The Iaido Journal  Sept 2002EJMAS Tips Jar

Book Review: A Way to Victory: 
The Annotated Book of Five Rings
translation and commentary by Hidy Ochiai, 
The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY, 1996/2001

ISBN 1-58567-038-3, hardcover. US$29.95.  162 pp.(1)

Reviewed by Raymond Sosnowski.
8 July 2001; 23 April 2002 & 7 June 2002 (revised)

Copyright 2002, all rights reserved

Reviewer's Comments.

This is my first review with these comments included as part of the review rather than added during the revision. The delivery date of this text slipped several times here from September, 2000, to February, 2001. All things considered, I was expecting to be disappointed here; however, I was pleasantly surprised instead. I was able to read this text over a two-day period on flights from [my then home in] New Hampshire to Maryland [which is now my current residence] and back, rather than piece-meal, which is unfortunately the norm. I found that the translations read smoothly, and the commentaries, called "analyses," were well done too. Although this is probably not "the definitive translation," it is the new standard against which all future translations will be judged in my opinion.


This is the fourth English translation of Musashi's Gorin no Sho. The other three are by Mr. Victor Harris (Miyamoto, 1974), Nihon Services Corp. (Miyamoto, 1982), and Dr. Thomas Cleary (1992). Each one has something to offer (Sosnowski, 1999), but I believe that none of them is close to being definitive.

Mr. Hidehiko "Hidy" Ochiai (about whom I'll have more to say below) is a well-known and well-respected Karate master (in the true sense of the word). His translation and associated commentary, which he refers to as "Analysis," begins with a short Part 1 entitled "Absolute Victory." It contains three chapters, "Winning and Success," "A Biographical Sketch of Miyamoto Musashi," and "Mind of the Samurai," which consists of three sections, "Belief and Confidence: A Musashi Anecdote," "Victory without Fighting: A Bokuden Anecdote," and "A Resolute Mind: A Masahiro Anecdote (2)." At the end of the book, he includes "Notes," "Map of Japan and Legend," "Bibliography," and "Translator's Postscript," which makes for a tidy package.

The introductory chapter "Winning and Success" begins with a business scenario, but expands beyond that niche, making Gorin no Sho relevant to every day life. The compact biography is one of the best I have read. The three anecdotes set the tone for the translations and commentaries to follow. The end sections make for a complete book. His is the only one of the four translations that does not get hung up on Zen.

Mr. Ochiai says in his "Translator's Postscript:"

"Translating a work from one language to another is no easy task by any means. ... In the case of Musashsi's writings, an additional difficulty is that it was written in the middle of the seventeenth century, and the Japanese language then was different from that if the present day. Compared to similar writings by other sword fighters in the same era, Musashi's writing is clearer and easier to understand. But still difficulties exist. One must be faithful to Musashi's thoughts, intentions, and philosophy, which he attempts to describe in the book, and yet a direct translation to English would not, in some places, make any sense at all." (p. 161)

Finally, here is a translation where the business hype is gone. Further on he writes:

"It is my humble and sincere hope that I have contributed even a little toward the understanding of this precious gift from a great samurai who lived his whole life in order to discover and actualize something eternally applicable to a meaningful human life. ..." (p. 161)

I was personally touched by his words.

The Translations.

Each of the five books - I prefer a more literal translation of "maki" into "scroll(s)" - is nicely rendered into flowing and easily understood English prose. The section titles are also translated quite well. Some words are left in Japanese rather than attempting to use a poorly fitting English word; occasionally he will show the English equivalent as a hyphenated compound word, which he believes better conveys the intended meaning, for example, "hyoshi" as "rhythm-timing." What struck me the most is the title of the fifth book/scroll; it is untranslated, retaining the original Japanese "Ku" rather than the English rendering of "void" or "emptiness."

There are a number of footnotes associated with each book/scroll. Many of them point out difficulties in translation. Most of the notes are apropos in my opinion. A few, like the five kamae in the "Water Scroll" would be unnecessary if the names of the kamae had not been translated (and in my opinion, they should not be translated). In fact, to appreciate the kamae of the nito (two-sword) waza (techniques), see Taylor (1995/6); the sword style of Musashi, Niten Ichi Ryu, as one branch of it is taught today, which I have studied, is described in Taylor (2000).

Also a few terms, which really need footnotes, do not have them; in the "Water Scroll," for example, the sword strikes such as sparkling stone and red leaves really need footnotes to explain them properly: the former is an allusion to flint and how it sparks when struck by iron, and the latter to maple leaves in Autumn and how they fall from the trees, drifting down to the ground. However, these errors of commission and omission are few, and they are actually more of an annoyance than anything else.

The Analyses.

Although not the first book to provide commentary - that was Miyamoto (1982) - the commentary here provide good explanations of the contents of the associated book/scroll, as well as some wonderful insights into Musashi's character, and into the application of key points to everyday life. The commentaries add so much more to the book - they help to bridge the centuries between the original text and today's world that we inhabit.

Most of my margin notes were made in the Analyses. In the middle of the Analysis of "Earth," Sensei writes,

"In spite of the criticisms of Musashi's approach, he did win more than sixty combats, so his theory is not based merely on the intellectual analysis of fighting techniques (p. 55),"

which I summarized in a margin note to myself that there are "no theoretical swordsmen / duelers." At the end of this Analysis, Sensei concluded:

"Musashi theorizes that in practice it is effective for a beginner to use two swords at once, because it will strengthen the hands and arms in such a way that one can use one sword in actual combat with more power and focus. Thus, Musashi, does not insist on the superiority of the two-sword style in an actual fighting situation, rather that his two-sword system makes the orthodox one-sword style more effective (p. 59)."

My reaction to this was "Well done. [It is a] Wonderful added dimension." At the end of the Analysis of "Water," I noted, "Interesting observations - a welcome addition," referring to that entire commentary. In addition, the first footnote (p. 148) bears my note of a "nice beginning," because it succinctly explains the use of the "five elements" and the Japanese concept of "rings."

Reviewer's Note.

There has been some concern with respect to the ability of any translator of Gorin no Sho to capture the elements of kenjutsu without being a Japanese sword practitioner. I belong to this camp; I believe that we, the community of Japanese sword practitioners, deserve a translation with us in mind. I have voiced this point of view time and time again on Iaido-L, putting forward the names of people such as Prof. Karl Friday of the History Department of the University of Georgia (Athens), Mr. Colin Hyakutake of Saga City, Japan, and Mr. Toshishiro Obata, the founder of Shinkendo, whom I feel would be able to handle this task. All three have done various translations of old Japanese material, and all three are trained in swordsmanship. It certainly never entered my mind that Mr. Hidy Ochiai would be a viable translator given the above criteria. However, as I dug deeper, I began to uncover a facet of Ochiai-s. that is not generally known, a sound grounding in Japanese swordsmanship. It is my hope to be able to obtain and present a more thorough accounting of his background at a later date.

The Author.

It seems that although Mr. Ochiai has a well-known public profile, he is an enigma - his background, especially his initial training, is rather obscure. His own website <> is rather sparse. He has spent his adult life after college in the US (Albright College, Reading, PA; BA in Philosophy, 1966) teaching Washin Ryu Karate (from his on-line resume at <>). Prior to this the only entries are:

        1939 - born in Tokyo
        1945 - started training in karate, kendo and kobudo (weapons) in Hiroshima
under his father's guidance
        1962 - arrives in USA to matriculate at Albright College

There is a big gap between 1945 and 1962. I mentioned some of my misgivings to a student of his with whom I have had several private exchanges of e-mail discussing this text and its author:

"Hiroshima was destroyed by an A-bomb in 1945 - totally, completely and utterly destroyed. So where was practice held?"

"GCHQ and Gen. MacArthur banned the practice of all martial arts at the end of WW-II in Japan (3). So did they practice in secret? Maybe. But I do know that many did stop (including people who have taught me) and did not resume until 1948 through 1952." (from private e-mail sent on 24 August 2000)

I have gotten several answers to these questions via my correspondent, and from Sensei's personal assistant. I have learned several bits of information, some of which are unavailable elsewhere since Ochiai-s. is an extremely private individual: apparently his father was a great swordsman, and sent his son to a Zen temple complete his training; both the residence and the temple were near Hiroshima, but far enough to escape the devastation of 6 August 1945. When his father began teaching him in 1945, it was in secret, and the temple training took place after the ban on budo training was lifted; therefore, home training followed temple training spanned seventeen years. With his training complete, his master, Kanabe Saito, the head of the Buddhist temple and Iaido master, sent him to the US to complete his academic training in college before opening his first dojo, which is mentioned on his website.

I also attempted to find out more about Washin Ryu, but there is very little useful information on the web. Even Sensei's own website has no information with respect to the curriculum taught. My correspondent informed me that:

"Washin Ryu is a complete martial arts system. It incorporates karate, jujutsu, self-defense, ki training and kobudo. The weapons are only a part of that system. We study the entire system. It is not only a sword school as others are." (from private e-mail received on 21 August 2000)

In a more recent exchange (12 April 2001), he informed me that there is a Washin Ryu Iaijutsu, but that the name "Washin Ryu" was created for use in the US, approved by the temple masters, which would explains the lack of references to it on the web. He has further sent me copies of a number of hard-to-find interviews.

There is a photograph of Ochiai-s. in his interview by Body Mind and Spirit Net Magazine, and, in which he is dressed in white uwagi and hakama, and is doing what I believe to be nuketsuke (one-handed draw and cut); there is nothing in that picture to indicate to me that he does not know what he is doing. I am somewhat inclined to believe that Ochiai-s. does have a sword background in spite of the fact that it is not readily available information. On the other hand, I have seen a number of recent articles in magazines about people purported to be sword teachers, and one look at the accompanying photographs highlights their complete lack of knowledge about sword-handling (for example, see Sosnowski, 2000).

Other highlights about Ochiai-s. include being inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1979 as "Instructor of the Year," and again in 1980 as "Man of the Year." He won a string of kata championships at various national karate tournaments from 1970 through 1980. He is the author of five books:

        The Essence of Self-Defense (1979) [out of print]
        Hidy Ochiai's Living Karate (1986) [out of print]
        Hidy Ochiai's Complete Book of Self-Defense (1991)
        A Way to Victory: The Annotated Book of Five Rings (1996)
        Hidy Ochiai's Self-Defense for Kids: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (1998)

A Way to Victory was originally published privately by Ochiai-s. through Keiseisha of Tokyo; this text under review is a republication in the US of that text; this is why I have listed the year of publication in the title as "1996/2001."

The publisher's blurb, that accompanies the book on both <> and <>, mentions that Ochiai-s. worked on the translation for seven years. What it does not say is that apparently he was not able to interest any US publishers in his manuscript during the mid-1990's (4), so Sensei decided to make it available on a limited basis by publishing it privately. At the end of the 1990's though, there was renewed interest, and Overlook Press, who published the first English translation by Mr. Harris in 1974, picked up this new translation for publication. I believe that something about the character of the man is revealed in the fact that when faced with a stack of rejections, he decided to take the road less traveled, and do it himself rather than let the manuscript, the fruit of his long labors, languish.


Let me reiterate that although this is probably not "the definitive translation" (5), it is certainly the new standard against which all future translations will be judged in my opinion. The translator and commentator, although well known as a Karate-ka, provides insights that can only be arrived at after a long period of training with the sword, having been trained by one or more sword masters. If you have to buy only one translation of Gorin no Sho, then this is the one to get.

Post Script.

At first, this particular translation seems to come out of left field. How can a "mere Karate guy," even if he is Japanese, translate this very difficult text with any sort of insight? -
that's basically what ran through my mind when I first heard the announcement. At face value the answer is quite simple - he cannot. However, if that same "guy" is also a highly trained swordsman, even in an obscure style, then that answer changes dramatically. I have seen enough evidence to convince me that Sensei is as talented with the sword as he is with his hands and feet.

I have received an invitation to talk with Sensei about his background and his training, and I pondered the possibility of rolling that information into this review. However, in the interest of time, I have decided to keep this review separate from any sort of interview that may arise out of our meeting; this review like all my reviews needs to stand on its own merit relatively uncluttered with extraneous information. I look forward to meeting with Sensei (6), and I hope to be able to produce highlights of his sword style and of the training that he received in either an interview or biographic format.


Miyamoto, Musashi

  1. A Book of Five Rings: A Guide to Strategy, translated by Victor Harris, The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY. 96 pp.
  1. The Book of Five Rings: Gorin no Sho, translated with Commentary by Nihon Services Corp. (Bradford J. Brown, Yuko Kashiwagi, William H. Barrett, and Eisuke Sasagawa), Bantam Books, New York. 116 pp.
  1. The Book of Five Rings including Family Traditions on the Art of War by Yagyu Munenori, translated by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, Boston. 114 pp.

Ochiai, Hidy
1979        The Essence of Self-Defense, Contemporary Books, Chicago. 210 pp.

1986        Hidy Ochiai's Living Karate, Contemporary Books, Chicago. 153 pp.

1991        Hidy Ochiai's Complete Book of Self-Defense, Contemporary Books, Chicago. 340 pp.

1996        A Way to Victory: The Annotated Book of Five Rings, Keiseisha, Tokyo.

  1. Hidy Ochiai's Self-Defense for Kids: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, Contemporary Books, Chicago. 218 pp.

Sosnowski, Raymond

  1. "Prelude to Translation, or Translation Prior to the Acquisition of Foreign Language Skills, Using Gorin no Sho as an Example," manuscript dated 21 March 1999, 27 pp.
  2. "Book Review: Samurai Zen by Scott Shaw," Journal of Japanese Sword Arts #106, 12(3-4), 23-25, March/April.

Taylor, Kimberley A. C.
1994/95        "Niten Ichi Ryu: The Sword of Miyamoto Musashi," Furyu, 1(3), 27-33, Winter.

  1. Niten Ichi Ryu: the Sword of Musashi Miyamoto, Seidokai Press, Guelph, Ontario, 84 pp.


  1. Originally submitted to the [now defunct] Journal of Japanese Sword Arts in 2001.
  1. My initial reaction to these anecdotes was puzzlement - what was the purpose of including them? However, it occurred to me after reading about the first half of this book that they, in fact, dovetailed nicely with his various Analyses.
  1. I have since learned that this was not entirely true through recent (17 February 2002) conversations with Dr. Benjamin H. Hazard (hachidan/hanshi Kendo; sandan Kyudo; sandan Naginata), professor emeritus of the History Department at San Jose State University, who legally trained in Kendo during the American Occupation of Japan after WWII while he was serving in the US Army.
  1. Recall that the Cleary translation had just been published in 1993; furthermore, just the Musashi part of that book was republished as a Shambhala Pocket Classic in 1994.
  1. In the time between writing the original review (8 July 2001) and making the first set of revisions (23 April 2002), I have come to the conclusion, given the kind of text that Gorin no Sho is, that there never will be a "definitive translation." It is my current opinion simply that "this is as good as it gets" - future results will be different, but not any better. I believe that it is time to move on, and to start translating the lesser known but more useful texts written by other Japanese sword masters on swordsmanship rather than spending any more time and effort on a task with so little additional merit.
    At the time of writing the original review, I had planned to attempt to conduct one or more interviews during the second half of 2001, but it was not to be. After completing the original review, the rest of 2001 was actually spent in an effort to relocate from New Hampshire to Maryland, which was finally completed on 8 December 2001 (the effects of those tragic events of 11 September 2001 on the travel and housing markets added new delays to our efforts - there would be no quick relocation for us); it is not surprising that we are still not completely unpacked. My current plan is to conduct one or more interviews during the second half of 2002 if possible.

TIJ Sept 2002