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The Book of Five Rings (Gorin no sho), 1600s
By Terao Katsunobu
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868)
Set of five handscrolls, ink on paper
Eisei-Bunko Museum, 774
© Eisei Bunko, Japan.

1. Scroll of Earth: The basics of Niten-style swordsmanship.
2. Scroll of Water: A detailed discussion of swords.
3. Scroll of Fire: Swordsmanship in general and war fittings.
4. Scroll of Wind: More on general swordsmanship and war fittings.
5. Scroll of Sky: Conclusion on the goals of swordsmanship.

Miyamoto Musashi was the most famous swordsman of his day. Considered a personification of the samurai spirit and the embodiment of the ideal military man, he won renown by developing a style of fencing using two swords.

Following the death of his lord in battle in 1600, Musashi became a masterless samurai, or ronin. Living as a wanderer, he engaged in duels when challenged; he is said to have fought, and won, sixty-eight times. His last duel became a popular subject in literature and the arts.

In 1640 Musashi accepted the position of sword instructor to Hosokawa Tadatoshi (1586–1641). Musashi was provided a salary, in the form of rice, and he spent his last years in relative peace.

The Book of Five Rings synthesizes Musashi’s swordsmanship teachings. He is said to have written it in a mountain cave in 1643. On his deathbed, Musashi gave the book to his disciple Terao Katsunobu. The original scrolls were lost, but the copy transcribed by Katsunobu has survived in the Hosokawa family.

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