Miyamoto Musashi Versus Cameron Quinn: A Book of Five Rings


What are your thoughts on M as a mythological figure?

History does that to larger than life characters. I’ve watched films about Mas Oyama, and they are ridiculous. It’s similar to what has become of a bodhisattva. Essentially, folklore turns extraordinary people into demi-gods.

Musashi, for all his refinement and culture, was quite brutish as well. He’d enter a dojo, kill the instructor and leave, saying, ‘Thanks for the lesson’. He sounds like a sociopath, but that’s not unusual for that era. That was how you demonstrated courage; you never said no to a challenge.

What are your thoughts on Musashi as the integration of a renaissance man and a killer?

In Japan, there is a phrase, ‘Bun-bu ryodo’. It basically translates to mean that the way of the martial artist and the way of the scholar are one. Learning how to use a sword is one thing, but learning the [calligraphy] brush is another. It’s very easy to become imbalanced if you don’t have the yin, along with the yang. One of the signs of an advanced culture, of course, is the quality of its art.

As much as Musashi is known as a swordsman, he is also recognised as a master calligrapher and an artist. Maybe that was his way of quelling the demons of his violent life.

What do you think ‘A Book of Five Rings’ has to offer?

A lot of martial artists exaggerate their understanding of it. The only way to get real value out of it is if you’re training. For me, sometimes I’d read a passage, then close my eyes and try to feel its message in my body. ‘Strike like tut-tut’, for example.

I’ve started to see it with new eyes since I began grappling. For instance, in the ‘Water Book’, Musashi writes, ‘Stick to enemy and do not separate.’ This makes so much sense from a grappling perspective. The more of my body I can ‘stick’ to your body, the better control of you I have.

If I simply grab your wrist with one hand, that’s no good. Two hands is a bit better. And then, if I can get an arm underhook, with my shoulder close to you and my hands and arms both sticking to your arm, then it becomes very strong. My definition of leverage is using  more and more of my body against less and less of yours.   

That whole, ‘Book of 5 Rings for business’ trend – what does that even mean? I tend to think it’s somewhat overrated. Parts of [the book] mean absolutely nothing to anyone, except a martial artist, and some is specific to a swordsman; it’s not useful or relevant for the empty hand even, let alone a business meeting.

However, there may be more to it… I need to read it again, in other words.

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