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The Book of Five Rings (Shambhala Classics) Paperback – December 12, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 702 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Written by legendary Japanese swordsman Musashi, this 17th-century exposition of sword-fighting strategy and Zen philosophy has been embraced by many contemporary readers, especially business school students, as a manual on how to succeed in life. There are many English translations, but every one, including this one, suffers from inadequate cultural, literary, and philosophical commentary. Musashi's work should be studied, not simply read, and Cleary's translation lacks commentary; it also makes the prose seems flat and the philosophy simplistic. Yet what makes this new translation worthwhile is the second text, buried deep in the back like an appendix: Yagyu Munenori's The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War. This text, also an exposition on sword fighting and Zen philosophy, is difficult to find in an English translation, and its availability is welcome. Recommended for academic libraries generally.
- Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"Embraced by many contemporary readers as a manual on how to succeed in life."— Library Journal --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Shambhala Classics
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala (December 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570627487
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570627484
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (702 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I have studied this book for years, and have read five different translations. The William Scott Wilson translation is by far the best. I always get the feeling that other translators are putting too much of themselves or their ideas about what Musashi is saying into the translations. Wilson's translation is clear and concise and yet does not feel filtered.

Here is a passage from the Thomas Cleary translation "Upset happens in all sorts of things. One way it happens is through a feeling of being under acute pressure. Another is through a feeling of unreasonable strain. A third is through a feeling of surprise at the unexpected."

Here is the same passage translated by Wilson "There are many kinds of agitation. One is a feeling of danger, a second is a feeling that something is beyond your capability and a third is a feeling of the unexpected. This should be investigated thoroughly."

They say the same thing, but Wilson is clearer.

As for the book itself, it is a classic masterpiece that describes not only a style of swordsmanship, but a way of living.
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Format: Hardcover
As others have already written very complete reviews, I just had a few miscellaneous comments, mostly on how to understand Musashi's seemingly paradoxical ideas about technique.

This has become a legendary book. Written by the famous swordsman, sometimes referred to in the west as "The Lone Ranger of Japan," Musashi claimed to have been in over 60 sword battles, triumphing each time, so it's no wonder Musashi's name has become legendary in both Japan and the west.

The book sets out Musashi's philosophy and correct Way of the Sword. But the principles Musashi espouses are bound to sound perplexing to many people. Musashi says that the best stance is no stance, that too much strength is bad (your sword may shatter when clashing swords), and that even too much speed is bad (it may upset your balance), and that none of these are the true Way of the Sword. The best technique is, in fact, no technique.

This sort of philosophy is bound to be more than a little confusing, so I'll see if I can clarify it a little. I'm not sure I understand Musashi either, although I've studied martial arts for many years and have read my share of eastern philosophy, but I'll give you my ideas on how I relate to them just in case you find them useful.

Basically what Musashi is saying is that once you've learned a technique and committed it to memory and especially "muscle memory," it becomes fixed and is no longer adaptive. Your body becomes channalized into this form or technique, which then becomes limiting, preventing you from achieving true mastery, which is the ability to adapt and flow with any of the infinite number of situations you may encounter. Fixity is therefore dysfunctional and is not the true Way of the Sword.
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Format: Hardcover
This classic text deals with the delicate art of leadership, and was composed originally in 1643 by the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi. But this book isn't just for those involved in the martial arts, as the previous reviewer suggests, no far from it; it's for anyone who wants to enjoy the neverending wisdom contained within this text. Thomas Cleary's translation of Miyamoto's masterpiece is comprehensible, with an introduction that presents us readers with the spiritual backdrop of the warrior tradition that is vital for the rest that proceeds. This most up-to-date edition also embraces one more important Japanese text - "The Book of Family Traditions on the Art of War" by Yagyu Munenori; here the book highlights insights of Zen and Taoism as they pertain to the way and life of the warrior. Enjoy the book! Cleary is a terrific translator.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
The book appears at first to be written simply; it stated the obvious. Written at a time when perhaps things were simpler.

This is NOT a book to read in one sitting, though you easily could.

Read just a bit, then put it down and walk away. Allow what you have read to be mulled over in your mind.

The book is really complex. It contains secrets to living every day, for dealing with everyone you encounter no matter what their state of mind is. It contains secrets about how to do business.

The title is a translation. Like English, words can have multiple meanings. What is translated into the word "ring" can also be translated into "spheres" which I think is a more appropriate translation. The sphere is the most perfect thing in the universe. Beginning at a point and drawing the ring/sphere/circle you will get to a point where the line begins again upon itself. This is a key to understanding the book.

Cleverly written, it holds the knowledge to live at peace with the universe.

An excellent read and mental workout.
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Format: Hardcover
What I prefer about Victor Harris's translation of Musashi Miyamoto's book is the fact that Harris has gone through exacting lengths not just to present an accurate translation in the context of a 17th-century samurai, but to present Musashi in his proper historical context. As opposed to every other English translation I have read, this one includes a chapter which gives a biography of Musashi, and shows many of his creations, such as paintings (including a self-portrait), tsuba (swordguards), etc. We can see where Musashi stayed, and what his grave looks like, etc. For clarity in understanding, this volume, along with the translation by Thomas Cleary, are the best. I should justify that by explaining that I practice martial arts--for those of you looking for a business oriented edition, there are several translations and interpretations out there which are geared towards your needs. For those of you involved in the practice of martial arts, sports, or with an interest in historical strategy texts, I heartily recommend this translation!
Whay does this book discuss? Musashi's masterpiece eschews practice, and decries vanity, ego, and "secrets". Musashi was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and the influence of Zen philosophy can be seen everywhere in his writing. This is however, definately a book on the strategy of swordsmanship, and not a treatis on religion. Musashi Miyamoto fought in a number of duels--back in the era of true challenge matches--when usually the victor was the man left living! The realities of his times, the fact that life was so cheap and had to be guarded fiercly, and that Musashi succeeded in doing this is what makes his writing even more precious. This was the book Musashi passed on to the students of his school, the unusual two-bladed Ni-to Ryu (two-sword school). For more on the historical Musashi Miyamoto, read Makoto Sugawara's excellent (non-fiction) "Lives of Master Swordsmen".
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