Miyamoto Musashi - “Book of Five Rings”

One of my favorites, it’s a poetic yet pragmatic depiction of Zen philosophy under the guise of a swordmanship manual. Here’s my working summary of the work.

  1. Earth - outline of martial arts.
    By knowing the large, you know the small; and from the shallow you reach the deep.

Learn to hold the sword with one hand. It feels heavy and difficult to wield at first. But you get used to any weapon. Without imitating others, you should choose one appropriate, a weapon you can handle.
If a man obtains the virtue of the sword, he can defeat ten men. Then one hundred can defeat one thousand. You should investigate this thoroughly.

Rules: 1. Think without dishonesty. 2. Forge yourself in the way. 3. Touch upon all of the arts. 4. Know the ways of all occupations. 5. Know 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.

  1. Water - mind like water.
    The mind that defeats one man is the same for innumerable opponents. With the one, know the ten thousand.

In both everyday and military events, your mind should not change in the least, neither drawn too tight nor allowed to slacken. The journey of a thousand miles proceeds step by step so think without rushing. Temper yourself with one thousand days of practice, refine yourself with ten thousand days of training. Surpass today what you were yesterday, go beyond those of poor skill tomorrow and exceed those who are skilled later.

  1. Fire - battle.
    A confrontation between individuals and between armies of ten thousand is the same in the way of battle.

Use the place of battle to your advantage. And so gain the victory with the place itself. The initiative of attack is when I attack the opponent. I remain calm, suddenly attack first and quickly. From the beginning to end be intent on one thing: smashing your opponent.
The initiative of waiting is when my opponent attacks me. I stay unruffled but give the impression of weakness, watch for the moment he relaxes then take the victory directly and vigorously.
The body-body initiative is both opponents attacking at the same time. I attack a little more quickly, but with light and almost floating movements. When I see the opponent waver, I vigorously take the victory.

It is wrong to let your opponent lead you around. It will be difficult for you to lead if you do not perceive what he is going to do. Let him do the action if it’s a useless one but if it is functional, suppress it and keep him from completing it. Gain a quick victory by bringing out the weakness of your opponent and taking the initiative yourself. Intent on not giving him a second chance. Allow him to escape from that moment and he will likely recover. This has lost many battles.

When using the same tactic twice is unavoidable, avoid using it a third time. If if was unsuccessful the second time, then the same move will have no effect the next time. Thus if your opponent is thinking “mountains”, attack with “seas”.

  1. Wind - other styles.
    If you don’t know others, it’s difficult to understand yourself.

  2. Emptiness - having attained the principles, you leave them.

In the way of martial arts there’s a natural freedom: you naturally gain an extraordinary strength, you know the rhythm of the moment, you strike naturally, and you hit naturally. These things are all contained in the way of emptiness.