The Book Of Five Rings was written in 17th century Japan by a samurai warrior. He shares the fighting techniques and belief system that resulted in him never losing a match.
I went from province to province, from place to place, and encountered martial artists from many different schools; and though I fought as many as sixty matches, I did not lose even once. All of these were events occurring from the time I was thirteen until I reached twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
Remaining undefeated then was more noteworthy than doing the same in the UFC of today because samurais fought with real swords. Losing very likely meant death.
He describes the rhythm of life:
…there is rhythm in the formless. Concerning the position of a warrior, there is a rhythm to rising in the service of his lord, and a rhythm for retreating from it; there is a rhythm to being in harmony with others, and a rhythm to not being in harmony with them. In the Way of the Merchant, there is a rhythm for becoming a wealthy man, and a rhythm for ruining oneself with wealth. The rhythm is different according to each and every Way. You should discriminate thoroughly between the rhythm of success and the rhythm of failure.
He shares martial arts advice:
In the midst of the fight, if you are intent on making your opponent flinch, you will have already obtained the victory. For this reason, you should not forget about stabbing at your opponent’s face.
If he thinks you have understood the martial arts well, that you are strong in technique and that you are an expert in the Way, he is surely thinking that he is going to lose.
It is essential that you attack violently when your opponents are not expecting it. Take advantage of the situation while their minds are unsettled, grasp the initiative, and gain the victory. Again, even in the martial arts of one-on-one, show leisureliness in the beginning, then suddenly attack vigorously. Following through on your opponent’s agitation, you can take the advantage without missing a beat and grasp the victory.
If you use a technique on your opponent and it is not successful the first time, it will have no effect to attack him once more with the same move. Attack suddenly with a different technique, and if that has no effect, you should use yet a different one. Thus, if your opponent is thinking “mountains,” attack with “seas”; and if he is thinking “seas,” attack with “mountains.”
…send [your enemy’s] mind in different directions, make him think various things, and have him wonder if you will be slow or quick. When you grasp the rhythm of his confusion, discern your point of victory with certainty.
He insists you defeat your opponent completely and utterly:
Smashing your opponent completely, even if he seems weak and you are strong, is called Crushing.
If your Crushing is weak, they will be able to rally.
…if your opponent is inferior to you, or his rhythm has broken, or if he appears as though he is going to retreat, it is essential that you crush him immediately, without letting him catch his breath or even letting him glance at you. It is your primary consideration to not let him recover even a little.
One sentence you will see repeatedly is “You should investigate this thoroughly.” In essence he’s saying, “Hey, don’t take my word for it; go try it out yourself and see what you can learn.” I believe we have lost this investigative mindset in modern culture, where people seek out knowledge not as a way to build connections between disciplines or have unique experiences of their own, but to plug and chug. A man wants to get laid so he insists on a book that teaches him exactly how to do it without having to think. Another man wants to get rich so he wants someone to give him a precise recipe for making it happen. People don’t want to experiment and struggle in modern times—they want to be spoon-fed like babies to achieve immediate success.
While this book was interesting, it was very specific to martial artistry, with little that you could extend to a more normal life. In that regard it was a more inferior work than The Art Of War. Unless you have a specific interest in fighting, you can skip this one.
Read More: “The Book Of Five Rings” on Amazon