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| The Book of Five Rings
"Gorin no sho", 2nd edition
Author: Miyamoto Musashi
Translation, comments and illustrations: Neculai Amalinei
2nd Edition, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2013.
192 pages, 135x200 mm
Price: 19.95 RON
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This work represents the translation of the book - "Gorin no Sho".
"Gorin no Sho - The Book of Five Rings" was written by the famous Japanese sword master Miyamoto Musashi (1583 - 1645).
Miyamoto Musashi is one of Japan's most well-known warriors and he is considered a sword saint (kensei) in Japan.
We learn about Musashi's life from Japanese theater as Kabuki or Jöruri and from dramatic narrative Ködan (Edo Period).
The Japanese writer Eiji Yoshikawa creates a fiction about a special Musashi (named Yoshikawa Musashi by critics), which gained a considerable audience in the world.
Many films and TV dramas strengthen the independent attitude of Musashi and feature him as a national hero of the modern Japan.
Beyond the fiction, Miyamoto Musashi's real life remains hidden and far away from us. Inaccurate translations led often to a misunderstanding of Musashi's concepts.
The wish to exploit Musashi through media conducted to best sellers, but did not reveal the true Miyamoto Musashi.
Like another great Japanese sword man, Tsukahara Bokuden, Musashi's life is veiled in enigmas. Whether for Bokuden a lot of data lack, for Musashi, records are too abundant.
Understanding Musashi means to live his drama as well as his dream.
The Musashi's drama lies in the social and historical background of his time.
The struggle for power that followed the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 - 1598) found the country divided between two major factions of feudal lords (daimyö). Their armies, the "West" and the "East", clashed at Sekigahara in the year 1600.
After the battle of Sekigahara, the victorious Tokugawa Ieyasu divided the territory of the defeated eighty-seven daimyö amongst his own allied daimyö and hereditary vassals.
Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan and established the "feudal peace" that will last about three centuries (1603-1868). It corresponds to the Tokugawa (Edo) period and will definitely engrave the Japanese culture and traditions. Three years after the battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu adopts the title of Shögun (generalissimo).
As a direct consequence of the war, more than 500,000 warriors (bushi) remained unemployed, because their masters were defeated at Sekigahara. Some of them found re-employment, others became farmers or merchants, but the great majority was waiting for the next military conflicts, as rönin (masterless bushi).
The uncertainty lasted only fifteen years. After the Winter Campaign and the Summer Campaign, Ösaka Castle was conquered on May 28, 1615. Toyotomi Hideyori, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's heir, committed suicide. Thus, Tokugawa Ieyasu finally eliminated his rival. A new era started, without wars, leading to a period of great peace' that lasted more than 250 years.
Miyamoto Musashi challenged the limits of swordmanship and achieved a style and a skill unsurpassed in the annals of Japanese fencing, but when he was only at one step away, there was no need of his military knowledge.
Integrating his strategy to large scale battles, he dreamed to ascend the highest social position as did the great Toyotomi Hideyoshi only a couple of years before.
However in the new era of peace, wars remained a memory of the past and the improvement of the war strategy was not needed anymore.
The way of strategy, hyöhö, discovered by Musashi is not only a way of physical training, but a method to reach an in-depth inner perfection.
Miyamoto Musashi's research was directed to a thorough application of this principle to all aspects of life, due to his fighting experience.
Thus, in Kyöto he began to study shodö (calligraphy), sadö (the tea ceremony) and painting. It is said that he was as skillful with a brush as he was with a sword.
Musashi himself asserted that the results of the sword study were applicable to various other arts like theater (sarugaku - the prototype of Nö), landscape gardening, architecture and sculpture. Moreover he developed his abilities in letters and mathematics.
In Kumamoto he spent most of his time engaging in the practice of zazen, ink paintings and wood carving.
The famous painting "Koboku Meigeki Zu" is renowned for expressing the dynamism concealed in a motionless bird of pray - expressing zanshin, the total vigilance of the warrior. Musashi also featured ink paintings with Daruma (the Indian priest Bodhidharma who founded Zen Buddhism in China) and it is said that he also carved Fudö Myö Ö (a temple guardian deity).
Based on his own experience in numerous duels, he sought the universal principles of combat, extending his study to the Dö (Ways) common to all the arts.
Finally, Musashi proclaimed "All Principles, One Void" () - the principles of all ways unite in the Void.
Therefore, Musashi was able, "by trusting in the principles of combat, to practise many arts and professions - all without a teacher".
During his stay in Kyüshü, Miyamoto Musashi wrote for the lord of Kumamoto, Hosokawa Tadatoshi, "Hyöhö sanjü go kajö" (35 lessons of strategy), an instructional treatise of swordmanship, in the year 1641.
Two and half years after writing "Hyöhö sanjü go kajö", he moved to Reigandö cave, behind Ungan-ji temple on the slope of the Mount Kinpu.
Here, on October 10, 1643, Musashi began to write the masterpiece "Gorin no Sho", his supreme work of the way of strategy, hyöhö.
A year later he fell ill and returned to the castle of Kumamoto.
After a further six months and only a week before he died, he remitted "Gorin no Sho" to Terao Magonojö and "Hyöhö sanjü go kajö" to Terao Motomenosuke.
Musashi's wish was to perpetuate his art to three successors within the thousand students around 1640. His last disciples were Terao Magonojö, his younger brother Motomenosuke and Furuhashi Sozaemon. He considered Magonojö to be excelled in technique, but he lacked reflection. Furuhashi excelled in reflection but lacked in technique. Magonojö received the "Gorin no Sho" on the instructions that he read it and burned it. But Furuhashi borrowed it for a few days and on the orders of Hosokawa Mitsuhisa made two copies. One for Hosokawa and one for himself that he transmitted under the name of "Ihon gorin no sho". The best known artifact today is the Hosokawa copy.
The core meaning of "Gorin no Sho" was resumed by Takashi Uozumi, professor at International Budö University and author of "Miyamoto Musashi - Nihonjin no michi" ( - , Miyamoto Musashi - The Way of a Japanese), as follows:
"This book is based on Miyamoto Musashi's earlier "Hyöhö sanjü go kajö" and concerns itself chiefly with sword technique. However, Musashi goes on to address the subjects of military strategy, mastery of the Way and the bushi way of life. He does not quote religious or philosophical maxims, nor does he refer to authoritative texts; he simply explains in his own words those principles that he discovered through his own experience. "Gorin no Sho" is quite different from a Hidensho (secret teachings manual) written to ensure continuity of technique in a ryüha (school of martial art).
Musashi wrote it because he believed that he should bequeath his knowledge of the essence of the Way of Combat, gained over a lifetime of searching, to future generations.
The transformation of Bujitsu, from utilitarian combative technique, to a way of spiritual cultivation, Budö, is plainly shown in the way Musashi's lived his life; "Gorin no Sho" expresses the thoughts of someone who has undergone such a transformation himself.
Although "Gorin no Sho" is one of the earliest written Budö treatises, I believe that it constitutes the best framework of the essential elements of Budö. Unlike later works that presuppose training and matches in döjö, "Gorin no Sho" envisages a variety of actual combat situations, and gives clear concrete instructions applicable to each. And, unlike later Budö treatises, "Gorin no Sho" does not introduce elements of Zen or Taoism in order to enhance its spiritual content; rather it insists that the mind can be polished to a clear and cloudless state by thorough training in technique.
When I consider the modern Budö in terms of "Gorin no Sho", it seems to me that, although their proponents spout abstract spiritual ideology, the modern Budö are becoming increasingly sports orientated and excessively elaborate.
Of course, the modern Budö differ vastly from their forbears historical context, technique and aim but, I believe that the time is ripe to reconsider the essence of Budö and return to the spirit of "Gorin no Sho", to an approach that conceptualizes the "Direct Path" in terms of those fundamental elements that constitute technique."