A Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), by Miyamoto Musashi

Possibly the world's most popular inclination, the impulse to export your suffering to another seems to be near-universal. Not confined to any race, sex, or age category, the impulse to cause pain appears to well up from deep inside human beings. This is mysterious, because no one seems to enjoy pain when it is inflicted on them. Go figure.

Re: A Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), by Miyamoto Musash

Postby admin » Mon Aug 25, 2014 2:12 am


1. Way: The character for Way is read "Michi" in Japanese or "Do" in Chinese-based reading. It is equivalent to the Chinese "Tao" and means the whole life of the warrior, his devotion to the sword, his place in the Confucius-coloured bureaucracy of the Tokugawa system. It is the road of the cosmos, not just a set of ethics for the artist or priest to live by, but the divine footprints of God pointing the Way.

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.
No fight: No blame.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

In the beginning, He parted heaven and earth
and set man down to live in the middle.
He belched out fog to bewilder us,
and sent the wind to wake us up.
When He's kind, He gives us wealth and honor,
and when He's mean, it's trouble and want.
Listen, you fellows banging around down here --
Everything depends on the Man Upstairs!

-- Cold Mountain, by Han-shan, translated by Burton Watson

2. Strategy: "Heiho" is a word of Chinese derivation meaning military strategy. "Hei" means soldier and "Ho" means method or form.

3. Homage to heaven: "Ten" or heaven means the Shinto religion. Shinto -- a word compounding the two characters "Kami" (God) and "Michi" (Way) -- is the old religion of Japan. In Shinto there are many Holies, gods of steel and fermentation, place and industry, and so on, and the first gods, ancestors to the Imperial line.

4. Kwannon: God(dess) of mercy in Buddhism.

Everyone under heaven says that my Tao is great and beyond compare.
Because it is great, it seems different.
If it were not different, it would have vanished long ago.

I have three treasures which I hold and keep.
The first is mercy; the second is economy;
The third is daring not to be ahead of others.
From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity;
From humility comes leadership.

Nowadays men shun mercy, but try to be brave;
They abandon economy, but try to be generous;
They do not believe in humility, but always try to be first.
This is certain death.

Mercy brings victory in battle and strength in defense.
It is the means by which heaven saves and guards.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

5. Arima Kihei: of the Shinto school. See note 15.

6. All things with no teacher: There had been traditions instituted for the arts in the Muromachi period, system of grades and licenses and seniority, and these were perpetuated perhaps more rigidly under the Tokugawa bureaucracy. Musashi studied various arts in various schools, but when after his enlightenment he pursued his studies he had become separate from traditional guidance. He writes his final words in the book of the Void: "Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense, and taking the Void as the Way, you will see the Way as Void."

Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.

Give up kindness, renounce morality,
And men will rediscover filial piety and love.

Give up ingenuity, renounce profit,
And bandits and thieves will disappear.

These three are outward forms alone; they are not sufficient in themselves.
It is more important
To see the simplicity,
To realize one's true nature,
To cast off selfishness
And temper desire.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

7. Spirit: "Shin" or "Kokoro" has been translated "Heart," "soul," or "spirit." It could be put as feeling, manner. It has always been said "The sword in the soul of the samurai."

8. The hour of the tiger: Years, months and hours were named after the ancient Chinese Zodiacal time system.

9. Waka: The thirty-one syllable poem. The word means "Song of Japan" or "Song in Harmony."

10. Tea: Tea drinking is studied in schools, just like a sword-fencing. It is basically a ritual, based on simple refined rules, between a few persons in a small room.

11. Archery: The bow was the main weapon of the samurai of the Nara and Heian periods, and was later superseded by the sword. Archery is practised as a ritual like tea and sword. Hachiman, the God of War, is often depicted as an archer, and the bow is frequently illustrated as part of the paraphernalia of the gods.

12. Pen and sword: "Bunbu Itchi" or "Pen and sword in accord" is often presented in brushed calligraphy. Young men during the Tokugawa period were educated solely in writing the Chinese classics and exercising in swordplay. Pen and sword, in fact, filled the life of the Japanese nobility.

13. Resolute acceptance of death. This idea can be summed up as the philosophy expounded in Ha Gakure or "Hidden Leaves," a book written in the seventeenth century by Yamamoto Tsunenori and a few other samurai of the province Nabeshima Han, present-day Saga. Under the Tokugawas, the enforced logic of the Confucius-influenced system ensured stability among the samurai, but it also meant the passing of certain aspects of Bushido. Discipline for both samurai and commoners became lax. Yamamoto Tsunenori had been counsellor to Mitsushige, lord of Nabeshima Han, for many years, and upon his lord's death he wanted to commit suicide with his family in the traditional manner. This kind of suicide was strictly prohibited by the new legislation, and, full of remorse, Yamamoto retired in sadness to the boundary of Nabeshima Han. Here he met others who had faced the same predicament, and together they wrote a lament of what they saw as the decadence of Bushido. Their criticism is a revealing comment on the changing face of Japan during Musashi's lifetime: "There is no way to describe what a warrior should do other than that he should adhere to the Way of the warrior (Bushido). I find that all men are negligent of this. There are few men who can quickly reply to the question "What is the Way of the Warrior?" This is because they do not know in their hearts. From this we can see they do not follow the Way of the warrior. By the Way of the warrior is meant death. The Way of the warrior is death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. It means nothing more than this. It means to see things through, being resolved. Sayings like "To die with your intention unrealised is to die uselessly," and so on, are from the weak Kyoto, Osaka Bushido. They are unresolved as to whether to keep to their original plan when faced with the choice of life and death. Every man wants to live. They theorise with staying alive kept in mind. "The man who lives on when he has failed in his intention is a coward" is a heartless definition. That to die having failed is to die uselessly is a mad point of view. This is not a shameful thing. It is the most important thing in the Way of the warrior. If you keep your spirit correct from morning to night, accustomed to the idea of death and resolved on death, and consider yourself as a dead body, thus becoming one with the Way of the warrior, you can pass through life with no possibility of failure and perform your office properly.

Between birth and death,
Three in ten are followers of life,
Three in ten are followers of death,
And men just passing from birth to death also number three in ten.
Why is this so?
Because they live their lives on the gross level.

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

"The servant must think earnestly of the business of his employer. Such a fellow is a splendid retainer. In this house there have been generations of splendid gentlemen and we are deeply impressed by their warm kindness ... all our ancestors. This was simply abandoning body and soul for the sake of their lord.

"Moreover, our house excels in wisdom and technical skill. What a joyful thing if this can be used to advantage.

"Even an unadaptable man who is completely useless is a most trusted retainer if he does nothing more than think earnestly of his lord's welfare. To think only of the practical benefit of wisdom and technology is vulgar.

"Some men are prone to having sudden inspirations. Some men do not quickly have good ideas but arrive at the answer by slow consideration. Well, if we investigate the heart of the matter, even though people's natural abilities differ, bearing in mind the Four Oaths, when your thinking rises above concern for your own welfare, wisdom which is independent of thought appears. Whoever thinks deeply on things, even though he may carefully consider the future, will usually think around the basis of his own welfare. By the result of such evil thinking he will only perform evil acts. It is very difficult for most silly fellows to rise above thinking of their own welfare.

"So when you embark upon something, before you start fix your intention on the Four Oaths and put selfishness behind you. Then you cannot fail.

"The Four Oaths: Never be late with respect to the Way of the warrior. Be useful to the lord. Be respectful to your parents. Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of man."

14. Our lord: This refers to the daimyo, who retained numbers of samurai to fight for them (see previous note).

15. Kashima Kantori shrines: The original schools of Kendo can be found in the traditions preserved in Shinto shrines. Many of the school ancestors are entombed in the Kanto area, not far from Tokyo, where the Kashima and Kantori shrines still stand. Arima Kihei, the samurai whom Musashi killed at the age of thirteen, was a fencer of the Shinto school associated with the shrines. The Yagyu school was derived from Kashima style. Shinto was a religion of industry in everyday life, and the War Gods enshrined at Kashima and Kantori are still invoked today as part of the everyday practice of the Shinto school.

16. Dojo: "Dojo" means "Way place," the room where something is studied.

17. Four Ways: See Translator's Introduction for an explanation of the four classes in Japanese society.

18. Carpenter: All buildings in Japan, except for the walls of the great castles which appeared a few generations before Musashi's birth, were wooden. "Carpenter" means architect and builder.

19. Four Houses: There were four branches of the Fujiwara family, who dominated Japan in the Heian period. There are also four different schools of tea.

20. Warrior house: The warrior families who had been in control of Japan for most of her history kept private armies, each with its own commander.

21. Sliding doors: Japanese buildings made liberal use of sliding doors, detachable walls, and shutters made of wood which were put over door openings at night and in bad weather.

22. Like a trooper, the carpenter sharpens his own tools: Sharpening and polishing the Japanese sword is today a work undertaken only by a specialist, but perhaps the art was more widespread in the age of war. If a sword is imperfectly polished and the surface of the blade incorrectly shaped, even if it is a very sharp, fine weapon it will not cut at all well.

If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be of straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people love to be sidetracked.

When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
And indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

23. Small shrines: Small shrines to the Shinto gods are found in every Japanese home.

24. Five books: Go Rin No Sho means a book of five rings. The "Go Dai" (Five Greats) of Buddhism are the five elements which make up the cosmos: ground, water, fire, wind, void. The "Go Rin" (Five Rings) of Buddhism are the five parts of the human body: head, left and right elbows, and left and right knees.

25. Wind: The Japanese character for "wind" also means "style."

26. Void: The void, or Nothingness, is a Buddhist term for the illusionary nature of worldly things.

27. Two swords: The samurai wore two swords thrust through the belt with the cutting edges upward on the left side. The shorter, or companion, sword was carried at all times, and the longer sword worn only out of doors. From time to time there were rules governing the style and length of swords. Samurai carried two swords but other classes were allowed only one sword for protection against brigands on the roads between towns (see Translator's Introduction). The samurai kept their short swords at their bedsides, and there were racks for long swords inside the vestibule of every samurai home.

28. Spear and halberd: The techniques for spear and halberd fighting are the same as those of sword fighting. Spears were first popular in the Muromachi period, primarily as arms for the vast armies of common infantry, and later became objects of decoration for the processions of the daimyo to and from the capital in the Tokugawa period. The spear is used to cut and thrust, and is not thrown.

The halberd and similar weapons with long curved blades were especially effective against cavalry, and came to be used by women who might have to defend their homes in the absence of menfolk. The art is widely studied by women today.

29. The gun: The Japanese gun was matchlock, the form in which it was first introduced into the country by missionaries. The matchlock remained until the nineteenth century.

Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.
Therefore followers of Tao never use them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.

Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,
And victory no cause for rejoicing.
If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;
If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.

On happy occasions precedence is given to the left,
On sad occasions to the right.
In the army the general stands on the left,
The commander-in-chief on the right.
This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
When many people are being killed,
They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

30. Dancing: There are various kinds of dancing. There are festival dances, such as the harvest dance, which incorporate local characteristics and are very colourful, sometimes involving many people. There is Noh theatre, which is enacted by a few performers using stylized dance-like movements. There are also dances of fan and dances of sword.

31. Indoor techniques: Dojos were mostly indoors where a great deal of formality and ritual was observed, safe from the prying eyes of rival schools.

32. Teruo Magonojo: The pupil, sometimes called Teruo Nobuyuki, to whom Musashi addressed Go Rin No Sho.

33. Sword testing: Swords were tested by highly specialised professional testers. The sword would be fitted into a special mounting and test cuts made on bodies, bundles of straw, armour, sheets of metal, etc. Sometimes, appraisal marks of a sword testing inscribed on the tangs of old blades are found.

34. Footwork: Different methods of moving are used in different schools. Yin-Yang, or "In-Yo" in Japanese, is female-male, dark-light, right-left. Musashi advocates this "level mind" kind of walking, although he is emphatic about the significance of these parameters -- issues of right and left foot arise in the Wind book of Go Rin No Sho. Old Jujitsu schools advocated making the first attack with the left side forward.

35. The Way of the Long Sword: The way as a way of life, and as the natural path of a sword blade. There is a natural movement of the sword associated with a natural behaviour according to Kendo ethics.

36. Folding fan: An item carried by men and women in the hot summer months. Armoured officers sometimes carried an iron war fan.

37. The Five Approaches: Who can understand Musashi's methods? It is necessary to study traditional schools and basic cutting practice. Bear in mind that fighting technique may start from a greater distance than it seems to at first glance. It is said that the man who has faced death at the point of a sword has an elevated understanding.

38. No Design, No Conception: "Munen Muso" -- this means the ability to act calmly and naturally even in the face of danger. It is the highest accord with existence, when a man's word and his actions are spontaneously the same.

Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.
Without form there is no desire.
Without desire there is tranquillity.
And in this way all things would be at peace.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

39. Red Leaves Cut: Presumably Musashi is alluding here to falling, dying leaves.

40. Chinese Monkey's Body: A Chinese monkey here means a short-armed monkey.

41. Glue and lacquer emulsion: The lacquer work which takes its name from Japan, used to coat furniture and home utensils, architecture, weapons and armour.

42. There are many enemies: Musashi is held to be the inventor of the Two Sword style. His school is sometimes called "Nito Ryu" (two sword school) and sometimes "Niten Ryu" (two heavens school). He writes that the use of two swords is for when there are many enemies, but people practise a style of fencing with a sword in each hand to give practical advantage in fencing. Musashi used the words "two swords" when meaning to use all one's resources in combat. He never used two swords when up against a skilled swordsman.

43. Oral tradition: Other Keno schools also have oral traditions as opposed to teachings passed on in formal technique.

44. One cut: Whatever this means, it is worthwhile to note the "Hitotsu Gachi" (One Victory), the Kiri Otoshi technique of the Itto Ryu school, where one cut provides attack and defence, cutting down the enemy's sword and spirit, and the related "Itchi no Tachi" (Long Sword of One) of the Shinto style.

45. Bamboo practice sword: There have been practice swords of various kinds throughout the history of Kendo: some are made of spliced bamboo covered with cloth or hide.

46. Full armour: The words "Roku Gu" (six pieces) are used. This is a set of armour consisting of Cuiras, gauntlets, sleeves, apron and thigh pieces, or, according to another convention, body armour, helmet, mask, thigh pieces, gauntlets and leg pieces.

47. Kamiza: This is the residence of the ancestral spirit of a hourse; the head of the house sits nearest this place. It is often a slightly raised recess in a wall, sometimes containing a hanging scroll, armour, or other religious property.

48. The three methods to forestall an enemy: A great swordsman or other artist will have mastered the ability to forestall the enemy. The great swordsman is always "before" his environment. This does not mean speed. You cannot beat a good swordsman, because he subconsciously sees the origin of every real action. One can still see in Kendo practice wonderful old gentlemen slowly hitting young champions on the head almost casually. It is the practiced ability to sum up a changing situation instantly.

49. To hold down a pillow: Note that samurai and Japanese ladies slept with their heads on a small wooden pillow shapes to accommodate their hairstyle.

50. To release four hands: "Yotsu te o hanasu" -- the expression "Yotsu te" means the condition of grappling with both arms engaged with the opponent's arms, or "deadlock". It is also the name used to describe various articles with four corners joined, such as a fishing net, and was given to an article of ladies' clothing which consisted of a square of cloth tied from the back over each shoulder and under each arm, with a knot on the breast.

51. The body of a rock: This is recorded in the Terao Ka Ki, the chronicle of the house of Terao. Once, a lord asked Musashi "What is this 'Body of a rock'?" Musashi replied, "Please summon my pupil Terao Ryuma Suke." When Terao appeared, Musashi ordered him to kill himself by cutting his abdomen. Just as Terao was about to make the cut, Musashi restrained him and said to the lord, "This is the 'Body of a Rock'".

A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

-- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

52. Footballers: Football was a court game in ancient Japan. There is a reference to it in Genji Monogatari.

53. Old pine tree: "KoMatsu Bushi," an old tune for flute or lyre.

54. Gate: A student enrolling in a school would pass through the gate of the Dojo. To enter a teacher's gate means to take up a course of study.
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