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The Gem in Musashi’s "Book of Five Rings"

Today I just finished rereading Musashi’s “the Book of Five Rings.” The book is divided into five sections, or Scrolls rather: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Heaven (the Void). I remember in my first reading, it was the Earth and Heaven sections that were the most inspirational for me. In the Scroll of Earth, Musashi introduces the readers to the general precepts of his philosophy of strategy and how they can be applied to anything in life (Musashi often applies this analogy to carpentry). While reading this initially, my mind exploded as I was able to clearly see how martial principles can in fact be applied to anything on earth (wow, I just noticed the connection between that last word and the title of the Scroll). I was also amazed at the final Void section (the author translates the title of this scroll, Heaven, but there is ambiguity to the term, and I prefer Void instead in this context) because it was one of the first experiences I had with Eastern concepts of “the Void”, “emptiness”, or “nothingness”. In both reads, the Scroll of Wind was the section I was blown away by the least. In this section, Musashi addresses other schools of swordsmanship, and why their Way is inferior to his. This is a great and necessary section, legitimizing his theories, but nonetheless, the least of my favorites so far. However this time, it was in the Scrolls of Water and Fire where I was most inspired in this reading. In these sections, he addresses his philosophy with details of ideal movement and perception, full of provocative imagery and analogy with simplicity.

After taking many notes throughout the book, I wanted to come away with the one single quote that hit me most, and I found it in the introduction of the Scroll of Fire:

Thinking, ‘Who besides me in the world is going to attain direct communication in strategy?’ And also, ‘I will surely achieve this one day,’ train from morning till night. When in this manner you have finished polishing, you will spontaneously acquire freedom and excellent ability, and in this way you will be able to gain access to supernatural power. This is the vital essence of the practice of the art of war.”

Though many Eastern philosophies I am drawn to convey humility and patience, this is quite a competitive and self-righteous statement isn’t it?

I think paying attention to what kind of interests you yourself have, and within those interests, which facets you find most interesting, to be an invaluable method of self-discovery, and thus widsom. Here I have one of my favorite books of all time, and the one quote that drew my attention the most. Perhaps this says a lot about myself. By no means have I “acquired freedom and excellent ability”, “finished polishing”, or have “gained access to supernatural power”, but it is through questioning all that is around me, and the belief I will attain that which I am aimed at, which has given me success in anything I have ever done.

“‘Who besides me in the world is going to attain direct communication in strategy?'”

“‘I will surely achieve this one day.'”

When I read this, I felt as if Musashi was staring inside of me telling me these words. In this quotation above, is something that lies very close to the center of my belief and passion, not only in the martial arts, but anything for that matter. To me, this is life.

Thank you Musashi Miyamoto.

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