A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, Victor Harris (translator)
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Have sword, will fight
Everybody should read this book. That's all there is to it. Musashi takes the reader into a world filled to the brim with devotion, self-respect, disciplin, honesty and purity of thought. Even though this book was written by and for warriors and samurai, and in a completely different time and culture, it is a remarkabe source of inspiration for selv-developement. Musashi's teachings are concise and to the point. He uses phrases like "you must understand this" and "you must practice diligently" and explains only general, but unquestionable and fundamental, concepts of the Way of the Warrior. These guidelines are not directly applicable in our time and age, but what is applicable are the things this book contains about working with yourself. Striving to achieve improvement on the inside as well as the outside.
It would be a lie to say that this book is a "positive" book. Taken litterally it's about how to become an efficient, albeit enlightened, killer. The value of this book comes from reading between the lines, and let me tell you: Those lines could fill volumes.
To learn a Japanese martial art is to learn Zen, and although you can't do so simply by reading a book, it sure does help--especially if that book is The Book of Five Rings. One of Japan's great samurai sword masters penned in decisive, unfaltering terms this certain path to victory, and like Sun Tzu's The Art of War it is applicable not only on the battlefield but also in all forms of competition. Always observant, creating confusion, striking at vulnerabilities--these are some of the basic principles. Going deeper, we find suki, the interval of vulnerability, of indecisiveness, of rest, the briefest but most vital moment to strike. In succinct detail, Miyamoto records ideal postures, blows, and psychological tactics to put the enemy off guard and open the way for attack. Most important of all is Miyamoto's concept of rhythm, how all things are in harmony, and that by working with the rhythm of a situation we can turn it to our advantage with little effort. But like Zen, this requires one task above all else, putting the book down and going out to practice.
I have been many years training in the Way of strategy, called Ni Ten Ichi Ryu, and now I think I will explain it in writing for the first time. It is now during the first ten days of the tenth month in the twentieth year of Kanei (1645). I have climbed mountain Iwato of Higo in Kyushu to pay homage to heaven, pray to Kwannon, [God(dess) of mercy in Buddhism. - Slaegr] and kneel before Buddha. I am a warrior of Harima province, Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, age sixty years.
From youth my heart has been inclined toward the Way of strategy. My first duel was when I was thirteen, I struck down a strategist of the Shinto school, one Arima Kihei. When I was sixteen I struck down an able strategist Tadashima Akiyama. When I was twenty-one I went up to the capital and met all manner of strategists, never once failing to win in many contests.
After that I went from province to province duelling with strategist of various schools, and not once failed to win even though I had as many as sixty encounters. This was between the ages of thirteen and twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
When I reached thirty I looked back on my past. The previous victories were not due to my having mastered strategy. Perhaps it was natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other schools' strategy was inferior. After that I studied morning and evening searching for the principle, and came to realise the Way of strategy when I was fifty.
Since then I have lived without following any particular Way. Thus with the virtue of strategy I practise many arts and abilities - all things with no teacher. To write this book I did not use the law of Buddha or the teachings of Confucius, neither old war chronicles nor books on martial tactics. I take up my brush to explain the true spirit of this Ichi school as it is mirrored in the Way of heaven and Kwannon. The time is the night of the tenth day of the tenth month, at the hour of the tiger (3-5 a.m.)
--Miyamoto Musashi, A book of Five Rings