"The Fire Book" - An Analysis of Strategy, Adaptability, and Psychological Warfare in Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings" and Its Relevance to Modern Budoka.
This short overview delves into the second book of Miyamoto Musashi's renowned work, "Book of Five Rings," entitled "The Fire Book" (Kaji no Maki). By exploring the symbolic significance of fire, this book emphasises the crucial elements of strategy, adaptability, and psychological warfare in combat. Drawing parallels between swordsmanship and the principles of fire, Musashi provides insights that resonate with modern budoka, highlighting the importance of rhythm, timing, and decisive action. This analysis elucidates the practical applications of "The Fire Book" for contemporary martial artists, emphasising its relevance in combat sports and self-defence contexts.
Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings" is a seminal work in the field of martial arts, esteemed for its philosophical depth and practical wisdom. The second book, "The Fire Book," explores the metaphorical significance of fire in combat, elucidating key principles that resonate with modern budoka. This analysis aims to explicate Musashi's teachings in "The Fire Book" and shed light on its applicability in contemporary martial arts practices.
2. Strategy and Adaptability
"The Fire Book" delves into the intricacies of strategy and adaptability as essential elements of combat. Musashi emphasises the importance of discerning the ebb and flow of a confrontation, highlighting the need for precise timing and an acute understanding of rhythm. The budoka is encouraged to strike at opportune moments, defend strategically, and retreat when necessary, showcasing the adaptability required for success in combat. By acknowledging the limitations of rigid adherence to a single approach, Musashi underscores the significance of adapting techniques to varying circumstances, ultimately enhancing the budoka's effectiveness in modern martial arts practices.
3. Psychological Warfare
Musashi's treatise also explores the realm of psychological warfare, recognising its potency in combat. The cultivation of a commanding presence and an aura of confidence is emphasised as a means of unsettling opponents and gaining an advantage. Modern budoka can benefit from this understanding, as it pertains to both self-defence situations and competitive encounters. By embracing the psychological aspect of combat, martial artists can harness their inner strength and project an air of unwavering determination, potentially influencing the outcome of engagements.
4. Training, Preparation, and Self-Reflection
"The Fire Book" underscores the indispensable role of training, preparation, and self-reflection in martial arts. Musashi's teachings serve as a reminder to modern budoka of the necessity for consistent practice, improvement, and a keen understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. By emphasising the importance of continuous training, Musashi inspires martial artists to build a strong foundation and refine their skills, further enhancing their performance in combat scenarios.
5. Relevance to Modern Budoka
"The Fire Book" remains highly relevant to modern budoka, as its principles transcend the historical context in which Musashi wrote. The emphasis on strategy, adaptability, psychological warfare, and continuous training aligns with the challenges faced by contemporary martial artists in combat sports, self-defence situations, and personal development. By embracing the teachings of "The Fire Book," modern budoka can gain a deeper understanding of combat dynamics, refine their techniques, and cultivate the mindset required for success in martial arts and beyond.
In conclusion, Miyamoto Musashi's "The Fire Book" offers invaluable insights into strategy, adaptability, psychological warfare, and the importance of training in combat. Its teachings, while rooted in the historical context of Musashi's time
The or A 6th Generation Toudi master? Lost in translation of something more nefarious?
At the outset, I would like to thank my Japanese colleague, Dr Nishimura, who has provided support for this research. Indeed, his work in unscrambling the connection between Kyan and Chitose continues to prove immensely helpful. However, although Dr Nishmura has helped and provided feedback on my ideas, what is written here must in no way be taken to infer Dr Nishimura agrees with the hypothesis or arguments herein.
Previously I have attempted to examine the myths, and exaggerated stories presented by some promoting the karate system developed and left to the world as Chito Ryu. At one level, these fanciful stories present the real-life Chitose as a version of the mythical Kwai Chang Cain and their worst, as an uncouth country bumpkin who was nothing short of a meathead.
Neither of these images, in my opinion, do the man justice. While those promoting such stories may have good intentions, what has emerged is that over time is a story that does not age well.
A central part of the ChitoRyu mythical canon is that Aragaki Ou, upon his deathbed, proclaimed Chitose THE 6th generation TouDi master. This was the first story in the canon that I heard and was impressed with, even though I had no clear understanding of what TouDi was or even who this person Aragaki was.
The above photo is from a joint publication issued by both the Hombu in Japan and the Canadian Chito Kai as part of the commemorative magazine and competition guide for the Soke Cup, 1998. In Japanese it simply states that Chitose was the 6th generation of TouDi, in English the story is significantly different. Such discrepancy between the Japanese official story and the one issued in English, may lie at the heart of the confusion.
Using this simplified version of the TouDi master lineage assertion, I will attempt to demonstrate in the following blog why this story may be as simple as something lost in translation, or indeed a fanciful assertion without much historical merit.
Fact Number 1.
Chitose`s Birthdate is listed as 1898. Aside from the fact that the Birthdate is wrong, what is of more relevance to the current discussion is that Chitose, or Chinen as he was known then, would have been between approx. 22 years old in 1920. While not unheard of, passing a designation of THE 6th generation toudi master to one so young would be highly uncommon, especially as Aragaki had more senior students, not least of whom was Gichin Funakoshi, who was preparing to move to the mainland and introduce karate there. As far as we know, Chitose was not a blood relative of Aragaki, thus making the passing on of such a title even less plausible. For those aware of the Okinawan adoption systems, Chitose was not adopted by Aragaki as either a son or son-in-law, thus furthering the distance between Arakaki and Chitose (Swift, 2015).
Who is this Aragaki O?
An oft-overlooked fact is that Aragaki O is an honorific title. It is not an actual name. It translates as honourable Aragaki (or Aragaki the older man). Therefore, Aragaki O could be many people for on Okinawa as Aragaki is a unbiquitious family name similar Tanaka on the mainland.
The assumption has been that the Aragaki referenced is Aragaki Seisho (新垣 世璋), a well-known martial artist who had traveled to China to study martial arts. As an official Ryukyu court Chinese language expert, Seisho moved in fairly illustrious circles, which included karate luminaries Ankō Asato, Ankō Itosu, and Matsumura Sōkon. Indeed, he and Matsumura are reputed to have demonstrated karate before a visiting Chinese dignitary in 1867. If we assume that this is the Aragaki to which the Chito story refers, we have a further two problems. One, while he did train in China under Wai Xinxian from Fuzhou, he only tarined six months+ hardly suffiecent to master the entire martial tradition of China. Second, and a central issue is that Arakagi has died in 1918, making the transition date of 1920 highly unlikely!
This fact demands a particular proficiency with the subtleties of the Japanese language. Indeed it was not something I had paid particular note to until my friend Joe Swift drew my attention to it. A direct translation of TouDi means ALL Chinese Martial arts, including weapons and the diversity of martial forms in China. Calling oneself THE TouDi master would appear impossible, although a master of ONE of the versions of TouDi is plausible. Even allowing for the fact that on Okinawa TouDi was an eclectic daily term, it nonetheless includes all of those Okinawan fighting systems influenced by China, such as Shorin Ryu, Uechi Ryu, GoGyu Ryu and Kojo-Ryu, to name but a few (Bishop, 1999). While there is some evidence that Aragaki played a role in the foundations of these systems none lay any claim to him as a THE TouDi master of his generation. Indeed, to state he was THE master would be fanciful, especially given that he had trained in China for only six months. Finally, nowhere do we see Aragaki referred to as THE master of TouDi. Indeed, history has passed him down as A master of TouDi along with the more other famous Meijin" (名人) such as Itosu and Matsumura.
The Kyan factor.
Thanks to research by my colleague, Dr Nishimura, we now know that Chitose was training with Kyan Chotoku by 1920. This creates a significant dent in the claim of THE Toudi master story. Why would Chitose/Chinen continue to train and learn from Kyan, who was about to embark on travels to China (Taiwan) and later Yaeyama Island to pursue a deeper budo study (https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=4158)? If Kyan did not claim to be a master of TouDi, how could his student, Chinen, be asserted as THE master?
Chitose`s own words.
In both his penned publications Kempo Karate-Do (1957) and the largerand still untranslated All Japan Karate Federation: Chito Ryu KyoHon (1971) Chitose clearly outlines that he is a 6th generation teacher/student of a particular lineage Shorin but not THE only one. Indeed in Kempo Karate-Do, he names other Shorin Schools, which have Chibana and Motobu as the current generational leaders. A similar pattern is shared in the latter position, although with the division between Shorin and Shorei. Nowhere in either of these texts does he claim to be a master of Toudi, let alone THE master of Toudi.
The vs A - an important article
Lastly, Chitose tells us in Kempo he started training with Aragaki in 1905, and learned Sanchin. The lineage he cites and the later work all point to him being A 6th generation of Shorin and Shorei Ryu schools. Aside from the fact that his presentation of these lineages is selective, what is of more pressing relevance is he does not claim to be THE Toudi Master OR indeed anointed as such. With the latter text, Chitose suggests that when he left Arakagi is was not under the best of conditions as there appears to have been a falling out. Having learned one kata and trained for seven years, the current discourse, at least as it appears in English, asserts that Aragaki appointed a fourteen-year-old, with no blood or legal connection to him, as the inheritor and head of the Toudi system: a fourteen year old who had no legal or blood connection to the master and had stopped training with him at least two years prior to his death.
Aside from the strangeness of such a selection, why would a well-educated and well regarded public figure such as Aragaki claim it as his right to confirm such a lofty title? He was a court official not one of the well-trained bodyguards such as Matsumura.
Aragaki`s age and Location.
If we take Chitose’s starting date at face value, Aragaki would have been in his late 70s and in poor health when they started training together. Aragaki died in 1918, so Chitose would have stopped training with him somewhere between 1914-16. On-going work by Scott Mertz indicates that Aragaki did not live in Naha during these years, and thus, it would have been difficult for Chitose to train regularly with Aragaki as the road system and transportation were not supportive of such mobility. Aragaki weekly traveled to teach karate at a middle school in Naha. Therefore, he could have instructed the young Chitose at that time or in private lessons afterward (May 2021, Personal Correspondence with Scott Mertz). Again, Scott continues to dig into this aspect of Okinawan history, so hopefully, more clarity will emerge.
Other TouDi Lineage Schools?
None of the current schools which trace their lineage to Toui-di or China claim to be THE Toudi Master. Those to whom I have spoken have never heard the phrase nor have ever heard that Aragaki used it.
So where does all of this leave us?
As I said at the outset, I do not believe the vast majority of those passing along such information do so with any ill intent. However, as teachers of Chito Ryu we do have a responsibility to pass on as accurate a history and lineage as possible - especially if we claim legitimacy via such lineages.
From what I have presented herein there are sufficient grounds upon which to be skeptical of this story. Based upon the evidence we currently have, it would appear to be apocryphal. However, such an assertion based solely upon my sense-making of evidence currently available to me and others.
New evidence may emerge that completely disproves my argument, and I look forward to the hypothesis herein furthering research into this topic. However, we must no longer be lulled to sleep by stories passed down by word of mouth. There is far too much good, scholarly work being done for us to remain selectively ignorant. To be productive members of Chito Ryu and all karate, we must and should challenge old assumptions.
So what do I think happened?
As my forthcoming publication exploring the early years of Chitose`s life, Chitose`s claim to legitimacy was established in Okinawa in the 1920 and 30s. There is no need for us to assign him mythical or superhuman attributes.
Likewise, based on what appears to be a poor translation which built up a life of its own, there is NO need to assume a deliberate intent to mislead.
Regardless, of which version of history we choose to believe their is no denting that Chitose was a man of his time, who rose to leave a powerful legacy.
J. Hatch (May 2021) Personal Correspondence with Scott Mertz. Tokyo, Japan.
M. Bishop (1999) Okinawa Karate: Teachers, styles and secret techniques. Boston: Tuttle.
Bowerbank, A (1998). Spirit of the Sensei. Toronto:Morris .
Chitose, T. (2000) Kempo Karate-Do. Trans. C. Johnston. Toronto: Shindokan Interntional.
Chitose, T. (1971) All Japan Karate Federation: Chito Ryu KyoHon. Unpublished personal translation J. Hatch, Tokyo 2001.
Quast, A. and Motto, N. (2018) Okinawan Samurai: Instructions to a Royal Official to his Only Son. Germany: Private Publication.
Quast, A. (2020) Matsumura Sokon:The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. Germany: Private Publication.
Shimabukuro, Z and Smith, D. (2012). Shorin Ryu Seibunkan: Kyan Karate. Okinawa: Private Publication.
Swift, J. (2015). The Essence of Naha-te. Tokyo: Lulu Press.
One of the great mistakes I often see in popular media and pseudo-budo research is that the Samurai of Japan was a warrior fighting class from ancient times. Indeed nothing could be further from the truth.
Before the Tokugawa unification (1603-1867 - aka Edo Period), a type of fighting men loosely called Bushi (侍) - literally meaning ‘person who stops a spear - were the one’s who did most of the fighting. Aside from a few, these people were non-professional and mostly commoners/farmers. However, after the Tokugawa unification and stability to feudal Japan, the Bakufu and a new caste system were established.
Under this caste system, there were four significant classes within Japan, Samurai (士 shi), farming peasants (農 nō), artisans (工 kō) and merchants (商 shō) in standard parlance references as shinōkōshō.
Outside of this system were the Emperor, Shogun and nobility, and the outcast. This latter group became known as the Eta or Burakumin (部落民) and were considered outcasts as they usually worked in industries such as executioners, undertakers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, or tanners. Based on an interpretation of Buddhist scripture, they worked with blood and thus were damned. Indeed, it was not until the mid-1990s that the Japanese government made a significant effort to end this caste’s ostracisation.
(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin ).
Under the Tokugawa regime, the new term/kanji for Samurai (侍) provides clues to their role. Gone was the idea of them being warriors, replaced instead with their new status of ‘people who form a temple’ or, in other words, the bureaucracy, of which warring was but one of their roles. Indeed, the highly misleading book the Hagakure, written by a bureaucratic samurai from a peaceful Japan, harkens back to a mythical past and a blood lust that had long been outlawed within Japan. Moreover, the stereotype of seppuku was strictly forbidden for this samurai class were far too valuable to the state to kill themselves willy-nilly even if their honour was tarnished. Research indicates of the 600 samurai who committed seppuku in the Tokugawa period, none of their families had retained their previous status or land within one generation. Thus, seppuku was not a way of ‘saving face, and family fortune, as the popular media would have us believe (Kannon Kakumyo, ‘What is Bushido?' Paper presented at the 18th international Seminar of Budo Culture, 2006)
For some of the more romantically inclined, they will be sad to know that the whole 47 Ronin escapade resulted from financial friction rather than avenging the death of the honourable Lord Asano. Indeed Asano was a hothead and very irresponsible; thus, when he was found guilty and made to commit seppuku, few mourned his death. Indeed his selfish action resulted in mass poverty for his family and those 47 families he was responsible for.
While the word Samurai had been used before the Tokugawa period, it was not until establishing the caste system that it became mainstream. In a similar vein, Bushido (see HERE ) did not gain wide usage until Nitobe used the term when writing in English about the Japanese spirit. To make Japan acceptable within the world order wherein the Meiji restoration, he essentially coined the term in 1911! It had been used previously, but only within elite academic circles. It is perhaps one of the great ironies of history that a word often used to define Japan was re-imported to Japan from the English book of the same name in the early 1900s. Sadly, it is also a word used to drive 3 million Japanese and over 30 million others to their death during World War two.
Thus despite what so-called Sensei or populist writing would have us believe, ‘the code of Bushido’ did not exist in mind or soul of the average Japanese until after it had been exported to the English-speaking world. Additionally, even for the samurai caste, there is no single code. Most of those that suggest samurai ethics were written long after the Samurai had primarily been a military force. Indeed, those who doubt this assertion must read the works of Musashi, Takuan, and Yagyu, all of whom write at the start of the Tokugawa era. None of them discusses ‘bushido’, except in a few poorly translated English texts.
Lastly, the Samurai were not a homogeneous cast. There were three main groupings:
The Tozama would come back to haunt the Tokugawa as they oversaw the end of the Shogun system during the Bakumatsu and Meiho periods.
While this is a short post on a complex topic, I hope it can contribute in a small way to dispelling so many myths I see passed on in dojo, populist history/fiction and misleading post on SNS. And sadly, in many schools!
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan