The Iaido Journal  Jan 2012
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Gorin no Sho 1:
Introduction and Forward

copyright © 2012 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved.


This book has been a long time coming. It started out as a discussion on the iaido-l email listserver where it was suggested that there was no good translation of the Go Rin no Sho which had been done by someone who practiced the Niten Ichiryu or any other koryu sword art. While I had practiced the Niten Ichiryu, I thought that there were lots of translations around. I believe there were at least 3 at the time and there are easily double that now. However, I asked one of my students if he would like to take on the translation and he agreed.

Never make decisions of this type in the bar after practice.

Once that was settled I asked the members of iaido-l to commit to the project with a reservation deposit of $5, the idea being that at 100 reservations we'd start work on the book. Within a short period of time we had 100 fully paid buyers for the book so the project was on. I would like to thank those who reserved a copy of the book for their patience and for their faith in the project. Without the guilt I have felt for the last 8 or 10 years I would never have completed this task.

Why me?

Why should I undertake the supervision and editing of this translation and its commentary? Firstly I suppose "because I can". I don't find writing a chore and the book is an interesting read. I began practicing Musashi's Niten Ichiryu in the early 1990s with Matsuo Haruna sensei and have also practiced under the 10th headmaster Masayuki Imai sensei and the 11th headmaster Toshio Iwami sensei. I am also a renshi 7dan in iaido and a 5dan in Jodo under the Canadian Kendo Federation and am on the national grading panel for each art so I hope I can comment on Musashi's writings to the requirements of the original mandate.

Why was the book delayed for so long?

The translation was a bit delayed and the translator changed over the years. It is not that easy to translate any work, let alone one written in old Japanese and translated to modern Japanese several times. Which translation or transcription do you use? The second problem was mine. I didn't know what I wanted to do with the translation, should I make it pretty or keep it as straightforward as possible? I eventually decided to keep it as straight as possible so that any confusing passages would be plain to see. I also had some deep personal questions about my own Niten practice which I have been working through for several years now.

The delays have had a benefit I suppose, in that I have forgotten most other translations and interpretations of the book, I haven't read much martial art related work at all for the last 10 years so I have fresh eyes on the translation.

What to look for in this book.

Here you will find a straight translation of Musashi's writing. This is, inevitably, a bit awkward as I have kept the editing to the bare minimum. As a help I have provided a short summary version where I felt that the original was not absolutely clear, this you will find in italics.

My original plan was to stop at the translation but several people requested that I also do a commentary on the work. Because there are lots of translations out there (it's a short, popular book that sells well so just about every publisher of martial art related books has a version) and one more would be rather redundant, a commentary has been provided. These comments are based on my own thoughts on life and on the martial arts. They are a personal thing, offered for whatever worth the reader finds in them. I am not trying to be historically accurate or to second guess Musashi, I will leave that to others. I have no connection to his ghost and so can't claim to know what he was thinking as he wrote, I will try not to put words in his mouth, rather I will try to explain his thoughts as I interpret them.

Through the book I will make a point of relating the instructions to kata practice. Most of the comments concern Niten Ichiryu but there are a few places where I use examples from iaido or jodo as well. For these comments I am assuming that the reader has at least a passing acquaintance with Niten Ichiryu, some other Japanese sword art, or at the minimum, has a copy of the Niten Ichiryu manual which I wrote several years ago.

You will not find a history of Musashi here, or a history of Japan during his lifetime. I am not an expert in that field and there are lots of books around which cover this material very well, I strongly suggest looking at those works if you are interested in the background.

I also recommend buying all the other translations out there and reading them at the same time. This can be quite a lot of fun and it also gives a feel for how different folks interpret Musashi.

It is my hope that you find something to interest you in the pages that follow.

Kim Taylor

It has now been a few more years and I am still not publishing this book. It's time to try something else, so I will serialize it here in The Iaido Journal and perhaps that will be a conclusion to this project, or at least prompt me to get on with it.  This will be a series of monthly installments and I will do yet another edit as I work through it.

I hope that those I owe a book will email me their comments as I continue to endeavour to live long enough to complete a DVD release.

Kim Taylor
January 2012


As mentioned by the writer in the introduction, already many translations have been made and published of the Gorin no Sho Scrolls.

To quote Sosnowski, MD (Prelude to Translation 2005): “The most famous bodies of literature were written in Biblical Hebrew, Classical Latin, Sanscrit, Classical Chinese etc. Not in English. Due to this fact translated works are open to varied interpretation based on experience”.

In the case of Gorin no Sho translations up to now show a definite ‘lack’ of experience of the writer/interpreter.

Some foreign words do not even have direct rendition. Translation from another language gives the choice to the interpreter to substitute his own words based on his vocabulary. The thing is one word alone can vastly change the meaning of the text.

We can add to this one more problem. Gorin no Sho was written in Japanese Medieval times. At that particular time education was and still is drawn from Confucian and Buddhist meanings. In reading these works one can find the real and hidden deep meaning in Japanese/Chinese calligraphy. You will notice in other works of Musashi explained to us by the late Imai Sohke he draws strongly on the virtues of Buddhist teaching. In fact it is a prerequisite for those of us that to studying Musashi in depth that we also study Buddhism.

At the beginning of the scrolls Musashi himself tells to us that he did not draw from either Confucian or Buddhist terms in writing this work and in saying so he wrote it in hiragana. Not being concise in Kanji leaves a wide scope of possible renditions. I might add that being Japanese does not help much either. The average Japanese has little or no knowledge of Budo Bunka (Budo Culture) terminology. Only two percent of the entire population practice any form of Budo, most of these adolescents.

Gorin no Sho was written for his students. Practice from the heart, hara, read what Musashi wrote and it all comes together. But in so saying people that practice other ryu can still learn from what he had to say.

In reading Gorin no Sho is it simple to understand? Prof. Karl Friday (Dept. of History, University of Georgia) contends that the lack of accuracy in translations is the result of inadequate background knowledge of a subject.

I would also wish to add that many writers substitute for this lack of knowledge by making translations that are made up for with ‘flowery words’. Many are without doubt excellent wordsmiths but have never actually practiced within the school. It not only teaches the practical fundamentals but also the philosophical outlook one needs to acquire along with the tests of spiritual and mental capability.

I have read all the published translations. Why did I read them all? If it were possible to put them all together it would be a good thing as they all contain ‘some’ valid points. But on the other hand they all miss out to a large extent of what Musashi relates to us.

Why should one choose to favor this translation? Because Kim Taylor already had a more than ample background knowledge of Musashi's strategy and methods before he decided to do this work. Being an interpreter/practitioner is an added adequate qualification to put over what Musashi was telling us. Reading between the lines in interpretation is not necessary. Add the practice to the reading, commit a lifetime to its study and we have the whole picture.

I was first given a signed first edition copy of the Victor Harris translation back in 1972. Then after being allowed to enter Musashi's Ryu (school) my main objective became not only reading what he says but the actual application. I practiced one waza for nearly seven years before I was allowed to move on. This was not because of inept capability. I already was a Yudansha in Kendo and Iaido (grades taken living in Japan) and holder of a Menkyo Kaiden of another famous ryu. This was a help entering into the ryu but also a great hindrance, as we tend to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know with bits of what we learn from other schools. Practice was also followed by sitting down and studying Gorin no Sho with Imai Sohke.

Musashi’s philosophy is for me a lifetimes study. I will die appreciating what it has taught me not just about the ryu but about living daily life, my values and aspirations, Hopes of handing on what we know without adaptation, appreciation of ‘Mu’. As a license holder of the school, I can immediately identify with the accuracy of Taylor’ Sensei’s translation. Other translations I have read seem to be lacking in some way. To put it simply and as Taylor Sensei also mentions, any methods and strategy put to paper are for members of the ryu ‘ingredients’. If we practice and study a school we then have the recipe.

It is a recipe that you will always wish to make better. This is the translation you will need to piece it all together and to identify with other schools methodology.

As Musashi himself said, “Flowers look nice but don’t bear fruit”. This translation is fruit you need to consume.

Colin 'Hyakutake' Watkin – Menkyo - Hyoho Niten Ichiryu

Chapter 1. Chi (ground or earth)

From the first, "hyoho" (also heiho, the way of the soldier, budo) is the common sense logic of the bushi (samurai, warrior or swordsman). If you are a leader, you should practice this way, if you are a soldier, you should know this way. Unfortunately, there are no bushi who see any reason for "hyoho" in the modern world.

To start with the word 'way', there is a 'way' to help people as the Buddhists do, there is a 'way' to straighten out philosophy as a Confucianist does, for doctors there is a 'way' to cure the various sicknesses and for poets there is a 'way' to teach Tanka poetry. Entertainers, architects and people who want various skills and accomplishments practice respectively and they put all their spirit into their practice and strive for it. However, it is rare to see such a person amongst people who practice hyoho.

[Every profession has its own study, but recently the bushi aren't studying their profession.]


In Musashi's time he felt that most bushi were not training in the right way. I doubt that things are any better today.

The military is like any other profession, if you want to be good at your job, find out what you need and do that. Train, see things clearly, set your mind on finishing your job.

If you are a bushi, speaking of "bun bu nido" (literary and military accomplishments), it is your duty to strive for these two kinds of ways (skills). Even if you have poor talent and intelligence, if you are a bushi, you have to put in the effort to achieve hyoho according to your own abilities.

Talking of the beliefs (faith) of bushi, people think that it is all about the readiness for death. However if it is all about the readiness for death, it is not only for bushi, but also for priests, for women, for peasants, if they know their obligations (duty) and think of shame, in terms of a determination to die, there are no differences among them.

[Bushi should learn the martial and the literary skills appropriate to their jobs. People think that a military man should be prepared for death, but this is no different from the preparation for death of priests, women or peasants.]


If budo was about being ready to die, priests, women and peasants would be bushi. In fact, what makes a bushi different from these others is their duty/job, to fight and win over others.

The object of mastering hyoho for the bushi is, from the first to excel against others in anything, and win various single (individual) battles (fights) and achieve victory in multiple combat situations, for one's lord, for oneself, to make one's name (come to fame) and establish oneself. This is only accomplished by the logic (reason, truth, principles) of hyoho.

Also, in the world, there is the thought that even when learned, hyoho, won't be useful in a real fighting situation. Accordingly, you must practice it to make good use of it in any situation and to teach how to make good use of it no matter what kind of situation, this is the truth of the logic of hyoho.

[The study of hyoho is to win fights for whatever reason. If some think that studying hyoho is useless in the modern age, it's up to you to train in a way that is relevant and useful]


Some careful thought must be given to the reasons for studying budo today. If what you learn is useless in the modern world (and it would be more so today than in Musashi's time) then learning it is a waste of time. There should be some deep thought given as to why you practice budo, and even if it's only for exercise, (like running or swimming), or to meet other people, (perhaps like golf or ballroom dancing), that will be a way of making you better adapted to the world you live in.

What is useless, is to try to be a samurai of 1645; or of 1603, as Musashi may have been thinking. The world changes and we must live in the real world. Our training must reflect this. When Musashi wrote this book his world had already moved away from the samurai of modern fantasy and from the bushi of his youth. He recognized this but still found enough meaning in his budo training to pass it along to his students.

The Matter of the Logic of Hyoho

Hyoho no michi

In China or in our country, it has been handed down that people who studied this way were called men (masters or experts) of "hyoho". As a bushi there is no excuse not to learn this way.

Recently, people who are trying to make a living as "hyohosha" (people living the way of strategy, battle) are only swordsmen. From "Tokiwa no Kuni" (Tokiwa province) where the Kashima and Katori Ryuha (schools) are located, instructors are traveling around the country teaching the lessons learned from their soke (headmaster). They put it out as a Ri Ho (a way of producing benefit) in the old expression of "Junou Nanagei" (ten intelligences and seven skills). It's definitely a skill, however as to producing a benefit, we can't limit it to only the way of the sword. Simply learning sword skills, it is impossible to understand the skills of the sword. Needless to say, it doesn't come up to hyoho.

[Although some people are claiming that they are teaching the full way of the sword, they are only teaching techniques. You can't learn hyoho by only learning techniques]


In 1645 Musashi said it's useless only learning techniques. How much more useless is it today? Yet there are things to be learned today, even with regard to warfare on a national scale, if you learn the underlying principles and if you learn to see clearly, deeply and honestly.

Looking around this world, some people are even setting up and selling their various skills; however, it feels as if they are selling themselves, or selling products; some people think it is nothing more than selling products. This is just as if they have lots of flowers, but flowers won't bear fruit and they have less fruit compared to flowers. Especially in this way of the sword, if you gloss over the features, give it a flowery decoration, show off its skills and have lots of dojo (practice halls); then teach this way of the sword and also learn hyoho to get profit from it; then the saying "a little learning (knowledge) is a dangerous thing", will apply.

[Making the arts pretty to make a living from teaching them won't bear any fruit. A little learning is a dangerous thing.]


In 1645 there were those who put a lot of decoration in their practice to attract students and make money. The storefront dojo is obviously not a recent phenomenon. But those who teach fancy techniques and concentrate on the commercial aspects or train for ego are not likely going to teach what is useful, then or now.

Musashi compared flashy techniques to flowers, which look good but contain no food value. It is the fruit which may not look as nice, but has the value. It's better to concentrate a school's techniques, to pare them down to the essentials, what works, and allow the fruit to dominate rather than the flowers.

To get along in the world as a human, there are four ways "Shi Nou Kou Shou" (governmental officers (samurai), peasants, engineers, merchants).

The first is the life of peasants. Peasants prepare various kinds of farming tools and pass their time being ready for the changes which the four seasons bring in, this is the life of peasants.

The second is the life of merchants. A distiller (brewer) wants the necessary tools, and to have acquired the proper skills to make a living. In any way (kind) of business, they earn their living by their own way, getting rewards suited to their skills, this is the life of merchants.

The third is the bushi, who establish various kind of weapons (and schools) to meet their objectives, they well understand their special features; this is the life of the bushi. Without accomplishing weapons and understanding their specialties, the bushi have a poor attitude toward being a practitioner of fighting skills.

The fourth is an engineer. If carpenters, they invent various kinds of tools and learn how to use them fully, they draw lines with scales and work hard without taking a rest, then they earn their living.

These are the four lives of "Shi Nou Kou Shou".

[People in all jobs, in all walks of life, make the tools and learn the things that are needed for their jobs. In this way they make their living.]

Let's illustrate hyoho as 'Carpentry'. I am describing the hyoho of 'Carpentry', because I play with the word for 'house' (the ryuha or school). Kuge, Buke and "Shi-Ke" (the four families of Fujiwara or Sado), talking about the break down of the family line and the thriving of the family line, talking about Ryu (school), Fu (style) and Ke (family), all are related to the word for 'house' and can be illustrated with the descriptions for carpentry. Dai-ku (carpenter) is written by two Chinese characters, Dai means 'Big', 'great' or 'Large' and Ku means 'to plan (plot)' or '(the skills) to make (something)', thus it means "the skill to plan something large", the way of hyoho can also be expressed the same as the way of carpenters. If you made up your mind to learn 'hyoho", considering this context (book), if Shi (the teacher) becomes a needle, Deshi (student) becomes the string.

Train hard together all the time.

[All these things are related, I'm going to describe carpentry as if it were my hyoho since carpenters make houses and a ryuha can be thought of as a household.]

Illustrating hyoho as carpentry, a general (or admiral) is like a master carpenter. Understand the square of the world, inquire into the square in each country and research about (and know) a house's square, this is the life (way) of the master carpenter. The head of carpenters must learn the structure of a temple and its steeple (spire) and hall, and the house for priests. He must understand the design of palace and castle, employ people and build a house, it is same for the head of carpenters and the head of the martial house (Bu-Ke). When building a house we use wood (timber) properly, straight, good looking wood with no knots is used for the head pillars. Wood which has knots but is straight and strong is for the back pillar. Wood that, even though it is a little bit weak but has no knots and looks good, is used for a threshold, sill, door, screen (shoji; sliding paper door) and so on. If it has knots and is warped but strong enough, understanding the building's important structures, then use it where appropriate. This house will last for a long time without collapsing. Furthermore, if some timbers have lots of knots and are warped and weak, we can use them for scaffolding and use them as firewood later on.

When the master carpenter uses his people, he distinguishes their skill as first class, middle class and lower class and applies them for flooring, doors, threshold, sill, or ceiling, matching their ability. If there are any unskilful workers then use them to make joists, if there are even worse workers then use them to make wedges. Managing like this, using people properly distinguishing their ability, speeds up the rate of work, and it goes neatly. Managing events confidently (boldly), doing the job neatly, not just cruising through the job, being brave in using the materials, recognizing the three levels in the nature of people, having a chivalrous spirit, being aware of the limits, these are the acquaintances of the head of carpenters. The logic of hyoho is also like this.

[The head carpenter must know what he wants to build and must sort his lumber and his workers into their most useful jobs. The bushi must do the same with his resources and men.]


The comparison of budo to carpentry is clear so I won't go into it too deeply. Budo is a job and has its way like any other job. You can study how to make bookshelves, or how to carve but that's not really carpentry. You can learn how to frame houses and put in windows but again, that's not really all of it. If you want to be a foreman or own a building business you have to learn how to manage people, this is part of carpentry and part of budo too. You can stop anywhere along the path but if you do, you can't call it the whole.

A carpenter needs to be able to go on a new job, look around and know how to adapt and do the job. Rote learning and book learning won't always do it. Reading the building codes won't do it in many cases, you need to know the reasoning behind the codes and build to meet the meaning, the intent of the code. This is the master builder. There is a need to understand what the job needs beyond what it looks like it needs, and what the homeowners think it needs.

The Principals (Way) of Hyoho

Heiho no michi

If you are a soldier, be like a carpenter, they grind their tools by themselves and make and prepare various tools then put them all in the carpenters' tool box and take it with them. Listening to the head carpenter, they carve the pillars by hand axe and carve any shelves with a plane, making fretwork and carving, measuring well, making any difficult or troublesome details well, this is the way of carpenters.

Remembering the skills from the body and knowing how to design very well, after a while, this person will be able to become the head carpenter. The grace of the carpenter is having well sharpened tools and grinding them very often, this is very important. Having such tools, making bookshelves, tables, kitchen, paper framed room lamps, cutting boards, and even the lids of pots skilfully, is the specialty of carpenters. Being soldiers, you also should be like this.

You have to research harder.

Concerning the grace of carpenters, these are the important things, not getting a warp in the boards, fixing things well, being good at planning, not cutting away too much, not getting a gap after all.

If you think to learn this field, consider from the heart the things the textbooks are telling us.

[If you are a soldier, be like a carpenter, have your tools sharp, do a good job and you will advance in your profession. Study hard and pay attention to your lessons.]


Know your materials, keep your tools sharp, put your workers in the jobs that best suit them. Don't get tied up in the details or the house will not fit together, keep the whole project in mind. See deeper than what the place looks like, understand the foundations, the walls, the openings, the roof and the landscaping. Build it so that it meets the codes, the spirit of the codes and the needs of those living there.

If you are a worker for a builder keep your tools sharp, follow orders and do the details correctly and well. You should also keep your eye on the overall project so your details fit into the overall scheme of things.

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