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The Book of Five Rings ( 五輪書 Go Rin no Sho) is a text on kenjutsu and the martial arts in general, written by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi around 1645. There have been various translations made over the years, and it enjoys an audience considerably broader than only that of martial artists and people across East Asia: for instance, some foreign business leaders find its discussion of conflict and taking the advantage to be relevant to their work in a business context. The modern-day Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū 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.
Musashi describes and advocates a two-sword fencing style (nitōjutsu): 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. 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
This graphic adaptation of Musashi's 17th-centurytreatise on the martial arts makes careful, effective use of imagery to emphasize both the narrative and instructional aspects of the original text. Musashi's work is divided into five books, which address each aspect of battle: "Earth," "Fire," "Water," "Wind," and "Emptiness." That structure is retained here, with scripter Wilson and artist Kutsuwada finding terrific visual and dramatic hooks as background for Musashi's alternately anecdotal and didactic text. Musashi takes a rational, pragmatic approach to his subject. In discussing his two-sword fighting style, he advocates practice, not mere reading. As a practical guide, the book has limited usefulness today, but Musashi's lessons, in their focus on preparation and mindfulness, can easily be applied to most areas of life. The final chapter, "Emptiness," is particularly intriguing, with its Zen-like call for awareness of what we do not know as a way to avoid detrimental confusion. Kutsuwada's art is delicate and clean, balancing the physiological dynamics of swordplay with a clear-eyed appreciation of Musashi's natural environment. An engaging, thoughtful update of what could be esoteric.