Books : reviews

Miyamoto Musashi.
A Book of Five Rings.
Overlook Press. 1974

rating : 5.5 : waste of time
review : 14 October 2010

This is a famous book in Japanese philosophy, written in 1645, about The Way of the Sword, but used as a general guide to living by its followers. Here it is translated by Victor Harris.

I suspect the reason why it means so much to so many people is that it doesn't actually say anything very specific, so you can read into it nearly anything you like. A little of the advice is clear, and sensible, like:

p46. It will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.

But a lot of it is more like the "explanation" of the attitude "to stab at the face":

p63-64. To stab at the face means, when you are in confrontation with the enemy, that your spirit is intent on stabbing at his face, following the line of the blades with the point of your long sword. If you are intent on stabbing at his face, his face and body will become rideable. When the enemy becomes as if rideable, there are various opportunities for winning. You must concentrate on this. When fighting and the enemy's body becomes as if rideable, you can win quickly, so you ought not to forget to stab at the face. You must pursue the value of this technique through training.

To which my response is simply, WTF? In fact, the woo is strong with this one, with things like:

p66. You can win with certainty with the spirit of "one cut". It is difficult to attain this if you do not learn strategy well. If you train well in this Way, strategy will come from your heart and you will be able to win at will. You must train diligently.

Nearly every short paragraph has an exhortation like: "You must appreciate this", or "You must learn this", or "You must research this well". But there isn't much "this" given to appreciate, learn, or research. Maybe it helps if you are a swordsman. But that makes it sound like "you can understand this if you already understand this from a different source." Or it may just be a poor translation: the style of the translated text is similar to the style of the historical preface. But I suspect not.