The Book of 5 Rings – Summary

Born in the 16th century, near the end of the Japanese civil war, Miyamoto Musashi was a nomadic samurai who fought in a small number of battles, but dozens of duels. He is known as Japan’s greatest swordsman.

The book has had a huge impact on culture in East Asia and on business etiquette.

There are several cross-overs in the book with Stoic philosophy and even Buddhist mindfulness, with Musashi emphasising several times:

Get Beyond Love and Grief
Live for the Good of Man

i.e. Don’t be overly dramatic, get on with what needs to be done without complaining.

Do Nothing that is of No Use

Don’t have a ‘flash’ fighting style, as this is of no practical use.
Don’t complain, as this has no use.

Step by Step Walk the Thousand Mile Path

Once you’ve determined where you want to be, be present in the moment and take it a step at a time.

Musashi also talks about being focused during a battle or duel; or dying. He no doubt was an expert at achieving ‘flow state‘ and achieved this by constant practice, rather than a typical form of meditation.


Again, the above quote makes me think of both Stoic & Buddhist philosophy.

Self-absorption is a distraction and useless when it comes to battle. It’s also pretty bad for your mental health.

In Strategy You Must Know The Ways of Other Schools

Basically the philosophy of MMA, JKD and cross-training in the martial arts. If you are a Gracie BJJ practitioner, you should still know the ways of Tenth Planet so you can defend or counter them.

A Thousand Days of Training to Develop. Ten Thousand Days of training to Polish

This quote sounds a lot like the 10,000 hours rule – to become a master at something, you need to practice for 10,000 hours. There’s also the 80/20 rule – in that you can gain 80% competency in 20% of the training required to become ‘masterful’ at something.

The 80/20 rule can actually be applied to lots of different scenarios – see this video.

Resentment and Complaint are Appropriate Neither for Oneself or Others

Complaining is pointless. Resentment is pointless. Both waste and take up energy, so don’t bother with either.

Do Not Act Following Customary Beliefs

Question everything. Conventional wisdom would have us belief that high carbohydrate diets are the healthiest – but are they? Lose your preconceived ideas and research it for yourself.

Accept Everything Just the Way it is

Another Stoic-like quote and reference to not being a complaining bellend. Change things if you can, if you cannot, accept them.

Never let Yourself by Saddened by a Separation

If someone dies, or leaves, be respectful but not saddened. This serves no purpose.

Pragmatic Thinking is Essential

Reminds me of the book by Dan Harris called 10% Happier, whereby he filters the thoughts that he attends to with the phrase “is this helpful?”.

Being angry, jealous and resentful is generally not helpful, unless you can manage these thoughts to motivate yourself to do something positive.

Feeling sorry for oneself is rarely helpful to anyone. So don’t do it.

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.

Everything is difficult at first. Tolerate the struggle, learn, build strength and improve.

My favourite quotes from the book:

1. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
2. Accept everything just the way it is.
3. Never be jealous.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Do not fear death.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.
21. Never stray from the Way.

The only thing I would potentially add to Musashi’s teachings for modern day use, would be to have an enduring sense of humour – as outlined in Victor Frankl’s Book Man’s Search for Meaning – a dark sense of humour & sense of purpose helped him to survive the concentration camps:

mans search for meaning quote

Having said that, Musashi gave zero fucks so maybe didn’t require any level of comic relief, as he would not have seen a duel or battle as a hardship or something to be endured – next level shit.

About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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2 Responses to The Book of 5 Rings – Summary

  1. coachtsite says:

    This is awesome! Love the quotes, I need to read this book!

    • Drew says:

      There’s a few more too, just listened to it whilst walking the dog – interesting ones about rhythm in life & fighting. Glad you liked the post 🙂

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