Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Book of Five Rings

The Book of Five Rings is a Japanese book on sword dueling techniques. Unlike Sun Tzu's The Art of War, it's not straight forward and there are not many strategies that can be found useful for real life applications.

However, if you have studied pattern recognition, you will find that The Book of Five Rings is essentially about mastering patterns and making them part of you, that is, by internalising them. In a sense, it's the better of the two strategy books.

Take the sword fight. Any novice dueler would need to think where to strike, and if the strike doesn't hit the mark would be analysing why it didn't hit. He's using his prefrontal cortex to process new information. In a sword duel, such split second thoughts lead to certain death. An experienced swordsman doesn't think; every move is intuitive. The parts of his brain that direct his movements are the basal ganglia and the cerebellum. If you have watched The Last Samurai movie, remember that only when Tom Cruise made his movements come out naturally did he manage to master the art of swordsmanship.

How do you master patterns? Only through continual practices. But what distinguishes a master swordsman from an experienced but average one? The master would keep stretching his skills, adding more to his repertoire of sword fighting techniques while the average dueler would be repeatedly practising his limited set of skills. In a duel, the master would not use the same technique all over again if it does not work. He will try something different and in so doing, he triumphs over his opponent. That is the secret of Miyamoto Musashi, the author of The Book of Five Rings.

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