“Words of the Sword Saint” by Edward McKeown

“Words of the Sword Saint” by Edward McKeown

Musings on Miayamto Musashi and the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho)


Statue on Ganryu Island depicting the duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro

A long time ago in a land far, far away, there lived a very strange and dangerous man. He is known to us as Miyamoto Musashi (also called the Kinsei or “Sword Saint” though a better translation might be Master of the Way of the Sword as his use of the weapon was hardly saintly in the Western Tradition). To those in the West he is hardly known outside of Japanophiles and martial artists. The most common image arises from a series of movies usually referred to as the samurai trilogy which show the growth of Musashi from a common ruffian to the “beau ideal” of the samurai warrior.


He lived and fought from 1584 to 1645 in the Edo period in feudal Japan. Having accomplished much on the field of battle he retired to a cave in Reigando to ponder the meaning of his violent existence. Among his final acts was to gift us with the ‘Book of Five Rings’ or (Go Rin No Sho.)


This book is now known mostly in martial arts circles but became popular during the business craze of the 1990s when movies like ‘Rising Sun’ gave us dire warnings about how the Japanese were going to wipe up the economic floor with America.


We searched through the writings of their scholars as earlier generations had looked into China to come up with Sun Tzu and his “Art of War.”


We later learned that their success was a mixture of a totally rebuilt industrial base (the original one having been fire-bombed out of existence), an educated and cohesive populace, and tremendous financial leverage that blew up leaving them with a moribund banking system and “lost decades.”



The question now is, does the ‘Book of Five Rings’ have meaning in our modern world, in the martial arts as we practice them, and even in life in general?



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