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William Scott Wilson's translation of Miyamoto Musashi's 17th-century classic work of personal philosophy is in every way excellent, and captures the spirit as well as the meaning of the text to perfection. This small (not quite pocket-size but close) hardcover edition is also a very pleasing artefact and a quality piece of work.

Musashi's work focuses on practicing the `martial arts' - particularly swordsmanship - not from the perspective of learning technique but from internal spiritual development; the ascendancy of `mind' to which all technique must ultimately become subservient.

The `five rings' are in fact five chapters themed:

1. Earth (the South)

2. Water (the East)

3. Fire (the West)

4. Wind (the North)

5. Emptiness (the Center: all action and response is most effective when preceded by emptiness - i.e. no internal noise, no preconceptions; "this must be learned")

Each themed chapter incorporates short paragraphs explaining a specific aspect of how to win a contest or fight. For example, in the `Fire' ring, on `Imposing Fear:'

"...the heart of fear is in the unexpected...you do not frighten your opponents with what is right before their eyes. People may be frightened by voices...or by making the small seem large...something coming suddenly from the side also induces fear. You can frighten an opponent with your body, with your sword or with your voice. It is essential to do this suddenly, when your opponent is not expecting it. Take advantage of his fear and gain the victory immediately."

Musashi was allegedly self-taught, and learned everything through his own experience, introspection and native intelligence. The `Book of Five Rings' is not meant to be some kind of bible, but continuously exhorts the reader to "investigate this thoroughly" and do his own work, taking Musashi's guidelines as a starting point to guard against fatal errors.

The power of Musashi's work is in its conciseness and its completeness. He is reported to have written this text in his final two years, around age 60, to summarise and condense the essence of a lifetime of success in the martial arts. It was considered vital in that age for a respected Samurai to be not just an accomplished fighter but a poet, artist, ceramicist and philosopher; learned and accomplished in many things. The book contains some of Musashi's best-known sketches and artworks, including one of his self-portraits and the very famous, powerfully minimalist 'Shrike on a withered branch'.

Overall, if you want a good translation of this timeless classic, this edition can be unconditionally recommended as a fine choice.
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on 9 March 2014
I give this full marks because firstly, I am a business man and constantly research new ways to make my business and its endeavors more sharper and successful. I find that this book never fails to help me in doing this, and in many other most positive ways as well. Secondly, I do find a lot of joy in the study and research of martial arts. I love eastern wisdom, history and philosophy and I find that within it, there is such vast and most positive amounts of things to offer, particularly in the line of wisdoms and betterment. I find that this book is one of the most important and useful sources of information and wisdom which I have been lucky enough to attain in my collection of such knowledge available to the public so far and because it helped me so possible in the vast way which I did, I definitely would give this 100%. Hence full marks.
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on 23 February 2014
As others have noted, by comparison with Hagakure, this is much more concise and structured. Hagakure is a sequence of anecdotes, whereas the Book of Five Rings is more an ordered programme. I wonder if there was ever an illustrated version? Some of the sections lend themselves to that thought as the descriptions take some understanding. Nevertheless, the philosophy is as fascinating as the practical aspects, and the lessons are applicable in so many other walks of life.
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on 4 October 2015
This book is quite insightful regarding the art of warfare and understanding the psyche behind conquering impossible odds, additionally the author/editor's translation is quite easy to follow. However, Musahi does not explain his teachings in detail and often ends them with "this requires further reflection", thus if you are looking for a detailed insight into battle/war this isn't a book for you.
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on 10 March 2014
Due to what some other reviewers have said, I should point out that this is NOT an instruction manual on martial arts, it's not full of pretty pictures for you to copy moves from and become a literary kung fu black belt. It's a guide to the mindset that one needs to develop in order to succeed as a complete martialist.
Some people may find it a bit 'deep', but it is really all about simplicity. Don't try to read too much into everything or you will end up making something simple far too complex.
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on 11 October 2014
A life Changing Read and a book full of philosophy you can apply to everyday life. I was surprised how quick of a read this book was but that adds to the complex masterpiece of the Book of Five Rings. I had to Read the book twice to getter better understanding of Musashi`s way of life and philosophy. This book has great depth and I don't regret paying the hefty price for it, I bought the book originally hoping there would be sword techniques revealed inside. There was none but what I gained from this book was way more valuable... a sharp Mind and a different outlook on life.
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on 21 October 2012
This refers to the "Wilder publications LLC" paperback edition (2008). Pretty sad to see such a great book filled with distracting typos. There are annoying parentheses from someone called Slaegr (the translator? the editor?) where he briefly explains customs and meanings. But in the middle of the text? Footnotes would have been less disruptive. The layout is pretty basic in this version, looks like the font has been picked to fill up the book: if you are looking for a compact copy, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a nice edition to keep, look elsewhere.
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on 23 July 2016
That is a secound most interesting book about the Japanese history and culture after Hagakure, if you read one of them you must read the other one.
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on 25 November 2013
What can one say about this masterpiece of Japanese literature? It's informative, accessible and gives a superb insight into a period of Japanese history which, although may have long gone, still influences modern Japan today.

For students of the Bushi or academics undertaking research, this is the book for you.
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on 17 December 2014
As a swordsman, I found this book an absolute gem. Learned more than I thought I would, and not just in swordsmanship, but I learned things that can be applied to real life situations as well, and believe myself to be a better man for having read this book.
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