Book Report: The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi (~1643/1645, 2005)

Book coverThis book actually includes two works. The title work and A Hereditary Book on the Art of War by Yagyū Munenori circa 1632. Each work runs under a hundred pages, so just having one would be a very thin book indeed.

The title work lays out the basics for Musashi’s martial arts school. He became a prominent sword fighter, clearly having defeated all his enemies until he retired from the sword-fighting life and founded a school. The five rings in the title are Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and No Scroll. In Earth Scroll, he discusses the science of martial arts; in the Water Scroll, he discusses his own school and its practices; in the Fire Scroll he talks about battle–whether it’s one-on-one or a battle between armies, the principles are the same; in the Wind Scroll, he discusses the other schools and why they fall short; and in Emptiness Scroll, he talks about embracing the teachings so much that one leaves the teachings behind, which is a very Buddhist thought, but it’s blended a bit with Taoism.

His martial art is swordfighting, so everything is geared to that end–not empty hand stuff, although that is mentioned briefly. Mushashi favors fighting with two swords, a katana in the dominant hand and a short sword in the off-hand, but the book does not really go into drills for it–for that, you would have to join the school, of course. He also says a couple of things that go counter to what my school teaches–he mentions putting the weight on your heels (which I do too often anyway–I shall have to attribute this to the teachings of Mushashi instead of bad habits if called out on it) and not making a sound when striking (which I don’t do, either, I don’t picture myself as a “Hai-ya!” kind of man).

Also, the book is deadly serious. Everything you do should be focused on killing your opponent. I picture the school as something like the bad guys’ training programs in kung fu films: make a mistake, and the headmaster kills you.

After many of the lessons, such as they are, he tells you to dwell upon what you have learned. So even this translation from seventeenth century Japanese seems to be, like the other martial arts books with pictures that I read, something for existing students to take away and use for review.

The second piece, A Hereditary Book on the Art of War only a bit dwells on the work from Sun Tzu. Instead, it’s a bit of a mishmash of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and lessons from Musashi (although this work was written earlier). So it talks about swordplay, but it also talks about emptying the mind, following The Way, and obeying authority–the author himself was high in one of the Shogunates, so of course he would blend in some Confucian thought.

At any rate, it does not hold together as well as The Book of the Five Rings as it kind of wanders and is chock full of stuff like this:

Voidness is the eye of Buddhism. There is a distinction between false voidness and real voidness. False voidness is a simile for nothingness. Real voidness is genuine emptiness, which is the emptiness of the mind. Although the mind is like empty space insofars as it is formless, the one mind is the master of the body, s the performance of all actions is in the mind.

So a lot more, erm, philosophical than practical.

I don’t know that I learned a whole lot practiceable from this book–I mean, most of my actions already were directed to crushing my enemies, driving them before me, and hearing the lamentations of their women, so that’s not a new thing. But if I’m going to slowly get into Nipponophilia (one book in 2018, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai, and one book in 2020, Samurai Warriors, is definitely a slow burn indeed, although I can spell samurai right the first time consistently now), I need to read the seminal texts.

Also, this book counts as the Translated category in the Winter 2021 Reading Challenge. And, having read the source, perhaps I can complete The Martial Artist’s Book of the Five Rings which I started reading at stoplights on the way home from ABC Books in October 2018 but did not finish. I read Stephen Kaufman’s Zen and the Art of Stickfighting last December, which probably brought these books to the top of my mind recently. That and the need to read something translated for the reading challenge.

So, in summation, a good book if you are into Japanese history, the history of martial arts, or eastern thought (especially the blending of philosophical/religious traditions). Not a hard read, not a long read (166 pages which includes end notes for each work and a bibilography for further reading). But, although the cover says “Embraced by many contemporary readers as a manual on how to succeed in life.” —Library Journal, that’s overstating it by quite a margin. A couple pages on footwork on different terrain requires a lot of analogous thought to apply those lessons to everyday life. Maybe the emphasis on strike-and-return–don’t spend time inspecting where you’ve struck, don’t leave your sword (or striking appendage) extended after the strike itself, and don’t watch and admire your home runs–run the bases like it’s a bloop single-maybe-a-double. But most of the lessons are either geared to swords or teaching swords or so nebulous that they’re not discrete lessons at all.

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You Have Been Warned!

If you ever see a kitty looking all cute and friendly, stretched out like it wants a belly rub:

Do not pet the kitty belly! It is a hand trap!

You will be bitten and back-raked!

House cats, being predators who unfortunately are very small, must use their very cuteness to lure their prey to its doom!

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That’s Not Education’s Job

Statue task force recommends sign to contextualize Jefferson:

A sign describing both Thomas Jefferson’s accomplishments and shortcomings beside his statue on the University of Missouri campus is the main recommendation of a task force charged with putting the statue in context.

The task force was created by UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi in July 2020 after student Roman Leapheart launched an online petition to get the statue removed. Choi met with Leapheart, but Choi said the statue wouldn’t be removed. Members of the UM System Board of Curators later said it was their decision, though the decision wasn’t made in a public meeting.

I kind of wonder what education is for if not to teach history which itself provides context.

Maybe kids these days just need a meme to LOL at or something.

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I’ve Called Beef By Name

Spotted amongst things Wirecutter has posted on Facebook:

You know who is bothered by knowing the name of a cow? A soft city person. Which is not to say that I’m a Hank Williams, Jr., certified country boy, but I do read Ozarks Farm and Neighbor magazine, and I know where beef comes from. But most ranchers have too many cattle to name individually anyway.

When I was a bagger, ahem utility clerk (which pays better than a bagger, but only because minimum wage had gone up), the Shop Rite where I worked tagged itself as the Best Meat in Town, and every year, the owner would buy the best blue ribbon award-winning cattle from the state fair (the Wisconsin State Fair is held in Milwaukee, just across town), and they would butcher the meat in-store and sell it.

So, yeah, every year around September, I knew the names of the steaks and hamburger coming down the conveyor belt. And I am pretty sure I had my portion of Outlaw, the winner one year. And that’s when I was a city boy, before I thought I might become a hobby farmist. Before I almost convinced my beautiful wife that we could raise a couple cattle, since normal people down here do that. Before someone she worked with told her that she (my beautiful wife) would never be able to kill an animal she had looked in the eyes (come on, we send it “to go live on a farm in the country” for that). It’s not like we have to bang Little Nell (the cattle would have literary names, of course, like the cats) with a hammer and process the meat ourselves.

Which is why, I guess, if I am ever to raise cattle at Nogglestead, we will have to only assign them number, decownizing them, and put hoods over their heads. Further decownizing them, I suppose.

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The School’s Name Itself Is Not Problematic? Not Yet.

Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas supports petition to change SPS mascot, traditions

The mascot in question is the Chiefs, which is an English word meaning the head of a tribe.

The name of the school, which is also named after the tribe, is not problematic and warranting changing yet–although I am surprised given how far we’ve come–San Francisco is in a frenzy to rename schools already (link via Instapundit).

Gentle reader, I made mock of this premise almost thirty years ago when Marquette changed its mascot from the Warriors. I got an email from the school yesterday with the subject line Major Announcement at Marquette University. I opened it, sort of expecting news that the school, which has not been making me proud recently, had broken with the Catholic Church or was renaming itself to get away from a dead white European proselytizer. (No; apparently a guy who graduated eight years before I did just donated $31,000,000–jeez, what have I done with my life? All I have done is endow one small scholarship–not at Marquette, but in Marquette (Michigan)).

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Where Life Intersects Again With Lileks, Again

Yesterday, Lileks’s Bleat included an image of a Modern Woodman lodge in Mineral Well, Texas:

As you might remember, gentle reader, I inherited a box of my grandfather’s old books when my aunt passed away a little over a year ago. They have remained in the box as they include a fourteen volume (plus index) set of The Classics in Greek and Latin from 1909 that I really don’t have shelf space for as a unit. Although I did get the books that I stacked on it during the great ABC Books ordering frenzies during the lockdown of Spring 2020 moved up into the shelves, the box has remained on my office floor the whole thirteen months. And I’ve had to move it around to keep it from the background of video computer calls during that period. The number of which has been increasing as I’ve been interviewing for other work and presumably will continue once I accept an offer since everybody does video calls now.

I recently ordered a small roll of clear book-covering to put over the covers of some of my older works, especially the ones I hope to read some day–I recently covered a nineteenth century collection of poetry with an old paper bag the way we did old text books back in the days when public school kids learnt something instead of playing computer games all day on suddenly imperative expensive school budget line items (get offa my lawn).

So I cracked open this box and contemplated covering these books first and making room for them somewhere on the read shelves, when I discovered that the box also included a 1915 edition of The Official Ritual of the Modern Woodmen:

I don’t think my grandfather was a Woodman; the book itself contains a note indicating the acceptance of the presumed previous (to my grandfather) into the organization into 1891–given this is in a 1915 edition of the ritual, the fellow must have been in it for a couple of decades at least.

Wait a minute–upon further review, the name on the note is a family name, so this came from a relative somewhere along the line, but not my grandfather’s side. So I inherited this book from my grandmother through my aunt.

But, yeah, life intersects with Lileks.

Life, apparently, also intersects with ABC Books, as the book also included a copy of Pope’s poems, Illustrated:

This, although smaller, will go nicely with the Longfellow and Tennyson. I have a couple of reading copies of Pope, some younger only by about 20 years but in better shape for reading, so I will likely shelve it before or after covering it.

I kind of hedged my bets. I ordered 10 yards of covering material from Amazon, where apparently sellers there take an industrial roll of Brodart wrapping and cut it into smaller pieces to sell at a lower price than a whole roll–but the sum of the cut pieces will add up to more than the whole roll, natch. But I’m not sure that 10 yards will cover all the Greek and Latin classics–there are fourteen in all, and I have not done this before, so maybe a yard per book is not so outside my skill level (that is, incompetence).

Maybe I should bit the bullet and buy one or more of the $150 rolls and a roll dispenser or two if I’m going to do this seriously on my collection or just the better bits of it.

More likely, though, I will attempt to cover the Pope and maybe the Woodsmen book and leave the box on my office floor for another year or two and the remainder of the roll on my desk for almost as long. After all, although my life sometimes intersects with Lileks’s Bleats, my habits more often intersect with Andy Rooney’s.

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What He Said

Adaptive Curmudgeon said:

Ouch! Hurts right? Well, time for some introspection. If you’re in a spiral of despair because shit’s getting weird, maybe it’s because you’re hoping for some external force to save you. It doesn’t work like that. You have to save yourself.

How do you start? Easy. Build something.

Pissed off about Frankenfoods? Plant a garden.

Pissed off about ammo prices? Load your own.

Pissed off about life in general? Stack some firewood.

Just build something.

I won’t say I’ve been spending less time on the computer than I have in the past–I still work on one, you know, but I’ve been spending less time on blogs than in the past and my social media use has fallen to checking in on Facebook every day or so to see if someone has reached out to me for something.

But I’m trying to refocus on meatspace more than I have in the last months of last year. And I have a garage full of materials for projects that I should really jump on soon, perhaps even before it warms up. We’re at the mess part of the cycle in the garage, where I clean it up, maybe do a project at the workbench there, but other things come up so we tend to dump things on the workbench, on the side bench, or on the floor in front of the shelves or on random shelves to be sorted later. Then, I get into my head to clean up the garage so I can work in the garage on the various projects accruing there (“How’s that lamp repainting coming?” you’re too polite to ask). I spend a day or so cleaning and organizing and sorting, do a project, and then the cycle continues.

I am only going to be able to use the “my boys can’t put anything away” excuse for a little while yet, but it’s true that they do tend to just scatter their outdoor effects like Rip Taylor (PBUH) and confetti. But I am not much better.

So enough typing for now. I have real things to do.

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Book Report: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891, 2007)

Book coverWell, it’s clear where I should slot this book on the 2021 Winter Reading Challenge. I mean, it’s contemporary to its time–the 1890s–so it’s not historical. It is set in and around London, so it could be In a Different Country, but come on. This is an LGBTQ+ author even though the author himself would have probably thought the whole thing rubbish, and it’s not an LGBTQ+/- novel because it does not really celebrate those themes as the subject of the book.

As you probably know, the story is about a picture of the eponymous character hidden in the attic that ages while the title character does not. To be honest, I misremembered the name as The Portrait of Dorian Gray. And, SCENE!

Okay, so I had enough from my classical education to know that much. Now that I have read it, I know much more about it. And I rather liked the book. I’m going to give some heavy spoilers below the fold–tell you the whole story, abbreviated, actually–so leave of here if you want (I am just kidding. I have three kinds of readers: 1. Those who hit the blog and probably skip over the book reports; 2. Those of you who come in from RSS feeds and get the whole post without a fold; and 3. Those of you who have a book report due tomorrow and did a quick Internet search for something clever to say and don’t mind the spoilers anyway).

However, come on, you had to know the traitor in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was Dorian Gray, didn’t you? Oops, perhaps I should have put that spoiler beneath the fold. Continue reading “Book Report: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891, 2007)”

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Good Buddhist In Custody (Again)

So I am listening to an audio course lecture series on Buddhism, and it’s from the turn of the century, so it’s holding Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (formerly Burma, but so formerly that I probably don’t have to say that any more, although I probably should explain to public school kids where Burma is, but I won’t–this is the Internet. Look it up.) as an exemplary Buddhist.

I remembered the name, where she was from, and a bit about her doings before I heard the course (even though I went to public school, gentle reader, but that was in the last century, which was a whole different civilization ago). And I wondered if she was still around.

Well, apparently so.

DIVISIVE LEADER Who is Aung San Suu Kyi and why has Myanmar’s leader been arrested?

Apparently, a military coup in Myanmar has swept her government, recently reelected, from power and has returned her to her most famous state, being held prisoner by a military junta.

I will mostly spare you the blogger-stock glib quips. I have only sparsely thought of Myanmar/Burma, so I have no idea what’s going on there. They allege corruption and fraudulent elections, but that’s very common. Even in the United State in this new civilization we’ve got.

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