An Undefeated Code

The idea of Zen is popular---we all have preconceived notions around it. But the real practice of Zen is sublime in the sense that only a few people practice it in a proper and formal way, consciously and diligently. Zen is a philosophy of will power and is based on a spirit of self-reliance. Additionally, profound honesty is also required. It transcends religion (but not hostile against the existing religions) and committed only to the religion of the self - to master thy own self, a personal strategy. Zen practitioners are not selfish, they are basically selfless as they place themselves in the same responsive relationship with Nature and the universe.

If you consider reading as philosophy, you will definitely like this one written by a great bushi (who later became a Ronin) sometime in 1643 A.D. Reaching the age of sixty and learning from his battles against other swordsmen and students of the sword fighting schools (he never lost a fight in his lifetime), Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshi or commonly known as Miyamoto Musashi wrote a series of discourses for his student (Terao Magonojo) on the mastery of self by practicing the path of Heiho under the guidance and philosophy of Zen. This series of writings collected in one book-- the Book of Five Rings focused on the practice of Heiho is divided into five major chapters, or books (rings).

From the translators of the book, there is the passive way and the active way of practicing Zen. The active way is what The Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) is all about.

Utagawa Koniyushi - "Miyamoto Musashi slaying a giant Nue"

Before diving into the Five Rings, we need to understand first The Path (or the Way).

Musashi devoted himself to the path towards enlightenment since his youth, and had his first match at the age of thirteen. Winning battles after battles against fellow swordsmen, he finally abled to formulate a disciplined strategy in winning fights and eventually master his own destiny. He called this path Heiho.  
There are 9 basic commandments of Heiho:   

1. Do not harbor sinister designs.

2. Diligently pursue the Path of Two-Swords-as-One.

3. Cultivate a wide range of interests in the arts.

4. Be knowledgeable in a variety of occupations.

5. Be discreet regarding one's commercial dealings.

6. Nurture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters.

7. Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.

8. Do not be negligent, even in trifling matters.

9. Do not engage in useless activity.

The code of Heiho is more than just a written list on a book. It teaches us to study more, and practice harder. And getting informed is the first step. This is Miyamoto Musashi's "undefeated" code. To study more and practice harder. He reiterates this obviously after every end of both the major and minor chapters of his book.


The Five Rings are composed of The Earth Book, The Water Book, The Fire Book, The Wind Book, and The Book of Emptiness (Void).

The Earth Book (Chi No Maki) centers on the path of Heiho, about fighting with a goal and no hesitations. It's about widening your peripheral vision and putting your mind above all things and be objective at all times.

The Water Book (Mizu No Maki) tackles on the basics of the sword fight, the importance of initiating the stance and studying the reactive response of the opponent, as he introduces the term "rhythm" vital for the fight itself and elaborates further on the proper initial stances.

The Fire Book (Hi No Maki) explains the strategies in the middle of the fight, the importance of "offensive" stance over the "defensive" stance and looking for right timing at the opponent's momentary weaknesses. More techniques and variations in combat are explained here.

The Wind Book (Kaze No Maki) tells about the weaknesses and strategies of other schools of sword fighting (those considered not of Heiho). Miyamoto explains how to counter the strategy of the other schools.

The Book of Emptiness (Ku No Maki) is understanding that the nature of reality is a process, a flow and implies that one has gone beyond the point of making destinctions, creating dualities. Nothing is absolute in this world; everything is always changing. Musashi teaches us that you have your own flow, your own process and suggests there is a higher order of experience than the one you are on now. That emptiness is actually fullness, the realm of all possibilities.

some memorable passages:

At present, in many of the martial arts, and especially archery, there is too much concern about appearance, and not much concern about substance. That kind of martial art is useless in critical moments...

The primary principal is to have the sun behind you. Take a stance with the sun behind you. If it's not possible due to the lay of the land, keep the sun to your right...

There is also the concept of "intoxication"... It involves getting the opponent bored, agitated, and giving him the feeling that you are inferior. This should be well thought out... 

Genre: Strategy, Oriental Philosophy
Rating: 4.5 maki out of 5

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your comments here!