The Art of Miyamoto Musashi

Brian Campbell
Hakubutsukan
Published in
3 min readJan 24, 2018

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Miyamoto Musashi is remembered as Japan’s greatest swordsman. Legend holds that he won over 60 duels. His manual on strategy, The Book of Five Rings, covers tactics for both personal combat and leading large battles. Throughout this manual, Miyamoto insists that to become skilled in strategy, one must become skilled in a variety of arts and skills. At the same time, as one learns other arts and skills, they inform your knowledge of strategy.

There are records of Miyamoto studying a number of arts himself, and was respected as a painter. He worked primarily in sumi-e, a style of ink painting, creating minimalist, monochromatic works portraying nature. Below we present a number of his paintings, along with some quotes from The Book of Five Rings about the relationship of art and strategy.

枯木鳴鵙図 (Kobokumeigekizu) or Shrike on a Dead Tree (wikimedia)

Polish your wisdom: learn public justice, distinguish between
good and evil, study the Ways of different arts one by one. When you cannot be
deceived by men you will have realized the wisdom of strategy.

芦雁図 (Roganzu) Reeds and Wild Geese, right side (wikimedia)
芦雁図 (Roganzu) Reeds and Wild Geese, left side (wikimedia)

Thus with the virtue of strategy I practice many arts and abilities — all things with no teacher.

Bird on a Branch (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The comparison with carpentry is through the connection with houses. Houses of
the nobility, houses of warriors, the Four houses, ruin of houses, thriving of houses, the style of the house, the tradition of the house, and the name of the house. The
carpenter uses a master plan of the building, and the Way of strategy is similar in
that there is a plan of campaign.

木?芦雁図 Reeds and Wild Geese screen, full name lost (Tokyo National Museum)

This is the way for men who want to learn my strategy:

Do not think dishonestly.

The Way is in training.

Become acquainted with every art.

Know the Ways of all professions.

Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.

Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.

Perceive those things, which cannot be seen.

Pay attention even to trifles.

Do nothing which is of no use.

鵜図(uzu) Cormorant (Agency for Cultural Affairs)
梅鳩図(umehatozu) Plum and Pigeon (Agency of Cultural Affairs)

Book of Five Rings quotes from the Internet Archive

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