The Book of Five Rings
The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin No Sho) is a text on kenjutsu and the martial arts in general, written by the samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi circa 1645. There have been various translations made over the years, and it enjoys an audience considerably broader than only that of martial artists: for instance, some business leaders find its discussion of conflict and taking the advantage to be relevant to their work. The modern-day Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū employs it as a manual of technique and philosophy.
Musashi establishes a "no-nonsense" theme throughout the text. For instance, he repeatedly remarks that technical flourishes are excessive, and contrasts worrying about such things with the principle that all technique is simply a method of cutting down one's opponent. He also continually makes the point that the understandings expressed in the book are important for combat on any scale, whether a one-on-one duel or a massive battle. Descriptions of principles are often followed by admonitions to "investigate this thoroughly" through practice rather than trying to learn them by merely reading.
Musashi describes and advocates a two-sword style (nitōjutsu): that is, wielding both katana and wakizashi, contrary to the more traditional method of wielding the katana two-handed. However, he only explicitly describes wielding two swords in a section on fighting against many adversaries. The stories of his many duels rarely reference Musashi himself wielding two swords, although, since they are mostly oral traditions, their details may be rather inaccurate. Some suggest that Musashi's meaning was not so much wielding two swords "simultaneously", but rather acquiring the proficiency to (singly) wield either sword in either hand as the need arose. However, Musashi states within the volume that one should train with a long sword in each hand, thereby training the body and improving one's ability to use two blades simultaneously, though the aim of this was only for training purposes and wasn't meant to be a viable fighting style.
The five books
Although it is difficult to grasp it from the book, Go Rin No Sho, these books are actually the teachings which Musashi preached to his students in his own dōjō. Despite taking some ideas from others, the books are not based on any other school of teaching.
The five "books" refer to the idea that there are different elements of battle, just as there are different physical elements in life, as described by Buddhism, Shinto, and other Eastern religions. The five books below are Musashi's descriptions of the exact methods or techniques which are described by such elements.
The term "Ichi School" is referred to in the book, Go Rin No Sho. When referring to such books, it refers to "Niten No Ichi Ryu" or "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu", which means, when literally translated, "Two heaven, one school", although many could see the translation as "Two Swords, One spirit", or "Two Swords, One Entity". However, the translation of "Two Swords, one Dragon" was thought to be a transliteral misinterpretation of the Kanji word Ryu.
- The Book of Earth chapter serves as an introduction, and metaphorically discusses martial arts, leadership, and training as building a house.
- The Book of Water chapter describes Musashi's style, Ni-ten ichi-ryu, or "Two Heavens, One Style". It describes some basic technique and fundamental principles.
- The Book of Fire chapter refers to the heat of battle, and discusses matters such as different types of timing.
- The Book of Wind chapter is something of a pun, since the Japanese character can mean both "wind" and "style" (e.g., of martial arts). It discusses what Musashi considers to be the failings of various contemporary schools of swordfighting.
- The Book of the Void chapter is a short epilogue, describing, in more esoteric terms, Musashi's probably Zen-influenced thoughts on consciousness and the correct mindset