An extraordinary tactician and samurai (Japanese swordsman) had a late-life crisis and retired into monkhood. Over time, he allowed a scribe to record advice from his experience. Though meant to be extremely-selectively passed-on, it ultimately found itself in the hands of enough people to survive to today. It is a book on the martial use of the sword, the way of swords, the way of personal and mass martial strategy, and the Way.
I haven't read broadly and deeply enough, and I doubt anyone has, to truly judge this work in the context of what humanity has to offer (what has survived, that is), but I feel comfortable saying this is one of the Great works. I should say I highly recommend it, but I fear most people wouldn't even begin to comprehend it even in any vague sense. This is not a beginner's book, whatever "beginner" means with this book in that context. At the very least, this ought to be read by people who are deeply passionate about philosophy (of the armchair variety).
My edition of this book has an unfortunately-shiny fabric hardcover, with glossy full-colour pages with photographs which give it an impression of high quality. It even has an integrated ribbon bookmark. When reading it at length, I get the impression that the pages will eventually pull out. I hope this is not true.
- Translated by David K. Groff
- 五輪書 (Go Rin No Sho) in the Japanese language.
- Miyamoto Musashi
- 2012-05-01 (third edition)
- ISBN-10 178028120X
- ISBN-13 978-1-78028-120-9
Some years ago, I also read A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy, translated by Victor Harris (1982)
From me ∞
I've been hesitant about typing out my notes, as my understanding may not be appropriate for dissemination.
Some part of me believes/hopes that the right people will learn, and the wrong people cannot. I have enough fear that I have long-struggled with the notion of absenting the vast majority of me, lest it fall into the wrong hands.
I think perhaps I will use my publicising of my notes for this book as a push to publish other notes written in the margins of other books. The archivist in me wouldn't want books thrown away which have my notes, and especially because of my having taken notes. I am certain that I have offered, in my many notes, at least some small glimmer of improvement. This would be enough to warrant the dissemination of all of it. Hopefully I'll die before the wrong people have too much interest.
I would normally scribble in the margins of my books, but I had too much to say and this book is both glossy (hard to write in) and precious. I ended up writing notes on separate pieces of paper, making it easier and more obvious to type them out. So here goes: Insight outside of the constraints of the specialization of the translator. Insight very few people can offer...
These notes are rough, as they were written on paper as I read (slowly). I'd have to re-read (again, slowly) to fully understand the text and my notes, and re-write/clarify them. You didn't think I'd make it easy, did you?
#1 Go Rin no Sho
- Bushu Denraiki => Heiho Sonshi Denki
Budoken => Nitenlei
- Two books on Musashi
- Later books, based on the above
Takuan Soho - classic texts: Fudochishin Myoroku
Thirty-five Articles on Strategy -- Musashi
Hyoho Sanju-go Ka Jo => get the others appended.
To understand the five tings, understand its recipient
Musashi's final documents - Dokkodo "The Path Walked Alone"
did Tsukahara Bokuden write anything?
* Yagu Muneori's Hyoho Kadensho
"swordsman" is probably better as "strategist"
no singlar-plural distinction "ware"
- 51 - The Way of Technical Skill is perhaps better transliterated as technition, artisan expert. "great skill" => expert in knowledge and action in a particular Way.
- 57 - swordsmanship alone => difficult? With attaining high expertise, it opens the door to the Way just as any other way would.
- 57 - top - no, the Five Advantages is a reference to Wuxing (the five elements) and situational advantage. Each element has advantage over another. Each situation tempts for a specific response. This section "Varying the Tactics" calls for understanding favorability.
- 58 - If having one thing, to understand very many, then swordsmanship to understand the Way.
- 59 - jiu bian conveys the innumerable variations of all situations.
- 60 - Practice without passion will not path to the Way.
- 61 - "Two swords" could be a reference to the two kinds of sword - tachi and katana, being understood the same (e.g. having one thing, understand very many)
- 62 - Versatility
- 69 - "indoors", as in not (in / by through ) combat
- 61/73 - "rhythm" in "Emptiness"
- 75 - unpredictable rhythms in emptiness
- 80.3 - "word by word", as in this scroll? (Water)
- 96.1 / 13 - No, he is literally talking about sword-positioning. See endnote 12 regarding the flip.
- 96.2 / 14 - No, he just means the Way... In general, regarding this.
97.1 - "Parry" should not have been transliterated thus. Instead, using understanding as with 97.2 would be past. Yes, his repetition is intentional. Parrying a downward-stroking katana is ludicrous.
- Seeing this another way, notice how he says "parry" and thereafter "cut upwards". This is how it can be known that parry is not the right word.
102.4 water/16 - The author means both.
- "Extremely difficult to grasp", and so the translator's didn't.
103.2 water/17 - The author has been tlaking about how positions don't really exist, about how there is a natural movement of the sword, a flow/beat to combat and acting outside of that. This is better-described like mental-unencumbered action without will. This is what experience and masterful practice evapourate into. Once again, he means both/either/neither.
- "Do not describe", unwavering, without intent, unflinching, unreacting, committed.
- 106.3 water/19 - 108.2 - Clearly describes strike/hit
- 108.3 water/21 - No: Tagging has withdrawal, touching presses and slides, striking has intent, direction, control
- 113.4 - He speaks of two-swords.
- 115.1 water/28 - No: Most people are right-handed, as the author is. Training a left-hand punch speaks to need to train the three parries. It is hard.. it needs training.
- 115.2 water/29 - Why did the translator editorialize? 115.3 conveys that.
- 116.2 - I can't visualize that.
- 117.2 - typo: "yours sword"
- 117.3 water/31 - "immediately" is a poor translation. This is worthy of a phrase, as is obvious by the translator's note.
- 120.1 water/33 - No: It is indeed a reference to wilfully stringing up all opponents, not merely giving them a river, but hooking them all and pulling the line. It is not their fight, but the single fighter's forced-positioning.
- 120.2 - The author spoke of immediacy (118.3) and cutting at advances (119.1)
- 122.2 water/34 - The whole entry/paragraph may be a sidenote. However, 123.1 suggests this was intentional.
- 123.2 - I thought "he" didn't write this...
- 123.3 water/37 - Or he could mean "Why" in its greatest meaning.
- 125.2 water/39,40 - Neither of these things needed to be transliterated. Or ought to have been.
- 124.1 - If this book was oral, then could the statement "in this writing" be from the scribe?
- 125.2 water/39 - Then why say "appear"? This has a different meaning.
125.2 water/40 - Again, this should not have been transliterated.
- 140.1 - Typo: "intentionsof"
- 147.2 fire/10 - Both those meanings are the same.
- 148.2 fire/11 - No, this means "form", or similar. It is a reference to forcing a reaction from one's feint, to thereby discern the enemy again.
150.1 fire/13 - "Beat" was already described/discussed earlier.
- 152.2 fire/18 - No. "No principle" is a fine translation. Imagine an opponent without ideological righteousness. There is a hesitation, a lack of immediate, bias-prepared decision.
152.3 - For example, a crowd that:
- 1. - Fears retaliation or resistance of their own force's ineffectiveness.
- 2. - Is (not yet?) ideologically aligned [is "upset"].
- 3. - Their fear-prophesy that is underneath a lack of coordination is fulfilled.
-- This is similar to several earlier concepts of fighting a crowd by immediately and aggressively attacking those out-of-step with a crowd with a crowd -- that is, those who would become a hydra's head emboldening their crowd to become a body that would produce more heads. This describes 156.1
157.1 fire/20 (256) - The two concepts -- "plaster" and "mixing in" -- are much the same. One prepares plaster by mixing it. One applies plaster in much the same way, "mixing" it with the thing it is applied to, essentially becoming it.
- Wasn't there an earlier solo-combat suggestion of closing the gap, and striking?
- 157.3 fire/21 (256) - No. "Touching" is correct, using the earlier concept of plastering. Think of it thusly: It is difficult to plaster a corner to "mix it" into something flat.
- 158.2 - See also the concept I wrote for 152.3
- 158.3 - Building on my earlier hydra concept, attacking a corner is akin to striking at a head to get to its neck. Maybe it will be turned/flattened to expose it or flatten it. I imagine it something like the head and neck withdrawing into the body, which would work as an explanation of an embolden individual being demoralized and returned to the crowd.
- 159.3 - "The three cries" is also hinted at in 156.3 (menacing with your voice).
161.2 - This is a restatement of the earlier points on corners.
- fire/24 (256) - No. The transliteration is better as intervals. The plastering/edge points speak of mixing and cutting. Understanding that edges will continuously present themselves as "intervals" describes a concept much like waves, though.
- 163.2 - Retreat is the opposite of pressing, closing, or plastering.
- 163.4 - A large force in disarray is just a currently-loose collection of small groups. It will have many "edges". (like hydra heads). Think of it like one hydra body/heads splitting into many, small-body/few-head hydras.
- 165.4 - Dishearten, instil hopelessness.
- 168.4 - This seems like a description of an opponent pressed-against which has no edges.
170.3 fire/28 (257) - Once you know the Way, you see it in all things. Much of the language of this text is wholly universal once "one "The Way"" is known.
- This general-movement and troop-movement was previously described in keeping a crowd moving in a certain way.
172.3 Read in reverse order?
- This explains the feeling of having tread similar ground, when reading 'fire'.
- 176.1 wind/2 (257) - This would be well-transliterated as something like "the breadth of success and not failure, correctness and not." Or perhaps "right and wrong" is fine. He's about to analyze other arts to indicate their positives and flaws. Where is this "natural principles" coming from?
187.3 wind/8 (258) - It could easily be omitted, since "this is vital" is a conclusion.
- But.. who cares?
- water/11 (258) - The translator has experience in a Ni Ten Ichi Ryū school.
190.2 wind/13 (258) - It's a reference to moving the ball with the head.
- Perhaps one should think about soccer.
- 192.3 wind/15 (258) - One does not "secure" certain victory, "secure" is something like saying "I have secured five moves to checkmate", or securing a foothold. It is not as complete as simply saying "attain certain victory" or perhaps "and victory is certain". Remember that he is committed to absolute, crushing, victory.
- 193.1 - "and victory becomes uncertain" is another transliteration.
196.1 wind/18 (259) - It's better to describe this like predictability while airborne. "Flying" techniques almost certainly do not end/land with no movement.
- I am reminded of Bruce Lee.
- 199.2 wind/24 (259) - No. "Does not match the interval" is perfectly fine. He speaks, in 199.1, of rhythm.
- wind/25, see water/9 (251)
- 202.3 wind/26 - Perhaps also "unintuitive" is a good word.
203.3 wind/28 - He could also be referring to going deep, getting lost, and exiting near the journey's start.
- I am reminded of our phrase "getting turned around".
- 204.3 - This feels like a statement of his honest-commitment to convey his/this Way.
204.4 - This could be a commentary on how the various "ways" of others demand a recognition of their biases of good/bad-scales. Each has some form of describing ways like one might describe Five Ways/Six Ways. Musashi insists on culling their ways to build off of any remaining good items.
p. 208 "Emptiness" ∞
208.2 -- (1) -- What does "general introduction" mean? Is it "Introduction", from p.7 through to p.39? That's a fucking silly reference.
- p.27.2 has some value, re. Buddhism: kū - emptying of ego or self-consciousness.
- 208.5 -- Therefore emptiness is neither ignorance nor innocence.
- 210.2 -- Perhaps it is better to say "train well in these other martial arts.
- 210.2 -- (3) -- No. It is important to tie this back to "will". "Emptyness in will" is a cousin to being resolute or unwavering, and perhaps bravery. It is faith without commitment, faith without self-deception, and faith without effort.
210.3 -- (5) -- No. "Straight Way" is correct. This isn't just "true" as in not veering off into falsehood, but direct and undistracted by the self. Maybe the translation should be "the Way without paths", though I do, and perhaps he would admit its challenge in its reception by a reader.
- This whole paragraph parallels his opinions on other schools of swordsmanship, and "styles".
- After finishing the book, I came across this note and can confirm this view. Compare it to 239 (1) "the Way walked alone".
211.1 -- (6) -- No. Translating this as: "... take a place of perfect straightness as your basis, make your mind the Way (or the Way your mind), and practise stratety broadly."
- First, he now uses "straightness" and it is translated directly, as it should have been in 210.3. Second, it is a better tool to say "undistracted" again, as I have earlier. So "take a place of perfect undistractedness as your basis..."
- 210.3 -- (Ignore all square brackets)
211.2 -- "into your thinking" .. makes "your mind the Way / etc" work.
Part II - 35 Articles ∞
- 224.3 -- (4) -- The literal translation is great.
- 225.1 -- "Strike him down" is a useful expression to remember this strike/hit concept.
- 228.2 - 229.1 -- Bow and knot are countered by outright initiative and manipulating rhythm, respectively.
233.1 -- (10) -- "That Way" as in "that way" as in expertise at exploitable defensable terrain.
- An expert at exploiting defensable terrain can be made to feel as though they are "on the defensive". Take their perceived advantage and turn their mind on them.
- 233.2 -- Is this like emptiness / no mind and commitment / initiative?
- 234.3 -- (14) -- Imagine holding a baseball bat, left hand under, right hand over. A swing is from one's right side to the left. When sticking, hands out is keeping the sword away. Sticking particularly with the left leaves an openness to that right-to-left swing, or at least that mobility.
- 237.1 -- This oral transmission is notable. Is this something like rhythm and measuring?
237.2 -- This is straightforward to me. This is the difference between (a) way and (the) Way.
239 -- (1) -- This is better as "the Way walked alone" or "the Way, as walked alone".