Writings of a 17th Century Samurai

Miyamoto Musashi, an undefeated samurai, retreated to a cave near the end of his life in 1643 to put his technique and advice down in writing, The Book of Five Rings. His writings are better suited for meditation than analysis, so I will simply reprint selections here.

Brandon Brockshus

The Earth Chapter

Buddhism is a Way of salvation for men, Confucianism venerates a Way of culture, and medicine is a Way of curing various diseases… It is a rare person who relishes the Way of the Martial Arts.

To learn about the principles of battle, meditate on this book; for the teacher is the needle, the student the thread. As a student, you should practice without end.

By knowing the large, you know the small; and from the shallow, you reach the deep.

The mind that defeats one man is the same for innumerable opponents.

The Way of this style is the mind that obtains the victory with anything at all.

It is essential that each person polish his own Way well.

You cannot ignore rhythm in any of the arts and accomplishments.

For those who would study my martial art, there are rules for putting it into practice:

1.      Think without any dishonesty.

2.      Forge yourself in the Way.

3.      Touch upon all of the arts.

4.      Know the Ways of all occupations.

5.      Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything.

6.      Develop a discerning eye in all matters.

7.      Understand what cannot be seen by the eye.

8.      Pay attention to even small things.

9.      Do not involve yourself with the impractical

The Water Chapter

In both everyday and military events, your mind should not change in the least, but should be broad and straightforward, neither drawn too tight nor allowed to slacken even a little.

Act so that your opponent cannot understand your mind.

…make the everyday body the body for the martial arts, and the body for the martial arts the everyday body.

The eye of observation is strong. The eye of seeing is weak.

In all events, grasp your sword with the intent of cutting the man down.

Immobility means a dead hand; mobility means a living hand.

To the extent that you handle the sword well, you will handle it tranquilly.

It is essential to think that anything at all is an opportunity to cut him down.

Applying Glue: The difference between being sticky and being entangled is that stickiness is strong and entanglement is weak.

In the midst of the fight, if you are intent on making your opponent flinch, you will have already obtained the victory.

Encountering Many Opponents: Above all, be intent on driving your opponents into one direction like a school of fish. When you see that they are falling all over each other, you should wade into them vigorously and without any pause.

The journey of a thousand ri proceeds step by step, so think without rushing. Understanding that this is the duty of a warrior, put these practices into action, surpass today what you were yesterday, go beyond those of poor skill tomorrow, and exceed those who are skillful later.

See to it that you temper yourself with one thousand days of practice, and refine yourself with ten thousand days of training. You should investigate this thoroughly.

The Fire Chapter

Who in this world can obtain my correct Way of the Martial Arts? Whoever would get to the heart of it, let him do so with conviction, practicing in the morning and training in the evening.

Taking the Three Initiatives

·         The Initiative of Attack is when I attack my opponent.

·         The Initiative of Waiting is when my opponent attacks me.

·         The Body-Body Initiative is when both my opponent and I attack at the same time.

Pressing Down the Pillow means not letting your opponent’s head up.

Stepping on the Sword is taking your action immediately upon your opponent’s action.

Being drawn in is something common to all things. Becoming sleepy is infectious, just as yawns and such are infectious. Time, too, is infectious.

Agitating your Opponent: There are many kinds of agitation. One is a feeling of danger, a second is a feeling that something is beyond your capability, and a third is a feeling of the unexpected. You should make great efforts in this.

Fear resides in all things, and the heart of fear is in the unexpected.

In fighting your opponent and using the principles of this Way, there may be times when you appear to be winning on the surface, but hostility remains in your opponent’s mind. Accordingly, he may be defeated on the surface but not at all in the bottom of his mind. In such situations, it is important that you suddenly adjust your own mind, destroy you opponent’s spirit, and make sure that he has been defeated in the very bottom of his heart.

The true Way of swordsmanship is to fight with your opponent and win, and this should not be changed in the slightest. If you grasp the strength of wisdom of my martial arts and put it directly into practice, there should be no doubt of victory.

The Wind Chapter

Yet, can it be the true Way if it has been made into a saleable item?

In my style, there is neither entrance nor depth to the sword, and there is no ultimate stance. There is only seeing through to its virtues with the mind. This is the essence of the martial arts.

The Emptiness Chapter

A warrior learns the Way of the Martial Arts with certainty, makes strong efforts in other martial accomplishments, and is not the least bit in the dark about the Way of conducting himself as a warrior. He has no confusion in his mind and is never lazy at any moment of the day. He polishes the two hearts of his mind and will, and sharpens the two eyes of broad observation and focused vision. He is not the least bit clouded, but rather clears away the clouds of confusion. You should know that this is true Emptiness.


In Emptiness exists Good but no Evil.

Wisdom is Existence.

Principle is Existence.

The Way is Existence.

The Mind is Emptiness.


The Way of Walking Alone (or the Way of Self-Reliance)

By Miyamoto Musashi

·         Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world.

·         Do not scheme for physical pleasure.

·         Do not intend to rely on anything.

·         Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply.

·         Do not ever think in acquisitive terms.

·         Do not regret things about your own personal life.

·         Do not envy another’s good or evil.

·         Do not lament parting on any road whatsoever.

·         Do not complain or feel bitterly about yourself or others.

·         Have no heart for approaching the path of love.

·         Do not have preferences.

·         Do not harbor hopes for your own personal home.

·         Do not have a liking for delicious food for yourself.

·         Do not carry antiques handed down from generation to generation.

·         Do not fast so that it affects you physically.

·         While it’s different with military equipment, do not be fond of material things.

·         While on the Way, do not begrudge death.

·         Do not be intent on possessing valuables or a fief in old age.

·         Respect the gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.

·         Though you give up your life, do not give up your honor.

·         Never depart from the Way of the Martial Arts.