The Book of Five Rings – Miyamoto Musashi by D.E. Tarver


The book of Five rings is a classic text on strategy. This particular version is written by D.E. Tarver about a Japanese warrior from the 15th century named Miyamoto Musashi.  You may be thinking that you don’t need to read this because it’s just like “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. But in fact it is very different. Sun Tzu was a chinese general while Musashi was Japanese and considered a true master of the sword.  So you might consider that on the ground the best strategist for fighting hand to hand would be Musashi, whereas the best person to lead an army might be considered Sun Tzu. So the schools of thought while somewhat similar are on different levels of strategy.

The book of five rings consists of an introduction by the author about Miyamoto Musashi, how he grew up, what caused him to turn towards being a warrior and what materialized as he gained experience in the art of killing other men.

After some history about Musashi, the author provides a section where Musashi speaks and talks about his life, his trials and achievements and what brought him to write the book of five rings, which he originally wrote in 1645 when he was 60 years old. The Book of Five Rings consists of Chapters or sections which are titled by the Book of each of the Five Rings. These “Rings” are comprised of the Book of Earth, Book of Water, Book of Fire, Book of Wind, and the Book of Emptiness.

The Book of Earth

This book is where Musashi lays his ground work or foundation for his school of thought. He describes how you must think like a warrior and gain the warrior mindset in order to understand any of the other concepts in the books.

The Book of Water

This book is where Musashi compares the active mind to the fluidity of water. He describes that water is clear and blue and thus his strategy must be clear to those who seek understanding.  He states in his writings that ” water can appear in a drop or the ocean, so the strategist must be able to use small things to create great things”. His philosophy here was to try and get the reader to come to the conclusion that if you truly understand one thing you will understand the nature of everything.

The Book of Fire

In this book, the Book of Fire, Musashi describes that Fire, whether small or large is extremely fierce and combat is the same way. You must fight with the same fierceness as fire in all of the battles, not just the big ones.  Because fire, large and small is unpredictable, it can abruptly change it’s course and with no warning. You as the warrior must also remain unpredictable to your enemies.

The Book of Wind

In this book, the Book of Wind, Musashi teaches that wind, is meant to indicate old traditions, modern teachings and teachings brought down through families. Unless you understand what other schools of thought are teaching you will have a tough time figuring out what is the truth and what is false schools of thought.  In combat strategies, you will not know if you are right or wrong in most cases until you kill the opponent or he kills you. You must know what the truth is in order to win.

The Book of Emptiness

This is the fifth book (or ring). Emptiness, is where Musashi considered nature and the warriors proper state of mind. Musashi taught that emptiness has no beginning, no end and no stopping point. You must learn all of the techniques and principles of strategy and then forget them and let your instincts take over. You should be able to move with the rhythm of any situation and adapt to that new environment. Sort of like the Military’s old adage “Adapt and Overcome”.

Overall, this book is an excellent read. The author D.E. Tarver provides you with an excellent translation of the Book of Five Rings where Musashi not only gives the reader a strategy to use in modern times but also how to think like a warrior and how to win like one as well.  This book is certainly worth picking up and it is relatively short as well.

Check it out.

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