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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Just prior to his death, Miyamoto Musashi – the undefeated samurai swordsman – wrote ‘The Book of Five Rings’, the world famous text, which details the five strategies – Ground, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void.

 

In this DVD, Rising Sun Production presents George W. Alexander, Ph. D, and his interpretation, which brings the text into a modern era.

 

The DVD opens with Alexander demonstrating techniques with the sword, set within the famous Rising Sun setting, which has also been the setting for DVDs with the brilliant Master Kanazawa and Ray Dalke.

 

Alexander explains ‘Miyamoto Musashi was known as Japan’s greatest warrior’ and ‘He fought in over sixty duels but was never defeated’. This initial introduction into the life and history of Miyamoto Musashi is very important as it highlights the platform from which the text was written, and gives the audience an insight into the experiences of this influential warrior.

 

This book, Alexander goes on to state ‘It is a philosophical as well as a psychological guide to strategy. It was originally meant as a guide for the swordsman, but its information contained a source of enlightenment for both the philosopher and today the modern businessman’

 

Alexander then goes on to discuss the five chapters of the book, and provides information on what is contained in the chapters, whilst giving information and explanation. Here is a simplified version, as taken from the cover of the DVD:

 

GROUND – Mastering/Strategy

WATER – Spirit of the Samurai

FIRE – Fighting Technique

WIND – Schools of the sword

VOID – Warrior philosophy

 

Alexander gives us an excellent, and detailed explanation of some of the concepts here. When discussing the ‘Water’ chapter he explains how water adapts to its surroundings, an excellent strategy for a warrior – the ability to adapt to the situation and the opponent. This is excellently supported by his explanation about the ‘Wind’ chapter, where he quotes Musashi ‘You cannot completely know yourself until you know the ways of your opponent’, which looks at the other schools of swordsmanship.

 

For the purpose of the review, I will look at one chapter of the book as interpreted by George W. Alexander.

 

In the first chapter of the book ‘Ground’, Alexander explains that Musashi states that ‘the warrior must accept the resolute acceptance of death’. Bringing this into a modern context, Alexander interprets this to mean that we must be committed to all we do, drawing up the parallels between life and battle. This is simply an example of how Alexander is attempting to bring this classical text into a modern context, highlighting that it is as relevant and enlightening today as it once was then.

 

Within this chapter there are nine different principles that, if followed, would allow others to follow Musashi’s strategy. Below are the nine principles, and these are supported again by a fascinating interpretation by George Alexander.

 

  • Do not think dishonestly
  • The Way is in training
  • Become acquainted with every art
  • Know the way of all professions
  • Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters
  • Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything
  • Perceive things which cannot be seen
  • Pay attention even to trifles
  • Do nothing which is of no use

 

Above are the nine principles detailed within the first chapter of the text, and Alexander again brings this into the modern world. One of the most blatant things that comes across from these explanations, is the openness and attention to detail by Musashi. This re-occurring issue of ‘Become acquainted with every art’ is one that I would imagine is very much at the forefront of most karateka’s agendas. 

 

If we look at this issue from a karate point of view then this fundamental principle is of great significance. For me as a training karateka, I need to seek out education and understanding of my art. To do that I need to be sure to take on board firstly the principles of my own art, but for the purpose of development, be willing and open enough to be educated by other arts, styles and methods.

 

Here and there throughout the DVD Alexander gives physical demonstration of certain points being stressed. I am not a swordsman, but the principles being set forward are, as far as I am concerned, vital to my training. The sword is a deadly weapon, and simply one moment of misjudgement can have fatal consequences. This is truly humbling, and to engage in this type of combat one must come to terms with death. If we bring this into a karate context, if we view for example in jiyu kumite, every blow to our body by our opponent as the ‘One killing blow’ then this will undeniably bring to the surface a very real intensity which will change the way we train. If we train for Ippon in jiyu kumite, then we will see that there are profound parallels between karate and swordsmanship – the warrior mentality.

 

This DVD is excellently set forward by George W Alexander Ph. D, and is very detailed in its explanation. I must admit, many times when reading such classical texts, it’s quite common to get bogged down but their complexity. This DVD however gives the audience an opportunity to understand and take on board some vitally important principles, and goes brilliantly hand in hand with the book itself.

 

I really think this DVD is a must for all Martial Artists. I have found it enlightening and it has given me a fuller and deeper understanding of the book itself, but also of the way of the warrior.