Miyamoto Musashi Versus Cameron Quinn: A Book of Five Rings

Shihan Cameron Quinn is, by the standards of ‘Theme Park…’, a luminary. He began training in Kyokushin Karate in 1971 and lived in Japan in 1976, studying Japanese and training at the Kyokushin Honbu dojo in Tokyo under Kyokushin founder, Mas Oyama.

From 1978 until 1987, he competed in full contact karate tournaments, placing and winning in numerous state, national and international competitions. He represented Australia in the Fourth Open World Tournament in 1987, finishing in the top 32 contestants, and in the over forty World Open Weight Championships in 2001, where he finished fourth. He was a finalist in the world Kata Championships that same year.

He holds a BA from the University of Queensland, with a major in Japanese Language and Culture Studies. He is also fluent in Japanese and served as translator and interpreter for Mas Oyama from 1976 until Oyama’s passing in 1994, as well as other senior Kyokushin figures.

Cameron has trained extensively in boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, kendo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. As a referee, he has regulated bouts in Kyokushin Karate, boxing, shootboxing, kickboxing, shooto, MMA and Muay Thai.

He was awarded his seventh dan by Hanshi Oishi Daigo in 2020 and instructs at his Queensland dojos while continuing to lecture and teach.

I read his book The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama as a nineteen year old when I began Kyokushin Karate and was overcome by it; twenty years later, I was assigned to interview him for Blitz Magazine. It was a great honour, to come back and be able to personally thank the person whose hand had instigated my arc.

I found him to be immensely literate, and the kind of martial artist I had always hoped to find; someone who is walking the martial path with the intention of making it back, as Rumi says, to discover themselves at the end of it. I am very pleased that he answers the phone when I call him with a question. I am always very conscious of making it a good one.

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When did you first come into contact with ‘A Book of Five Rings’?

Around 1977-78, when I was between nineteen and twenty years old. I was transferred to Townsville, which wasn’t considered to be the most attractive place to live. I was there for work as a customs officer.

It turned out to be a particularly transformative 12 months. I found Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and met a number of people who became very important. Then, after I’d done these things, as if on cue, I got transferred away again.

I was introduced to A Book of Five Rings by a Zen Do Kai instructor named Gavin Scott. When I landed in Townsville, I was looking for somewhere to train, but there was no Kyokushin. I tried all the different martial arts schools I could find.

The Zen Do Kai school run by Gavin Scott was the best of them. Scott is a very interesting fellow; a real deep thinker. His reflections of what he had read got me interested.

I thought to myself, having been to and from Japan, how had I not seen this book before? And it was a bit like Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri’s The Holy Science. That book is about 150 years old and I’d never seen it. The first time I read that, I had no idea what it meant, so I left it there. Then, five years later, it made perfect sense.

It was the same with ‘…Five Rings’. At first, a lot of it didn’t seem relevant. Then I began comparing different translations to the original Japanese or different modern Japanese commentaries. I find the best translations are written by academics.

…And there are horrible versions of it where someone in a publishing house knows it’s popular and produces a glossy edition to make some cash. It’s beautifully presented, but no balls. No feeling for the Musashi mindset.

I’m thinking of doing my own translation, from the martial artist’s perspective. Musashi wrote ‘…5 Rings’ as a swordsman, a martial artist.  Now, when I read certain paragraphs, they mean more and more because of the experiences I’ve had.

For example, in the best-known translation, done by Victor Harris, the word ‘choshi’ is given to mean timing, but it can also mean rhythm. I thought about this in terms of my own experience of martial arts, and knowing how the word ‘choshi’ is used in Japanese, I drew the conclusion that rhythm is internal, while timing is external.

So, developing good technique is, in one respect, a matter of developing perfect rhythm. And getting that well-trained technique to work against a non-compliant opponent is a matter of timing. So, translating ‘choshi’ as rhythm is very accurate, but for a martial artist, a little more clarification helps. 

Mas Oyama’s compendiums of karate technique, This is Karate and What is Karate? were translated by an American named Richard Gage. He had no precedent. He translated ‘newaza’ as, ‘lying down techniques’. As an academic, he was not wrong.

Later, newaza was more suitably translated by someone as ‘ground work.’ So that is an example of the difference between an accurate academic translation and a translation more suitable to a martial artist. 

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