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Musashi's Book of Five Rings - The Missing Training Methods


In the Water scroll, as Musashi’s advice becomes more specific, we must turn to an often-overlooked factor when considering his writings – his training methods.  He often finished a section by saying drill yourself thoroughly in these techniques, practice this cadence repeatedly, learn how to apply this method – but how exactly?  Consideration of training methods is one of the most overlooked pieces of research with regard to Musashi.

When we consider that Musashi and his contemporaries were concerned with preparation for combat we can quickly come to the somewhat obvious conclusion that it is doubtful those methods used by current koryu practitioners were the only training methods used at the time.  In Jujutsu we are aware that many of the training methods used around the time of the Meiji restoration were not successfully transmitted into the Showa period.

When considering a training program in any era, especially with regards to traditional martial arts, what is typical is to outline a syllabus in point form – the groups of techniques, the names of techniques, the list of kata – none of these give a clue as to training methods other than practicing an individual technique or kata.  

Rigorously presenting a training program in written form is a laborious exercise to say the least. When we look at modern military programs or other forms of adult education the list of things one has to know and do may be relatively small, however, one will need to practice using various methods to become competent.

We must, therefore, remember that Musashi’s work is directed to people who knew the training methods and therefore gives little guidance in this regard.  It is incorrect to assume those methods remaining in koryu or used in modern budo are necessarily those Musashi had in mind when continually advising his students to train judiciously.  

It is, in fact, counter-intuitive to believe successful modern police and military training methods would not be somewhat representative of training methods used successfully in the past.  This is in some ways a two-way street, where people interested in combatives and combat sports do not understand that the term kata really equates to a repetitive drill – stripping down and reassembling a rifle repeatedly in the regulation method is kata practice, as are set repetitive shooting drills – they are neither useless nor the only type of training successful operators require.

In my opinion, Musashi clearly advocates competency based reflexive training of relevant skills, however, when considering the Book of Five Rings we must accept that Musashi says little to nothing with regard to including or excluding any particular training methods, although he states time and again the need to train assiduously and become competent.

One of the difficulties for many schools of martial arts, including gendai schools of Jujutsu, is the failure to transmit, retain, utilise, assess and improve proper methods of training.  If a syllabus only says what to do, not how to do it, the art is suddenly at the mercy of the instructors on whom the onus to use proper training and assessment methods has fallen.  Should the instructors be lax in their use of proper training methods their students will be incompetent and the art doomed.

As Musashi says training is the key.


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