A Book of Five Rings: A Guide to Strategy
Born into strife, Miyamoto Musashi ultimately lived to see his country achieve peace; but he never forgot two essential elements of the ancient samurai tradition: keep calm in the midst of chaos, and remember the possibility of disorder in times of order. Devoted to the practical art of war, his strategic classic The Book of Five Rings focuses attention on the psychology and physics of assault. Whether you are looking to gain the advantage in the practice of martial arts or on the corporate battlefield, this book counsels wisely in the ways of confrontation, stressing important subtleties such as rhythm, state of mind, physical bearing, and eye contact, as well as perseverance, self-knowledge, and inner calm. Thomas Cleary’s uncluttered translation brings Musashi’s work into sharp, accessible focus, as does the inclusion in the same volume of another important Japanese classic, The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War, highlighting Taoist and Zen aspects of the warrior tradition.
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The Overlook Press
Woodstock, New York
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A Book of Five Rings: A Case Study of a Samurai
The Book of Five Rings is a primary text from the Japanese duelist Miyamoto Musashi. Written around 1645, this book is his account of his mental and physical strategies for fighting that made him one of the most famous and cunning Japanese warriors. The book is divided into five subsections: the book of earth, the book of water, the book of fire, the book of wind, and the book of emptiness. Although Musashi incorporates poetry, Buddhism, and philosophical thoughts on "the way of strategy," The Book of Five Rings is largely a martial arts treatise. Musashi is famous, in addition to his success as a samurai duelist, for his unconventional style and willingness to break rules and customs to win, which he explains further in this book. Given that The Book of Five Rings is a valuable primary text by a historical figure, it certainly deserves a five star rating. Although The Book of Five Rings is an accessible for a case study on the life and thoughts of an actual samurai warrior, educators using it for instructional purposes may want to be selective and look for specific sections for focus; Musashi goes into substantial detail on martial arts and rival martial arts schools at times. He goes to great length to describe his recommendations for proper sword technique and mental states while dueling. Still, for those interested in Samurai, feudal Japan, and Japanese martial arts, The Book of Five Rings is a must read.
The Book of Five Rings
The Book of Five Rings provides lessons not only for martial artists and businessmen, but for educators and society in general. Working on the principle of five scrolls (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Emptiness) Miyamoto Musashi shares strategies for achieving success in various fields. Perhaps the most prevailing idea is that success is attained through understanding of ideas and mastery of skills rather than temporary popular fads or impressive-looking yet shallow displays of strength. As a teacher, I'm most encouraged by the notion that, regardless of alternating movements throughout the field of education, the heart of learning is achieved through work, effort, and understanding.
In addition to application for instruction, the methodologies also apply to classroom management. For instance, the earth scroll mentions finding the rhythms of your opponents (not an exact correlation to students, of course!) to counter, or reverse, their rhythms to get the desired result, much like differentiating work and managing behavior in the classroom.
The scroll of emptiness is the most vague and obscure (and therefore a bit difficult to understand), but it seems to stress the importance of knowing that we do not know everything, a valuable belief to instill for lifelong learners.
Using A Book of Five Rings for lessons
Gregory N. Thomas
World History I
Central Catholic High School
This translated work serves three great purposes, should the teacher decide to divide it and utilize it as such. The first is as an introduction to the background of Feudal Age Japan. From there it provides a great look into the life of its author Miyamoto Musashi, thus providing students with case study of an historical samurai. Finally, as a primary document it allows students to engage with a source that depicts the strict training regiment and discipline that was required to be a successful samurai. The work is only 96 pages long, so it is not a long read for a teacher wishing to familiarize their self with this period of Japanese history and involvement of the samurai within it. Even though it is brief, it is still detailed, but without being overly dense. Beyond that it all contains photographs of period artwork and period armament artifacts which also serve to provide a visual aid for readers. It is appropriate for high school students of all grades.
This book is one of the great classics of martial arts literature as well as Zen Buddhism in practice. It can be used to illustrate the importance of action in Zen (as opposed to study or self-sacrifice or other values). It can also be used to illustrate what the 'Way' might mean in Zen Buddhism and how the 'Way' is traditionally taught to disciples by mentors. An interesting teaching exercise could be to compare and contrast this text with the Tao Te Ching of Daoism, and see how the 'Way' is similar in both texts even though Buddhism and Daoism are supposedly very different faiths. This can open into a discussion of how Zen Buddhism has many elements that are shared with Daoism, which differentiates Zen from other kinds of Buddhism. It is also interesting to explore the difference between the emphasis on action in Zen and non-action in Daoism.