Book of Five Rings | Go Rin No Sho Review

book of five rings

Go Rin No Sho, or The Book of Five Rings is a long form letter from teacher to student. I read the translation by Victor Harris. Miyamoto Musashi was 17th century warrior in Japan who was widely respected and considered the best fighter of his time. This book is his manifesto on the Way of strategy. I was gifted this book by a friend who shares a similar interest in experimenting with process. When he sent me the book, his only explanation was “this is a book that shows you a way to be”.

Musashi emphasizes that not only are his practices good for winning battle, they are meant to be absorbed into the very fiber of being. I was very excited to read this book, as I want to explore more old and eastern literature.

I got a lot from Go Rin No Sho. The book is broken into 5 books that follow the five elements in Buddhist faith: Ground, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void. My favorite book was the Fire book which describes the spirit of fighting. The Fire section is littered with my notes and questions. It was while I was reading that chapter that I decided I would read Go Rin No Sho annually, to see how my thinking changes over the years.

Go Rin No Sho is deeply spiritual as Musashi delves into the art of being a warrior, which in the 17th century, was a form of religion. Though most of what he says is dressed in discourse on proper fighting mentality and technique, deeper meaning can be found in nearly every paragraph. Much of Musashi’s words have a timeless message that hold true in broader contexts. For instance, the following quote: “Generally, I dislike fixedness in both long swords and hands. Fixedness means a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand.” Musashi is clearly addressing the virtues of mental flexibility. When we are rigid, we emulate death (dead bodies are literally stiff). Being flexible allows you to adapt and evolve.

Go Rin No Sho houses a lot of philosophy given through the lens of warriorship. It was interesting to see some of my own ideas and beliefs reflected through the lens of someone living such a different life.

I will leave you with the two passages I love most from the book.

Crossing at a Ford means, for example, crossing the sea at a strait, or crossing over a hundred miles of broad sea at a crossing place. I believe this “crossing at a ford” occurs often in a man’s lifetime. It means setting sail even though your friends stay in harbor, knowing the route, knowing the soundness of your ship and the favor of the day. When all the conditions are met, and there is perhaps a favorable wind, or a tailwind, then set sail. If the wind changes within a few miles of your destination, you must row across the remaining distance without sail.

The three shouts are divided thus: before, during and after. Shout according to the situation. The voice is a thing of life. We shout against fires and so on, against the wind and the waves. The voice shows energy.

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