Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

I was very curious to read this book since the time one of my friend suggested this book. It said it’s the book on the art of strategy and confrontation. At first, I was like, I have read enough books like this during my MBA times drawing comparison from every story or the every other profession including a Tom and Jerry cartoon movie. But, when I saw this book at the strand book stall, I glanced through it and noticed that the whole book was based on the martial arts. And I picked it up without any second thought.

Miyamoto Musashi was one of the master swordsman and an undefeated samurai during the 17th century in Japan. He was orphaned by the age of seven and, in order to earn his way in the world, became a swordsman, killing his first man at the age of 13.  Eventually he fought some 60 duels without ever being defeated.  By the end of his career, he had become so expert and dominant that he would fight his opponents with nothing but a stick.  Then in 1643, he retired to a contemplative seclusion in a cave, where, just before his death, he wrote this book. I read the copy which is commendably translated by Thomas Cleary.

Musashi’s advices are wise, very penetrating and his observations are applicable not only to martial arts, but for the leaders in all professions. He analyses the process of struggle and mastery over conflict that underlies every level of human interaction. While reading the book, each and every strategy, I could relate it to every activity I do and could easily think of application of these strategies on them. This book makes us prepared like a warrior to address all the challenges of life. Even though he wrote this book in 1643, his philosophies are very real and applicable even now.

His scientifically aggressive, thoroughly ruthless approach to military science, while not universal among Japanese martialists, represents a highly concentrated characterization of one particular type of samurai warrior. He introduces us to the two essential elements of ancient martial and strategic tradition - first of these basic principles is keeping inwardly calm and clear even in the midst of violent chaos; the second is not forgetting about the possibility of disorder in times of order.

One of my favorite paragraph in the book, He says, "in the science of martial arts, the state of mind should remain the same as normal. In ordinary circumstances as well as when practicing martial arts, let there be no change at all - with the mind open and direct, neither tense or lax, centering the mind so that there is no imbalance, calmly relax your mind, and savor this moment of ease thoroughly so that the relaxation does not stop its relaxation for even an instant. Even when still, your mind is not still; even when hurried, your mind is not hurried. The mind is not dragged by the body, the body is not dragged by the mind. Pay attention to the mind, not the body. Let there be neither insufficiency nor excess in your mind. Even if superficially weakhearted, be inwardly stronghearted, and do not let others see in your mind."

The book is composed with the help of five different courses. He calls it as scrolls, entitled Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Emptiness. The earth scroll is the science of martial arts and the analysis of his own school. How can one attain the true science and what knowledge one should posses and how to reach there is what he explains in the Earth scroll.  The second is the Water Scroll. Taking water as the basic point of reference, one makes the mind fluid. Water conforms to the shape of anything and it has the color of deep aquamarine. He talks about the purity of the water and hence the purity of knowledge in the Water Scroll.

The third scroll is the Fire scroll. In this has written about the battle. This is my most favorite chapter in this book. Fire may be large or small, and it may have the sense of violence as well. And he describes on all the matters of battle. Fourth is the Wind Scroll, and he talks about the competition and the various schools of martial arts in the world. One will get to know the different styles of this art and how is it being practiced in many other schools and whether they are good or bad. He says “Unless you really understand others, you can hardly attain your own self-understanding”.  The last scroll is the Emptiness. It talks about the reaching the depth and spontaneous entry into the true way.

And finally the book gives us some clear rules for learning the art. I have listed down all the points as under:

1. Think of what is right and true.
2. Practice and cultivate the science.
3. Become acquainted with the arts.
4. Know the principle of the crafts.
5. Understand the harm and benefit in everything.
6. Learn to see everything accurately.
7. Become aware of what is not obvious.
8. Be careful even in small matters.
9. Do not do anything useless.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and it makes a very good and a very essential read for all kinds of professionals in this world. And, now I am beginning to observe my strategies in my everyday activities. I must say, I need a sword now!



Hari said...

Thanks for the wonderful depiction!!!
I will certainly pick it up this weekend!!!

Sudhi said...

Thanks for introducing one more useful book !

Anonymous said...

That paragraph has real substance. I loved it and i guess a character like Sachin [ at 37 ] is molded by these kinds.