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The Martial Artist's Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi's Classic Book of Strategy Hardcover

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9b5c2a2c) out of 5 stars 1 review
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a076564) out of 5 stars A Personal Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi's Work 11 May 2003
By C. J. Hardman - Published on
I have no doubt about the author's sincerity in offering this personal interpretation of Musashi's original work, "Book of 5 Spheres" (or "The Book of 5 Rings"). The problem I have with what Stephen Kaufman has done to Musashi's book deals more with his implied suggestion that this edition is the result of an actual ~translation~ which he was responsible for (see pages xi-xii, "Translator's Note"). In fact, when asked Mr. Kaufman has admitted that this volume (and some others he has written) are not translations at all, but rather his own personal interpretations of English translations done by other authors--something he DOESN'T bother to communicate to his readers. The title of this volume, at odds with the "translator's note" on pgs xi -xii, is actually "...The Definitive _Interpretation_ of Miyamoto Musashi's Classic Book of Strategy". I fail to understand why Kaufman confuses his readers by mixing and matching interpretation with translation. It should be noted that Mr Kaufman himself does NOT speak or read Japanese, and in fact innocently named his own martial arts school "Dojo no Hebi" ("Place of Practice's Snake"), when he was trying for "Dojo of the Snake" (which in Japanese would have been "Hebi no Dojo", meaning "The Snake's Place of Practice"). Innocent mistakes yes, but one would expect a Black belt of the 10th Dan (degree grade) and a proclaimed "Hanshi" (master practitioner) to at least check his spelling with someone who _could_ speak the language he was using.
Kaufman doesn't bother to provide a bibliography of which English translations he used, nor does he include notes explaining how he drew his conclusions from the texts he studied. I am bothered by the fact that many of Musashi's words have been heavily edited, re-arranged, or deleted altogether by this author until they have been removed entirely from their original context. In doing this, Mr. Kaufman has actually ALTERED the _meaning_ of Musashi's work! What remains appears to be little more than a new age self-help guide for modern martial artists which has retained a smidgeon of flavor from Musashi's original work.
A brief example illustrating Kaufman's tendancy to put his own words in Musashi's mouth is in the fourth paragraph on page 6 of Kaufman's book. Kaufman reworks Musashi's words regarding Merchants as a class to read, "Merchants are a ridiculed class because they produce nothing except profit from the work of others." Two other men who have actually translated Musashi's work from the original Japanese suggest nothing sinister in Musashi's original work. Victor Harris in his translation of "A Book of Five Rings" offers: "The way of the merchant is always to live by taking profit" (page 41, 1974). Translator Thomas Cleary offers the same sentence as: "Whatever the business, merchants make a living from the profits they earn acording to their particular status" (page 7, 1993). This is a minor demonstration of the differences between Kaufman's work and those offered by actual translators--the translators make an effort to convey to the reader the actual meaning of Musashi's words in English, while Kaufman crafts a new meaning which never existed in Musashi's original work. Suffice to say, Kaufman's interpretation seems heavily influenced by his modern view of martial arts and his concept of what samurai may have been like four centuries ago. It bears little resemblance to competent translations of Musashi's writings.
I recommend two excellent translations of Musashi's work which stay true to the original Japanese. The first is "A Book of Five Rings" translated by Victor Harris, a mechanical engineer and technical interpreter of Japanese language who not only practiced kendo (Japanese fencing), but studied this art in Japan for 3 years under Ito Kyoitsu at the Seijudo Dojo. A second recommendation is "The Book of Five Rings" by Thomas Cleary, another professional translator. Unlike Kaufman, I did not find translations by these men to be "intellectual exercises in translating Japanese to English" (pg xi). I found legitimate translations by competent translators who were clear and direct...I suspect most scholarly people, whether students of martial arts or not, will draw a similar conclusions upon comparing Kaufman's book to any actual translation.
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