Miyamoto Musashi lived from 1584 to 1645 as a ronin, or masterless samurai. Musashi is remembered for being one of Japan's greatest warriors and as author to the classic book on strategy, Gorin no sho or A Book of Five Rings.
Miyamoto Musashi displayed his an unparalleled ability for war as a youth. At the tender age of 13, Musashi killed his first samurai. According to legend, Musashi once killed over thirty men in a single challenge and won another sixty duels after killing his opponents. By 1612, at the age of 28, Musashi decided to never again use a blade and elected to use only a bokken (wooden sword). It was also around this time Musashi began to believe his flawless battle record was not because of mastery of the sword. Rather his undefeated history was attributed to a culmination of talent, luck and divine intervention and so Miyamoto dedicated the rest of his life to studying The Way of Strategy. He would go on the spend the majority of his life understanding The Way. Miyamoto's philosophy has roots in Zen, Shinto and Confucianism and is considered a staple for the modern entrepreneur.
Musashi wrote A Book of Five Rings not only as a thesis for battle strategy but "for any siutation where plans and tactics are used." Miyamoto structures his philosophy within five chapters, The Book of Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void, although the motifs are similar. Musashi emphasizes morality, demonstrating compassion, transforming practice into a constant, the constant pursuit of knowledge, ignoring insignificant matters and self-confidence. While first reading the book, I was perplexed as how it could be considered a staple of modern business. Miyamoto's tone is quite mythic and writing is targeted specifically for a person learning sword-skills. As I neared the end, the over-arching themes became somewhat more apparent. But to me one mantra became clear.
Attack. Take control. By describing the many ways to hold a sword, parry, defend, and strike an opponent Miyamoto Musashi is offering the reader a means to seize power from the opponent. He suggests dictating the flow of battle via mastery of sword and knowledge of the opponent. I interpret Miyamoto's philosophy as reasoning to relentlessly pursue goals. In Miyamoto Musashi's sixteenth century Japan power may have been being a great swordsmen, but the reason his work is relevant is because he believed in intensive internal discipline and seizing control from opponents by keeping them on the defensive.
A Book of Five Rings is a fast read and about 90 pages but certainly worth the time for those interested in business.