Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who is the Strategist: A Book of Five Rings (Part 1)

There are several concepts of what a "Strategist" is- the way in which a man masters the path to victory. Today, we will look at the conception of a strategist as conceived by Miyamoto Musashi.

"Book of Five Rings"

The "Book of Five Rings" (Go Rin no Sho) is the masterpiece of Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary swordsman from Japan, who was active during 16th and 17th centuries (known as the Kyoto Renaissance). He fought from his youth to his old age without losing a match, and killing several opponents in duels, before becoming somewhat of a warrior poet and immersing himself into the more mental and spiritual part of combat rather than the physical. At the end of his life, he wrote this masterpiece that summed up his style and thought on strategy.

Given that Musashi was a swordsman and duelist, his conception of a strategist and strategies tend to be more involved with clashes between individuals, rather than the movement and control of men (as opposed to Sun Tzu's Art of War).

You can find a version of Musashi's masterpiece here.

Content and Organization

Musashi divides his book into five parts, named after traditional religious principles that relate to meditation: They are Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void. And each part relates to a specific topic or concept.

The Earth component is the introduction. It talks about the "way of martial arts" as well as Musashi's own style. It is important because it describes how Musashi believes one should practice the way of martial arts: by knowing the large you know the small, and by knowing the shallow you can know the deep.

The Water chapter is about flexibility to circumstances. To understand the principles of swordsmanship so well that by defeating a single opponent, you defeat every opponent in the world. It should be noted here that he says defeating an opponent the wrong way, is not worthwhile. So victory alone isn't right, you need to win "the right way", only then can you become the one who can defeat every opponent by defeating one.

The Fire component is about fighting. In this chapter, Musashi talks of the tactics and methods of combat, as well as the vigilance that is required.

The Wind chapter is about "style". Musashi notes the importance of knowing the different methods and styles of other people. He notes that it is important because if you do not know your opponent, it is difficult to know yourself.

The Void/Emptiness chapter talks of the value of "natural freedom". Once you know the principles of combat, you must be able to be natural and not constrict yourself. Great power and ability comes from natural movement, and from the ability to strike naturally and hit naturally.

We will discuss each chapter, and then come to a conclusion to the type of strategist he wishes the reader to become.


  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post
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