Monday, November 28, 2005

42 Martial Secrets from Musashi's Book of Five Rings
By Boye Lafayette de Mente
Tuttle Publishing

FOUR-hundred-and-twenty-one years ago (1584) in Japan, a man was born,
destined for greatness. Long before his death in 1645, at the age of 61,
he was already a legend among his people.
For a samurai whose chief business was engaging in duels that often
ended in violent deaths, Miyamoto Musashi led a life that legends were
made of. Besides being an invincible swordsman, he was also a
calligrapher, painter, poet, sculpter and a garden designer.
At an early age of 13, he had already killed his first opponent, a
shugyosha (a wandering warrior).
In the years that followed, Musashi fought in duels that involved
highly-skilled swordsmen from different samurai clans. What made
Musashi's swordfighting skills so unusual was his ability to "read" his
opponent's moves.
Physically powerful, he believed in strict discipline, especially on
himself. The fact that he remained a bachelor all his life was not
strange. He allowed nothing to distract him, especially women. His mind
was in a constant state of alert and he trained with a passion unequalled
in the Land of the Rising Sun.
In his late fifties, Musashi wrote Go Rin Sho on the urging of a
samurai lord, Tadatoshi Hosokawa. Musashi's 15-page treatise became known
as The 35 Articles of the Martial Arts. Actually, it contained 36
articles and it later became known as The Book of Five Rings.
Samurai Strategies is based on his principles of fighting techniques.
For decades, Japanese businessmen have learnt and memorised Musashi's
martial arts principles and applied them in business practices.
The fact that many Japanese corporations today are among some of the
biggest investors in the developed and developing worlds is testimony
that the spirit of Musashi continues to prevail in the 21st century.
Musashi's principles are pretty straightforward. First, to be a winner,
one must set goals. In other words, if you want to be an entrepreneur,
make up your mind to be the best, if not, one of the top three in the
Then, develop an extraordinary degree of self-discipline. It is only
through discipline that one can hone skills that are necessary for
ultimate victory.
The third principle touches on training. Train only to win, and win
absolutely. This can be applied in any field. In business, training to
win is the means justifying the end.
Musashi urges all who listen to be always prepared - mentally and
physically. Expect the unexpected. This means going into battle with
little or no advance warning.
The famous samurai also does not believe in set forms of fighting. Much
akin to Bruce Lee's tenet of no-style fighting. Perhaps Lee had also read
Musashi's Book of Five Rings.
The human mind is an arsenal. First, train the mind and then clear the
mind. Zen practitioners have long tried to master the art of clearing the
mind, called zazen or seated meditation.
For those who have not experienced this state of zen called mushin (no
mind) or muga (no ego), victory is but a distant memory. Lafayette de
Mente, the author of Samurai Strategies, understands the principle of
training the body, and then "letting it go".
The true warrior fights without thought because the art has become him.
It is a philosophy understood by Olympic champions and world athletes. In
sports, it is sometimes called "in the zone". That's when the athlete
reaches the state where his mind and body are one and he becomes
Musashi was also a firm believer in the power of emptiness. That's when
the subconscious surfaces and take complete control of the body. That,
according to the zen masters, is the heart of the art, whether it be
painting or fighting.
This book of 128 pages is extraordinarily enlightening. It has
distilled what was once the cryptic and maybe even mystic into matters of
simplicity. Most great matters are in the end quite simple, as most deep
issues are after much profound thought.
Strangely, Samurai Strategies does not read like a business manual or
handbook. It illuminates without being pedantic, and elucidates without
being elaborate.
Any reader with a modicum of martial arts knowledge would be delighted
to browse through its pages of ancient advice. Lafayette de Mente is an
expert on Japan, its culture and people.
He has written more than 30 books on Korea, China and Japan. His
previous profession before becoming a writer was an intelligence officer
in an American agency. We can only guess what it was.
Samurai Strategies cuts a path through the bamboo grove as easily as a
samurai slashes his opponent down to size with his sword. The book is
like a mind-exercising machine. It re-assembles a warrior's scattered
thoughts and focuses his mind like a laser beam.
In simple terms, the book helps the reader-warrior to be one with his
heart and mind, just as master samurai Miyamoto Musashi had always been
one with his sword.

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