another thing that you should be aware of how enemies will react to battlefield could give you a major edge in warfare. Practice diligently, will speed up the process of you recognizing the signs when you should make certain attacks. This chapter deeply, covers walking in the shoe of your enemy. By thinking like your opponent, you will know where they plan on going, which is a true advantage. Your goal is to take away the enemy’s advantage and movement. Back your opponent into a no-win corner. Recognize when your opponent has studied your moves and hit them with the unexpected. This chapter provides different ways of taking on your opponent, you will need to apply that knowledge to your craft.
The Wind Book is the next chapter. This chapter is about truly analyzing what you are doing. A great quote that I came across was, “Great and small go together”. That statement makes me think of a Mountain and how it wouldn’t be as great a site without streams flowing down it or the beautiful flowers landscaping its side.
The Wind Book goes deeply into what is not the true way of the warrior. Like using a longer sword or using a shorter sword is not the true way. He talks about going to schools to learn more about your weapon, but don’t waver from the way. Know what not to do and why not to do it, would give you an edge in your everyday life. A true warrior doesn’t look forward to performing a certain attack, they should look forward to taking the battle as it comes or making the initial strike. The way of the warrior is to focus on winning the battle, not if weapon in hand will be capable of cutting down his opponent. This book does a lot of application of positive thinking. For example, statements like this appears often, “Just think on how the victory will feel.” He recognized the power of positive thinking before it became a worldwide trend.
Warriors live for truth, the stand on a principle of truth, they don’t have to do too much guessing on the way to victory. A truth may be that traveling through marshland will slow you down. Knowing this I would put my opponent at a disadvantage by making them travel through the marsh.
Another truth that you stand on, is that taking the initiative is key to taking the win. Your goal on taking the initiative is that you will be putting your self into position for your enemy to obey your spirit. No matter what move you make, stay square with your normal spirit. A constant level spirit could get you away with murder or keep you safe when people are looking for a fearful victim.
The last chapter of the book is, “The Book of The Void”. A great quote that I came across in this chapter is, “By knowing what exist, you will know what does not exist. That is void.” Being void means, knowing your craft in and out, which would make you void of being surprised. Not knowing is not the void you’re looking for. You want to be void of blind spots on the battlefield, you want to be void of different tools, you want to be void of encountering different landscapes, and you want to be void of all attacks.
Musashi believed that you should study different crafts, to keep you void of that way of life. Knowing other ways could be applied to benefit your situation. Like creating towers, will give your archers a height advantage and give you a further view.
To move without confusion or bewilderment, means you are operating in the void. Once you know the true way of the warrior and you know why not to practice the other ways, it will make it easy to stay void of the immature martial art. The best quote from this chapter is, “Taking the void as the way, you will see the way as void.”
In conclusion this a great read for someone who wants to learn strategy. When you read it the first time you think like the warrior. Read it a couple more times and you will put your craft in the place of warrior. I have applied that wisdom to my craft as a writer. You should read this short read and apply Musashi strategy to your life. Over all, ‘The Book of Five Rings’ is a great read, that demonstrates strategy and how you can apply it in your life. It was a very short and easy read. I give this novel 5.0 stars out of 5.0 stars.