The Book of Five Rings
I have been many years training in the Way of strategy, called Ni
Ten Ichi Ryu, and now I think I will explain it in writing for the
first time. It is now during the first ten days of the tenth month in
the twentieth year of Kanei (1645). I have climbed mountain Iwato of
Higo in Kyushu to pay homage to heaven, pray to Kwannon, [God(dess) of
mercy in Buddhism.—Slaegr] and kneel before Buddha. I am a warrior of
Harima province, Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin, age sixty
From youth my heart has been inclined toward the Way of strategy.
My first duel was when I was thirteen, I struck down a strategist of
the Shinto school, one Arima Kihei. When I was sixteen I struck down an
able strategist Tadashima Akiyama. When I was twenty-one I went up to
the capital and met all manner of strategists, never once failing to
win in many contests.
After that I went from province to province dueling with strategist
of various schools, and not once failed to win even though I had as
many as sixty encounters. This was between the ages of thirteen and
twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
When I reached thirty I looked back on my past. The previous
victories were not due to my having mastered strategy. Perhaps it was
natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other schools'
strategy was inferior. After that I studied morning and evening
searching for the principle, and came to realize the Way of strategy
when I was fifty.
Since then I have lived without following any particular Way. Thus
with the virtue of strategy I practice many arts and abilities—all
things with no teacher. To write this book I did not use the law of
Buddha or the teachings of Confucius, neither old war chronicles nor
books on martial tactics. I take up my brush to explain the true spirit
of this Ichi school as it is mirrored in the Way of heaven and Kwannon.
The time is the night of the tenth day of the tenth month, at the hour
of the tiger (3-5 a.m.) ——-
THE WATER BOOK
Strategy is the craft of the warrior. Commanders must enact the
craft. and troopers should know this. There is no warrior in the world
today who really understands the Way of strategy.
There are various Ways. There is the Way of salvation by the law of
Buddha, the Way of Confucius governing the Way of learning, the Way of
healing as a doctor, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, tea, archery,
and many arts and skills. Each man practices as he feels inclined.
It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of the pen and sword,
and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural
ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions
of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute
acceptance of death. Although not only warriors but priests, women,
peasants and lowlier folk have been known to die readily in the cause
of duty of out of shame, this is a different thing. The warrior is
different in that studying the Way of strategy is based on overcoming
men. By victory gained in crossing swords with individuals, or
enjoining battle with large numbers, we can attain power and fame for
ourselves or our lord. This is the virtue of strategy.
THE WAY OF STRATEGY
In China and Japan practitioners of the Way have been known as
"masters of strategy". Warriors must learn this Way.
Recently there have been people getting on in the world as
strategists, but they are usually just sword-fencers. The attendants of
the Kashima Kantori shrines of the province Hitachi received
instruction from the gods, and made schools based on this teaching,
travelling from country to country instructing men. This is the recent
meaning of strategy.
In olden times strategy was listed among the Ten Abilities and
Seven Arts as a beneficial practice. It was certainly an art but as a
beneficial practice it was not limited to sword-fencing. The true value
of sword-fencing cannot be seen within the confines of sword-fencing
If we look at the world we see arts for sale. Men use equipment to
sell their own selves. As if with the nut and the flower, the nut has
become less than the flower. In this kind of Way of strategy, both
those teaching and those learning the way are concerned with coloring
and showing off their technique, trying to hasten the bloom of the
flower. They speak of “This Dojo” and “That Dojo". They are looking for
profit. Someone once said, “Immature strategy is the cause of grief".
That was a true saying.
There are four Ways in which men pass through life: as gentlemen,
farmers, artisans and merchants.
THE WAY OF THE FARMER. Using agricultural instruments, he sees
springs through autumns with an eye on the changes of season.
SECOND IS THE WAY OF THE MERCHANT. The wine maker obtains his
ingredients and puts them to use to make his living. The Way of the
merchant is always to live by taking profit. This is the Way of the
THIRDLY THE GENTLEMAN WARRIOR, carrying the weaponry of his Way.
The Way of the warrior is to master the virtue of his weapons. If a
gentleman dislikes strategy he will not appreciate the benefit of
weaponry, so must he not have a little taste for this?
FOURTHLY THE WAY OF THE ARTISAN. The Way of the carpenter is to
become proficient is the use of his tools, first to lay his plans with
a true measure and then to perform his work according to plan. Thus he
passes through life. These are the four Ways of the gentleman, the
farmer, the artisan and the merchant.
COMPARING THE WAY OF THE CARPENTER
The comparison with carpentry is through the connection with
houses. Houses of the nobility, houses of the warriors, the Four
houses, ruin of houses, thriving of houses, the style of the house, the
tradition of the house, and the name of the house. The carpenter uses a
master plan of the building, and the Way of strategy is similar in that
there is a plan of campaign. If you want to learn the craft of war,
ponder over this book. The teacher is a needle, the disciple is as
thread. You must practice constantly.
Like the foreman carpenter, the commander must know natural rules,
and the rules of the country, and the rules of houses. This is the Way
of the foreman.
The foreman carpenter must know the architectural theory of towers
and temples, and the plans of palaces, and must employ men to raise up
houses. The Way of the foreman carpenter is the same as the Way of the
commander of a warrior house.
In the construction of houses, choice of woods is made. Straight
unknotted timber of good appearance is used for the revealed pillars,
straight timber with small defects is used for the inner pillars.
Timber of the finest appearance, even if a little weak, is used for the
thresholds, lintels, doors, and sliding doors, and so on. Good strong
timber, though it be gnarled and knotted, can always be used discreetly
in construction. Timber which is weak or knotted throughout should be
used as scaffolding, and later as firewood.
The foreman carpenter allots his men work according to their
ability. Floor layers, makers of sliding doors, thresholds and lintels,
ceilings and so on. Those of poor ability lay the floor joists, and
those of lesser ability carve wedges and do such miscellaneous work. If
the foreman knows and deploys his men well the finished work will be
The foreman should take into account the abilities and limitations
of his men, circulating among them and asking nothing unreasonable. He
should know their morale and spirit, and encourage them when necessary.
This is the same as the principle of strategy.
THE WAY OF STRATEGY
Like a trooper, the carpenter sharpens his own tools. He carries
his equipment in his tool box, and works under the direction of his
foreman. He makes columns and girders with an axe, shapes floorboards
and shelves with a plane, cuts fine openwork and carvings accurately,
giving as excellent a finish as his skill will allow. This is the craft
of the carpenters. When the carpenter becomes skilled and understands
measures he can become a foreman.
The carpenter's attainment is, having tools which will cut well, to
make small shrines, writing shelves, tables, paper lanterns, chopping
boards and pot-lids. These are the specialties of the carpenter. Things
are similar for the trooper. You ought to think deeply about this.
The attainment of the carpenter is that his work is not warped,
that the joints are not misaligned, and that the work is truly planed
so that is meets well and is not merely finished in sections. This is
If you want to learn this Way, deeply consider the things written
in this book one at a time. You must do sufficient research.
OUTLINE OF THE FIVE BOOKS OF THIS
BOOK OF STRATEGY
The Way is shown as five books concerning different aspects. These
are Ground, Water, Fire, Wind (tradition), and Void.
The body of the Way of strategy from the viewpoint of my Ichi
school is explained in the Ground Book. It is difficult to realize the
true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the
biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things. As if it
were a straight road mapped out on the ground, the first book is called
the Ground Book.
Second is the Water book. With water as the basis, the spirit
becomes like water. Water adopts the shape of its receptacle, it is
sometimes a trickle and sometimes a wild sea. Water has a clear blue
color. By the clarity, things of Ichi school are shown in this book.
If you master the principles of sword-fencing, when you freely beat
one man, you beat any man in the world. The spirit of defeating a man
is the same for ten million men. The strategist makes small things into
big things, like building a great Buddha from a one foot model. I
cannot write in detail how this is done. The principle of strategy is
having one thing, to know ten thousand things. Things of Ichi school
are written in this the Water book.
Third is the Fire book. This book is about fighting. The spirit of
fire is fierce, whether the fire be small or big; and so it is with
battles. The Way of battles is the same for man to man fights and for
ten thousand a side battles. You must appreciate that spirit can become
big or small. What is big is easy to perceive: what is small is
difficult to perceive. In short, it is difficult for large numbers of
men to change position, so their movements can easily be predicted. An
individual can easily change his mind, so his movements are difficult
to predict. You must appreciate this. The essence of this book is that
you must train day and night in order to make quick decisions. In
strategy it is necessary to treat training as a part of normal life
with your spirit unchanging. Thus combat in battle is described in the
Fourthly the Wind book. This book is not concerned with my Ichi
school but with other schools of strategy. By Wind I mean old
traditions, present-day traditions, and family traditions of strategy.
Thus I clearly explain the strategies of the world. This is tradition.
It is difficult to know yourself if you do not know others. To all Ways
there are side-tracks. If you study a Way daily, and your spirit
diverges, you may think you are obeying a good Way but objectively is
not the true Way. If you are following the true Way and diverge a
little, this will later become a large divergence. You must realize
this. Other strategies have come to be thought of as mere
sword-fencing, and it is not unreasonable that this should be so. The
benefit of my strategy, although it includes sword-fencing, lies in a
separate principle. I have explained what is commonly meant by strategy
in other schools in the Tradition (Wind) book.
Fifthly, the book of the Void. By Void I mean that which has no
beginning and no end. Attaining this principle means not attaining the
principle. The Way of strategy is the Way of nature. When you
appreciate the power of nature, knowing the rhythm of any situation,
you will be able to hit the enemy naturally and strike naturally. All
this is the Way of the Void. I intend to show how to follow the true
Way according to nature in the book of the Void.
THE NAME ICHI RYU NI TO (ONE
Warriors, both commanders and troopers, carry two swords at their
belt. In olden times these were called the long sword and the sword;
nowadays there are known as the sword and the companion sword. Let it
suffice to say that in our land, whatever the reason, a warrior carries
two swords at his belt. It is the Way of the warrior.
“Nito Ichi Ryu” shows the advantage of using both swords.
The spear and the halberd are weapons which are carried out of
Students of the Ichi school Way of strategy should train from the
start with the sword and long sword in either hand. This is a truth:
when you sacrifice your life, you must make fullest use of your
weaponry. It is false not to do so, and to die with a weapon yet
If you hold a sword with both hands, it is difficult to wield it
freely to left and right, so my method is to carry the sword in one
hand. This does not apply to large weapons such as the spear or
halberd, but swords and companion swords can be carried in one hand. It
is encumbering to hold a sword in both hands when you are on horseback,
when running on uneven roads, on swampy ground, muddy rice fields,
stony ground, or in a crowd of people. To hold the long sword in both
hands is not the true Way, for if you carry a bow or a spear or other
arms in your left hand you have only one hand free for the long sword.
However, when it is difficult to cut an enemy down with one hand, you
must use both hands. It is not difficult to wield a sword in one hand;
the Way to learn this is to train with two long swords, one in each
hand. It will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at
first. Bows are difficult to draw, halberds are difficult to wield; as
you become accustomed to the bow so your pull will become stronger.
When you become used to wielding the long sword, you will gain the
power of the Way and wield the sword well.
As I will explain in the second book, the Water Book, there is no
fast way of wielding the long sword. The long sword should be wielded
broadly, and the companion sword closely. This is the first thing to
According to this Ichi school, you can win with a long weapon, and
yet you can also win with a short weapon. In short, the Way of the Ichi
school is the spirit of winning, whatever the weapon and whatever its
It is better to use two swords rather than on when you are fighting
a crowd, and especially if you want to take a prisoner.
These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know
ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of strategy there will not
be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard.
THE BENEFIT OF THE TWO CHARACTERS READING "STRATEGY"
There is a time and a place for use of weapons.
The best use of the companion sword is in a confined space, or when
you are engaged closely with an opponent. The long sword can be used
effectively in all situations.
The halberd is inferior to the spear on the battlefield. With the
spear you can take the initiative; the halberd is defensive. In the
hands of one of two men of equal ability, the spear gives a little
extra strength. Spear and halberd both have their uses, but neither is
very beneficial in confined spaces. They cannot be used for taking a
prisoner. They are essentially weapons for the field.
Anyway, if you learn “indoor” techniques, you will think narrowly
and forget the true Way. Thus you will have difficulty in actual
The bow is tactically strong at the commencement of battle,
especially battles on a moor, as it is possible to shoot quickly from
among the spearmen. However, it is unsatisfactory in sieges, or when
the enemy is more than forty yards away. For this reason there are
nowadays few traditional schools of archery. There is little use for
this kind of skill.
From inside fortifications, the gun has no equal among weapons. It
is the supreme weapon on the field before the ranks clash, but once
swords are crossed the gun becomes useless.
One of the virtues of the bow is that you can see the arrows in
flight and correct your aim accordingly, whereas gunshot cannot be
seen. You must appreciate the importance of this.
Just as a horse must have endurance and no defects, so it is with
weapons. Horses should walk strongly, and swords and companion swords
should cut strongly. Spears and halberds must stand up to heavy use:
bows and guns must be sturdy. Weapons should be hardy rather than
You should not have a favorite weapon. To become over-familiar with
one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well. You
should not copy others, but use weapons which you can handily properly.
It is bad for commanders and troopers to have likes and dislikes. These
are things you must learn thoroughly.
TIMING IN STRATEGY
There is timing in everything. Timing in strategy cannot be
mastered without a great deal of practice.
Timing is important in dancing and pipe or string music, for they
are in rhythm only if timing is good. Timing and rhythm are also
involved in the military arts, shooting bows and guns, and riding
horses. In all skills and abilities there is timing.
There is no timing in the Void.
There is timing in the whole life of the warrior, in his thriving
and declining, in his harmony and discord. Similarly, there is timing
in the Way of the merchant, in the rise and fall of capital. All things
entail rising and falling timing. You must be able to discern this. In
strategy there are various timing considerations. From the outset you
must know the applicable timing and the inapplicable timing, and from
among the large and small things and the fast and slow timings find the
relevant timing, first seeing the distance timing and the background
timing. This is the main thing in strategy. It is especially important
to know the background timing, otherwise your strategy will become
You win battles with the timing in the Void born of the timing of
cunning by knowing the enemies' timing, and thus using a timing which
the enemy does not expect.
All the five books are chiefly concerned with timing. You must
train sufficiently to appreciate this.
If you practice day and night in the above Ichi school strategy,
your spirit will naturally broaden. This is large scale strategy and
the strategy of hand to hand combat propagated in the world. This is
recorded for the first time in the five books of Ground, Water, Fire,
Wind, and the Void. This is the Way for men who want to learn my
1.Do not think dishonestly.
2.The Way is in training.
3.Become acquainted with every art.
4.Know the Ways of professions.
5.Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6.Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
7.Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
8.Pay attention even to trifles.
9.Do nothing which is of no use.
It is important to start by setting these broad principles in your
heart, and train in the Way of strategy. If you do not look at things
on a large scale it will be difficult for you to master strategy. If
you learn and attain this strategy you will never lose even to twenty
of thirty enemies. More than anything to start with you must set your
heart on strategy and earnestly stick to the Way. You will come to be
able to actually beat men in fights, and to be able to win with your
eye. Also by training you will be able to freely control your won body,
conquer men with your body, and with sufficient training you will be
able to beat ten men with your spirit. When you have reached this
point, will it not mean that you are invincible?
Moreover, in large scale strategy the superior man will manage many
subordinates dexterously, bear himself correctly, govern the country
and foster the people, thus preserving the ruler's discipline. If there
is a Way involving the spirit of not being defeated, to help oneself
and gain honor, it is the Way of strategy.
The second year of Shoho (1645), the fifth month, the twelfth day.