The Book of Five Rings (Gorin-no Sho) is a text on kenjutsu and the martial arts in general, written by the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi circa 1645. There have been various translations made over the years, and it enjoys an audience considerably broader than only that of martial artists: for instance, some business leaders find its discussion of conflict and taking the advantage to be relevant to their work. The modern-day Hyôhô Niten Ichi-ryû employs it as a manual of technique and philosophy.
Musashi establishes a "no-nonsense" theme throughout the text. For instance, he repeatedly remarks that technical flourishes are excessive, and contrasts worrying about such things with the principle that all technique is simply a method of cutting down one's opponent. He also continually makes the point that the understandings expressed in the book are important for combat on any scale, whether a one-on-one duel or a massive battle. Descriptions of principles are often followed by admonitions to "investigate this thoroughly" through practice rather than trying to learn them by merely reading.
Miyamoto Musashi in his prime, wielding two bokken.
Musashi describes and advocates a two-sword style (nitojutsu): that is, wielding both katana and wakizashi, contrary to the more traditional method of wielding the katana two-handed. However, he only explicitly describes wielding two swords in a section on fighting against many adversaries. The stories of his many duels rarely refer to Musashi himself wielding two swords, although, since they are mostly oral traditions, their details may be inaccurate. Some suggest that Musashi's meaning was not so much wielding two swords "simultaneously", but rather acquiring the proficiency to (singly) wield either sword in either hand as the need arose. However, Musashi states within the volume that one should train with a long sword in each hand, thereby training the body and improving one's ability to use two blades simultaneously, though the aim of this was only for training purposes and wasn't meant to be a viable fighting style.
The five books
Although it is difficult to grasp it from the book, Gorin- no Sho, these books are actually the teachings which Musashi preached to his students in his own dojo. Despite taking some ideas from others, the books are not based on any other school of teaching.
The five "books" refer to the idea that there are different elements of battle, just as there are different physical elements in life, as described by Buddhism, Shinto, and other Eastern religions. The five books below are Musashi's descriptions of the exact methods or techniques which are described by such elements.
The term "Ichi School" is referred to in the book, Gorin-no Sho. When referring to such books, it refers to "Niten-no Ichi Ryu" or "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu", which means, when literally translated, "Two heaven, one school", although many could see the translation as "Two Swords, One spirit", or "Two Swords, One Entity". However, the translation of "Two Swords, one Dragon" was thought to be a transliteral misinterpretation of the Kanji word Ryu.
* The Book of Earth chapter serves as an introduction, and metaphorically discusses martial arts, leadership, and training as building a house.
* The Book of Water chapter describes Musashi's style, Ni-ten ichi-ryu, or "Two Heavens, One Style". It describes some basic technique and fundamental principles.
* The Book of Fire chapter refers to the heat of battle, and discusses matters such as different types of timing.
* The Book of Wind chapter is something of a pun, since the Japanese character can mean both "wind" and "style" (e.g., of martial arts). It discusses what Musashi considers to be the failings of various contemporary schools of swordfighting.
* The Book of the Void chapter is a short epilogue, describing, in more esoteric terms, Musashi's probably Zen-influenced thoughts on consciousness and the correct mindset.
With this method, you will cause your adversary's sword to drop through a strike from your sword, then bring yourself immediately back to a readiness to strike. This method is combined with The Strike of Nonthought, in which you will always strike with true force by swinging your sword toward the ground when your opponent's sword is about to drop.
Autumn Monkey's Body
With this method, you are to start off by assuming a posture in which you are not to use your hands. You are to think of getting your body close to your opponent before striking him. However, if you think of reaching out both of your hands, your body will remain distant. This is why you must always think of quickly getting your body close to the enemy. When you are distant, you will exchange blows of the sword, and it will be rather easy to move closer to your opponent (Thomas Cleary translates this technique as "Body of the Short-Armed Monkey".)
Blow Like a Spark from a Stone
If you are currently within a situation in which you and your opponent's swords are to clash, you must strike extremely hard without raising your sword to any extent. This is The Blow Like a Spark from a Stone technique. If you are to perform this technique, you must first strike quickly with the three combined forces of your legs, your hands, and your body. This blow will be rather difficult to perform if you do not train it at frequent times. If you diligently train yourself, you will be able to increase the overall force of the technique's impact.
Body of Lacquer and Paste
With this technique, one's objective is to get close to the opponent and stick to him. When one is to do this, one must first behave as though one had been strongly glued to him with one's feet, head, and body. It is generally known that during combat, most fighters will have a tendency to have their body hang back while their heads and feet are extended forward. One must attempt to paste one's body against the opponent's without leaving any area in which the bodies are not touching.
When you first start off by striking, your opponent will try to parry by hitting or by blocking your sword. At this point in time, you need to completely equip yourself into the action of striking with your sword, and strike whenever you may see an opening, whether it may be the legs, arms, or head. Following the single way of the sword and performing a strike such as this is known as the Chance-Opening Blow. This technique will be useful at moment while fighting, so it should be trained regularly.
Strike of Non-Thought
You should always make your mind into a mind that is striking, and your body into a body that is striking when you and your adversary are about to launch an attack. If this method is followed, your hand will attain movement through emptiness, with speed and power, without taking note of any point in which movement had begun.