The Book of Five Rings composed in 1643 by the famed duelist and undefeated samurai Miyamoto Musashi is one of the most influential texts on the subtle arts of confrontation and victory ever to emerge from Asia. This excerpt from the introduction sets up the history behind this fascinating text still relevant today.
The Book of Five Rings is one of the most important texts on conflict and strategy emerging from the Japanese warrior culture. Originally written on only four men at arms, it is explicitly intended to symbolize processes of struggle and mastery in all concerns and walks of life. The Book of Five Rings was written in 1643 by Miyamoto Musashi -- undefeated dueler, masterless samurai, and independent teacher. Musashi was a professional man at arms born into a long tradition of martial culture that had ultimately come to dominate the entire body of Japanese polity and society. His insights are relevant not only to members of the ruling military cast, but also to leaders in other professions as well as people in search of individual mastery in whatever their chosen path.
The Book of Five Rings is written in Japanese rather than the literary Chinese customary in the elite bureaucratic religious and intellectual circles in Japan at that time. The Japanese in which it is written furthermore is relatively uncomplicated and quite free of the subtle complexities of classical high court Japanese. Although, the crudity of Musashi’s syntax and morphology make for clumsy reading. Nevertheless, the basic simplicity and deliberate clarity of the work makes it accessible to a wide and varied audience. The rise and empowerment of the samurai class in Japan may be seen in the two terms used to refer to its members: samurai and bushi. The word samurai comes from the Japanese verb "saburau" which means to serve as an attendant. The word bushi is Sino Japanese and means “armed gentry.” The word samurai was used by other social classes while the warriors referred to themselves by the more dignified term “bushi.”