The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

The Book of Five Rings, written around 1645 by Miyamoto Musashi, has maintained its relevance over the centuries and continues to provide value to readers today. From samurais to business owners to history buffs, this famous text offers insight on more than just succeeding in battle. It’s often regarded as a guide to strategizing for success against competitors, both on the battlefield and in the business world. It lays out what it takes to develop a warrior spirit. Let’s take a closer look at the motivations of the man behind the book.

Musashi’s Life

Miyamoto Musashi was born around 1584 in Harima Provence. He was a skilled Japanese sword fighter, renowned philosopher, and artist. Trained in swordsmanship from an early age, Musashi succeeded against an adult in his first duel at age 13. His impressive skill, particularly with double swords, led him to set a record of being undefeated in 61 duals throughout his life. His double sword technique continues to be taught today.

Writing The Book of Five Rings

Legend has it that Musashi wrote The Book of Five Rings while dying. After spending many years traveling, teaching strategy to students, and adopting 3 sons, he began suffering neuralgia attacks. As his health declined, he became a hermit and took to living in Reigandō, a cave West of Kumamoto, Japan. There he spent his time meditating and creating what would be his seminal text. It’s believed that he was only in his sixties at that time, although his exact age isn’t known.

Setting Down the Principles of Strategy

Musashi essentially set down what were his teachings to students in the text in an organized way. One can imagine that he had compiled much knowledge and insight over the years, not only from his own experiences and development of his skills but also from the ideas of others. While the book is a manual on strategy for swordsmanship and confrontation, many of the lessons and spiritual insights can be applied to business and life in general.

The Book of Five Rings is broken down into 5 parts or chapters, each of which represents the distinct elements of battle:

  • The Book of Earth – In this first section, Musashi sets the foundation for the rest by laying out how to master strategy. This includes timing, as well as weapons tactics.
  • The Book of Water – Here water is used to describe flexibility. This book focuses on bringing your spiritual side into strategy.
  • The Book of Fire – Fire covers broad fighting methods and how to assess a situation in order to best prepare for a battle.
  • The Book of Wind – Wind goes into traditions and techniques taught in schools.
  • The Book of Void – The final book is very philosophical in nature. Musashi writes, “By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist.”

Musashi spent his life mastering his skills and teaching them to others. As his life was coming to an end, he wrote The Book of Five Rings to share not just his lessons on swordsmanship, but on the importance of philosophy and spirituality, as well.