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Book of Five Rings Review

I had googled Musashi’s Book of Five Rings just recently and came across this review of my book version for the first time.

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy translated by Steve Kaufman (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1999)
Steve Kaufman, a karate expert living in New York City, has produced a responsible translation of Miyamoto Musashi’s classic. Although there is little in terms of historical context and background, Kaufman does an excellent job of translating the text. Not as concise as Harris translation, Kaufman nonetheless avoids the wordiness of the Nihon Services version. Kaufman points out in his introduction that “this is not another book about Japanese business strategy, pointing to the obvious, yet often ignored, difference between “not getting a deal signed and having your head cut off.” It would be safe to assume then, that Kaufman would not be too pleased to learn that the back cover of the book has “Martial Arts/ Business” written on it. Aimed at “martialists” (not to be confused, Kaufman adds, with discussing martial-artists, for the concept of “art” in the context of battle can be problematic), the book conveys a vital sense of physicality in its writing. This version pays additional attention to passages that discuss individual combat. As compared to other translations, Kaufman goes into much more detail when discussing the “martialist” material in the book.

In the section titled “Holding the Long Sword,” Kaufman gives a very descriptive account on how the swordsman should conduct himself: “It is important for you to understand the proper manner in which to hold the long sword. The grip should be both loose and tight at the same time. What I mean by this is that you should hold the sword firmly and resolutely, yet at the same time your hand and wrist must be pliable. Hold the sword as you would a fishing rod and strike with it as if you were casting a fish line. Hold the sword tightly with the bottom two fingers to give yourself the added support you need to wield the long sword correctly. Direct the sword with your thumb and forefinger.” Kaufman’s long-winded translation contrasts sharply with Harris brevity as he omits the first half of the passage: “Grip the long sword with a rather floating feeling in your thumb and forefinger, with the middle finger neither tight nor slack, and with the last two fingers tight. It is bad to have play in your hands.” Overall, Kaufman’s translation comes out sounding precisely like it was written by the man he claims to be, one who has practiced karate for over forty years and studied the “rings” for another ten.

Columbia University

Dr Henry D Smith, Professor of East Asian Lang/Cult


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