The Book of Five Rings
The "Earth" scroll
by Andrea Yarbrough
Welcome to the FightingArts.com Book Club. The purpose of the club
is to offer a forum where martial artists can garner insight from reading
martial arts texts, both ancient and modern. The book club can be a
powerful tool to augment our martial arts studies through discussions
sharing the collective insights gleaned from the books we'll be reading.
The exciting part about an Internet book club is the opportunity it
offers to share the thoughts and perceptions of participants with a
wide range of backgrounds, previous study, and fresh insights.
The first book selected to be read is Miyamoto Musashi's "Book
of Five Rings", which can be ordered using the link at the bottom
of the page.
When I first read Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings"
(Gorin no sho), I'm not sure if I truly expected for it to contain any
wisdom/information that I could really use in my martial arts study
(more or less my everyday life). After all, it was written in feudal
Japan way back in the 17th century by a ronin (masterless samurai).
Musashi's is not merely a book on sword fighting, in it he presents
his martial strategy (which is relevant to martial arts in general,
not just the sword arts). Not only has Musashi created a work that speaks
to all martial artists, but he has written it in very straightforward
terms. He even tells us that he has chosen not to use the language of
Buddhism or Confucianism (as was the style of some of the other martial
arts treatises written around his time -- a style that often shrouded
the true lessons behind the jargon). Instead, he says it is with a "sincere
heart" that he sits down to write. And anyone who sits down with
the same sincere heart to read and learn from Musashi's writings won't
come away empty-handed.
Musashi calls his first scroll "Earth" because in it he lays
out the general principles of his martial strategy -- the "groundwork"
or preparation needed to set those who are seeking on the "straight"
(or true) path. Does anybody have any thoughts about the "path"
or "way" that Musashi is teaching? (For example, his concept
of winning at all costs -- is this still the aim/path of martial artists
today? Should it be?)
Musashi uses the metaphor of the master carpenter to convey some of
the precepts of his strategy. In this example, he is teaching (among
other things) the importance of using the "right tool" for
the job (using the right weapon for the situation, using the right technique
based on your opponent and the situation, and even utilizing the right
person for a specific task). Musashi's school of two swords indicates
this belief. He says that no one should be content to die without having
used all the tools at his disposal.
As martial artists today, what does it mean to you to use all the tools
at your disposal? How can we acquire the necessary tools for a complete
toolbox? (What's your opinion about cross-training in the martial arts?)
(Christopher Caile has written an interesting article on this very subject
for this site entitled, "Gripping Budo By More Than One Corner.")
Musashi also talke of the master carpenter keeping his tools sharp.
How do you keep your tools sharp? (What are some practice habits you've
picked up over the years that really help keep your tools sharp?)
As we're talking about practice, it's important to note that Musashi
uses the example of the carpenter using the same care and mastery whether
he's building the largest thing (a house) or the smallest and seemingly
insignificant (a pot cover). He's talking about focusing on the details
-- without focusing/mastering the footwork, body posture, hand position,
etc of a larger movement (kata, self-defense set, etc), you can never
master that larger movement. (What are your thoughts and opinions about
the importance of mastering each small detail in the martial arts?)
This is just a broad look at the Earth Scroll. I'll post other ideas/topics
later, and I encourage any and all comments/ideas on the book so far.
For more discussion of this classic work, go to the discussion in the
Talk Forum and join in.
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