23 Points of Wisdom: The Book of the 5 Rings


The Book of the Five Rings is a work written by a legendary swordsman and artist, Miyamoto Musashi. Active during what is called the Kyoto Renaissance 1550-1650, Musashi traveled throughout Japan studying many different styles of Martial Arts and many walks of life. He met, studied and conversed with masters and leaders of his day, and with a critical eye and focus on fluidity and effectiveness, he adapted only that which would achieve victory. His style and skill led him to over 60 victories, which is an astounding feat, even for a master in those days.  On October 10, 1643, in an act of purification after sensing a fatal disease,  Musahsi, climbed Mount Iwato in the province of Higo on the island of Kyushu, and began to write The Book of Five Rings. He intended  his work to be a guide for his followers he had trained face to face. In this book, Musashi offers timeless advice on  navigating life, training the mind and defeating an adversary.

Today, The Book of the Five Rings is required reading for Harvard Business students and is of tremendous value to those with sense enough to see beyond material, linear, checkerboard solutions to life’s challenges. Below is an assortment of important lines from the book, along with a few modern thoughts strewn in here and there. As with many works of the East, this isn’t simply a book you read. The knowledge in this book is best captured by taking the time to read, practice, study, re-visit and re-read.

1. It is by the virtue of the sword that both society and oneself are put in order.
This is perhaps the greatest truth that calls our societal structure into question. We do not have a “Way”. In fact we go out of our “Way” to separate our personal ethics, culture, religion, philosophy, responsibility and accountability from our work life. Though we spend more time in our trade than we do at home. We go further. Not only do we encourage the de-regulation of self from civic and ethical responsibility, we call for the same de-regulation of our practice to allow us to continue practices that have proven ultimately to fail economically, morally,  or on any scale that you care to measure. This is a broken system.

2. The way of this style is the mind that obtains the victory with anything at all.
Visualize success with any amount of resources however scarce, diverse or seemingly unrelated.

3. Train so that these skills are useful at any time, and teach these skills so that they will be useful in all things.
Always Train. Make Practice a Constant.

4. By virtue of your knowledge,  you will plumb the depths of defeating ten thousand men and become an expert in this way.

5. Rules for putting the method into practice:
–1. Think without any dishonesty.
Be real. Process that which is true. Use true metrics.
–2. Forge yourself in the Way.
–3. Touch upon all of the arts.
Champion interdisciplinary study
–4. Know the Ways of all occupations.
–5. Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything.
–6. Develop a discerning eye in all matters.
Cultivate a shockproof shit detector.
–7. Understand what cannot be seen by the eye.
Accept that not everything can be converted to perfect numbers. See what cannot be expressed in the data.
–8. Pay attention to the small things.
The devil is in the details.
–9. Do not involve yourself with the impractical.

Filter out that which does not serve you.

6. Whoever would get to the heart of it, let him do so with conviction, practicing in the morning and training in the evening. After he has polished his techniques and gained independent freedom of movement, he will naturally gain miraculous powers, and easy strength will be wonderful. This is the spirit wherein, as a warrior, he will put these practices into action.

7. For in the way of martial arts there is a natural freedom: you naturally gain extraordinary strength, you know the rhythm of the moment, you strike naturally and you hit naturally.
Very few in today’s world have these natural talents and virtues. Most are corrupted with fanciful things and believe any bullshit they are sold.

8. Body and mind are composed in a straight forward way, and that you bend and warp your opponent taking the victory by twisting and distorting your opponents mind is my way.
Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

9. There is neither entrance nor depth to the sword,  and there is no ultimate stance. There is only seeing through to its virtues with the mind.
There are no short cuts, no secret sauces, just the hard work of cultivating a Way and following through in practice.

10. The sword handled with a forceful frame of mind is going to be rough and it’s difficult to win with roughness alone.

11. Make the heart of truth your way, practice a broad spectrum of the martial arts and understand the expansive correctly and clearly.
Even in the business of information, you should have a discriminative sense about you that allows you to navigate.

12. Relying on specific methods draws the mind from the Way into narrow mindedness. Practice that which is direct and true subjugate.
Worshiping bad metrics comes to mind. How many likes do you have? How do those convert to sales?

13. You cannot ignore the rhythm in any of the arts and accomplishments.
Identify the patterns and patterns of inconsistency. Use them.

14. Moreover, there is rhythm in the formless. There is the rhythm of balance and imbalance. There are rhythms large and small, slow and fast. There is a rhythm in contact, the rhythm of spacing, and the rhythm of resistance.

15. Victory is in knowing the rhythms of your various opponents, in using a rhythm your opponent will be unable to grasp, and in developing a rhythm of emptiness rather than one of wisdom.

16. Do not fix the eye with a narrow focus.
Broad vision and adaptive roll-outs. Stop hoping for checkers. Plan for Chess.

17. Do not be bothered with insignificant or small matters  or insignificant techniques.
Know what to let go. This is difficult when the Silicon Valley Hype Machine swears that everything is the next thing and that it’s all important.

18. With the one, know the ten thousand-Enlarging the mind and contracting the mind.
The model is liquid and adaptive.

19. The mind that defeats one man is the same for innumerable opponents. The martial art of a commanding general makes the small into large.
The benefit of a scalable model.

20. If you are thinking of going into battle with a strong number of men, your opponent will likely thinking of doing the same. Accordingly, both sides will be equal. In my style, you do not think about overdoing anything in the least. Be intent on winning in any situation by your strength of knowledge of martial arts.
Don’t count on directly meeting a competitor with the same number of features.

21. The mentality of gaming an opponent leads to mere ornament, yielding less fruit and abandoning discipline.
Gaming the opponent (or screwing thy neighbor) is at the foundation of our economic model. It makes many wealthy but explains why many of the efforts aren’t repeatable to continue to gain more wealth. The hype, scams and fads have a relatively short shelf life.

22. Knowing all the disciplines impresses the novice but confuses the mind from achieving its objective.
There’s a big difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Social Media Experts, Marketing Wizards, Geeks, Designers, may know much and impress, but efficient execution and success require more than technique.

23. Ferrying Across- Passing through society and set your mind on some serious affair.
Focus by filtering out the noise

Get Your Copy of The Book of Five Rings

More Way of the Warrior Awesomeness:

Check out the video series Samurai: Decostructed on the History Channel Website.