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The Individual School of Two Swords
The Book of Five Spheres by Miyamoto Musashi
© 2013 James LaFond
With ‘Heaven and Kannon as mirrors’, on Mount Iwato, in Higo Province, on the Island of Kyushu, on a still-dark morning, in the tenth month of the year 1643, a sixty-year-old man who had survived over sixty duels without a defeat, took op a brush and began painting the story of his lethal art. And since then, most of those who have picked up the weapons he used, or the book he left, have done exactly what he predicted they would do; debased and misrepresented him, his life, and his art.
This is a book that I have just reread for the ninth time. If you have discussed martial arts with an Asian-based practitioner you may have heard carpentry analogies. If so, Musashi is the ultimate source. If you have worked the katana with any kenjitsu practitioner—whether they have read Musashi or not—they will have surely repeated bogus stories about him by later rivals to his claim as the best Japanese duelist. Even among those who claim to follow his teachings—few of whom have read this tiny book—his teachings are not to be found. Every Japanese swordsmanship buff I have met [4 of them] all espouse methods that Musashi railed against in his book.
The purpose of writing this review is to get you to read it. The translation I favor is by Thomas Cleary. The book is five in one: The Earth Scroll; The Water Scroll; The Fire Scroll; The Wind Scroll; and The Scroll of Emptiness, with a brief preface, which is my favorite portion of the book. You can get to know Musashi the man more in the preface and the equally brief Scroll of Emptiness than in the middle portions.
General advice on learning and conduct is contained in The Earth Scroll. Musashi’s combat advice is contained in The Water and Fire Scrolls, with subsections like Striking Down an Opponent in a Single Beat, Striking Without Thought and Without Form, The Spark Hit, On Rhythm in Martial Arts, Stabbing The Heart, etc. The Wind Scroll is an extensive book on the delusions propagated by commercial martial arts schools complete with predictions that his students and followers would betray him and his art, that seem to have been just as prescient as Jesus’ statements of impending betrayal at the Last Super!
The Scroll of Emptiness, being very brief, is Musashi’s goodbye. Here the old swordsman signs off, having completed his life’s work on the 12th day of the 5th month of 1645, with an admonishment to empty your mind because he knew how much shit the charlatans of the martial arts world were going to dump into it.
If you fight, or intend to, read this book!
'You Think Men Are Mean, Just Wait!'
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