Miayamoto Musashi was a legendary samurai swordsman of the middle seventeenth century in Japan who faced over sixty life-and-death battles during his time on earth. His approach to strategy became a bible to many martial artists through the centuries, and in the middle eighties of the twentieth century it became required reading for Harvard MBA students with an eye to gaining a better insight and understanding of how the Japanese mind worked in global business.
Numerous translations of The Book of Five Rings are on the market, but Victor Harris's edition is the one I have turned to as an old friend. It provides a fine translation of the original text, and in the introduction provides a historical context of Musashi's life in Japanese history, including maps (I love maps), as well as recounting of some of his battles and contests. This edition also provides photos of different pieces of art and craftsmanship Musashi created, fostering a deeper relationship with the reader and Musashi.
The five rings represent the five states or perspectives to view the art of strategy from:
- Earth: An introduction and metaphorical discussion of martial arts, leadership and training
- Water: A description of Musahsi's style Ni-ten, Ichi-ryu (Two Heavens, On Style), and conveys fundamental techniques and principles
- Fire: The challenges of battle, the heat of it, including different types of timing within the contest to adopt to achieve success
- Wind: This chapter explores a comparison of different styles, their strengths and weakness in strategy and swordsmanship
- Void: This is a short section offering more esoteric Zen influenced guidelines on applied thinking and correct mindset
For Asian wisdom on martial strategy, many people are fans of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which I have also read. It is indeed an essential book to have read and to keep handy for reference. But Go Rin No Sho remains a personal favorite, possibly because I spent a summer in Japan, and during this time became inspired to study the way of the Japanese sword - the katana - and the Samurai. This decades-long pursuit of continued knowledge has been part of my path since college.