Dating back to 1645 the work of Miyamoto Musashi is a general written instruction for those who want to be trained in the Way of strategy. In “The Book of Five Rings” Miyamoto Musashi describes some of the basics of the Ni To Ichi school, also referred to as the Way of strategy, where strategy is a combination of skillful usage of a sword with an understanding and knowledge of timing in battle, spirit, stance, gaze and ability to appreciate the enemy. The book is an outline, a spiritual guide for a man who wants to learn the Way.
According to the author, he himself has chosen this school after he has won many battles, cut down many enemies and spent long years of his life not belonging to any school. It is then that he realized that the true way is the Way of strategy. He is, thus, putting in writing his believes and convictions for other followers of Ni To Ichi. And while, on one hand, the book may seem purely a record of sword-fencing techniques, the author himself emphasizes that the essence of his strategy is to defeat the enemy, on the other hand, the book does provide some insight as to the spirit and mentality of the warrior following the Way.
To start with, the follower of the Ni To Ichi school should be constantly in training and research. Musashi reminds of the importance of training every couple of paragraphs, he emphasizes that simply reading his book will not make one a good strategist of sword-fencing, one should do a deep research. Thus, a conclusion can be made that the spirit of the warrior is that of patience, persistence and perseverance. A true follower of the Way trains until he actually masters a specific technique, but with that he also masters and trains his spirit.
Moreover, the training the warrior does should be meaningful. Thus, Musashi explains why there are two swords the warrior has and why should he master both the long sword and the sword. The follower of the Way must know other weapons and understand the benefits and shortcomings of all of them, but it is the long sword that he must master first of all, but the short sword is also with him. If the time comes for the warrior to die on the battlefield, he must all the weapons he has to stand against the enemy, and if he is conquered it is with the realization that he has done what he could have.
Thus, the mentality of the warrior is that of deep comprehension of things he does. Another characteristic of the mentality of the warrior is that he is familiar with the teachings of other schools. While being a strict follower of the Way, the warrior must know what other schools’ techniques are. In no case should he step away from the true Way of strategy, he should simply be prepared to use his knowledge of the enemy’s way when fighting him in battle. This shows that the spirit of the warrior is that of intelligence.
He is not only capable of using his sword against the enemy; he is also smart in how he uses the knowledge of the enemy’s technique to conquer him. And for the true follower of the Way, conquering the enemy means not only physical victory over him; to conquer the enemy fully means to defeat his spirit; only then the victory becomes full and complete. Overall, according to Miyamoto Musashi, the way of strategy is the way of wisdom. Part of this wisdom comes from self-control. By this the author means that the true warrior is in full control of his body and spirit – does nothing that has no purpose.
For example, if he has used a technique on the enemy and it was unsuccessful, he does not make a mistake using the same move on the same enemy again. The warrior rather has enough knowledge and spirit to change his tactics and confuse the enemy. On the other hand, showing your false weakness to the enemy is a strategic move to find out what is the way the enemy fights. In this case, showing your supposed weakness it not really a disclosure to the enemy, but rather a knowledgeable and wise way to conquer him.
Warrior’s self-control is in appearance as well: he stands straight, he does not run when there is no need to do so, he moves easily with a purpose in every step he makes, he does not fix his eyes on one thing but rather perceives the whole picture of the battle ahead, he uses his voice to shout, his attitude is calm – the “no-attitude attitude”. To master all of this one should have a strong spirit of tenacity and self-restrain. Also, the mentality of the warrior is that of an open mind. He is obedient to his teaching but, on the other hand, his mind is open to allow him to place himself into the position of his enemy.
It is with his spirit more than with his physical mastership that the follower of the Way is able to defeat his enemies, whether it is one against ten, or ten against a hundred. Musashi emphasizes again and again that the main idea of his teaching is to cut down the enemy, but the way to do it through the training of one’s spirit. It is the spirit that the warrior should train every hour, mastering both his perception and attitude, learning how to use the wisdom of the strategy. In my opinion the most helpful book to understand the spirit and mentality of the warrior in the “Book of Five Rings” was the Book of Fire.
It is here that in parallel that the author discloses more of the strategy of mind and spirit techniques in parallel to the actual use of the long sword. In every technique Musashi describes in this Book, whether it is throwing enemy into confusion, knowing the times of the enemy’s disposition in battle or using the three shouts, there is strategy and wisdom in actual performance of this technique. Moreover, these techniques assume that the warrior has already mastered the use of the long sword, and now he is fighting with the enemy with his spirit on the first place.
As a conclusion, it should be noted that Miyamoto Musashi used his own experience and past to write this guide for those who want to become trained in the Way of strategy. It is his spirit that helped him conquer numbers and numbers of enemies, the spirit of self-control and self-tenacity, spirit of courage and yet of patience, it is obedience to your school and openness to the arts of all other schools, it is the spirit of calm attitude and honesty in one’s thought and the author emphasizes again and again that it is your spirit that will help you conquer ten when you are alone against them.
Japanese warriors are often perceived as wise men with strong spirit and being skillful masters in all they do, especially on the battlefield, and it seems that it has always been like that. The “Book of Five Rings” may be a good starting point to understand the spirit and mentality of a Japanese warrior for those who want to comprehend these strategists of long-sword fencing.
Musashi, Miyamoto. “The Book of Five Rings”. Cyberpathway. com Page, «http://www. cyberpathway. com/musashi/»