Miyamoto Musashi’s Hyoho Sanju Go Kajo – “Thirty Five Instructions On Strategy”

Musashi began to write this text in 1641, for Lord Hookawa two eyars before beginning to write The Book Of Five Rings – which can be looked at as a derivative of The Thirty Five Instructions.

I write for the first time here, in your honor, on my School of Two Swords, which is the result of many years of training. Considering that it is you I am addressing, this text is insufficient to communicate that which is difficult to say.

It deals with how one must handle oneself with a sword in the strategy that you usually practice. I write below about the principal aspects of this in the way that they come to my mind.


1. Why I Named My School “School of Two Swords”

Among the people also, a sailor with a rudder or oars or a farmer with a spade and a hoe each in his way succeeds in accustoming himself to his action. You too can acquire strength through regular exercise.

Nonetheless, it is appropriate for each person to choose a sword that corresponds to his strength.


2. The Manner of Understanding the Way of Strategy

The way is identical for group strategy and for individual strategy. I am writing here about individual strategy, but it is appropriate to look at this keeping in mind, to take an example, the image of a general— the limbs correspond to vassals and the torso corresponds to soldiers and to the people.

It is thus that one must govern the country and one’s own body.

In this sense I say that the way is the same for group strategy and for that of the individual. To practice strategy it is necessary to integrate the whole of one’s body, without having any imbalances.

Nobody is strong and nobody is weak if he conceives of the body, from the head to the sole of the foot, as a unity in which a living mind circulates everywhere equally.


3. The Way of Holding the Sword

After a brief description of the way of holding the sword, similar to that in the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water), Musashi continues:


Life and death exist for the sword as well as for the hand.

When you adopt a guard position or parry an attack, if you forget to slash your opponent, your hand is going to forget an essential dynamic and will become fixed.

That is what is called a “dead hand.” A living hand is one that does not become fixed in a gesture. You will then be at ease with the possibility of slashing properly, since both the sword and the hand will be adapting flexibly to successive actions. I call that “living wrists.”

The wrist must not be slack, the elbow must not be too tense nor too bent.

A sword should be held with tension in the lower part of the arm muscles and relaxation in the upper part of these muscles. You should examine this well.


4. Posture

It is appropriate to hold the head neither lowered nor raised. The shoulders are neither raised nor contracted. The belly is forward but not the chest. The buttocks are not drawn in.

The knees are not fixed. The body is placed in a facing position, so that the shoulders appear broad. The posture of strategy should be well examined so that it also becomes one’s ordinary posture.


5. Movement of the Feet

6. The Way of Looking
This is almost identical to the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water, “The Way of Looking in Strategy”).


7. Sizing up the Ma

Different schools give different instructions on the way to assess the ma, but I find that they tend to fix or rigidify your strategy; that is why I advise you not to take into consideration what you have learned before.

Whatever the discipline may be, it is by repeating exercises that you arrive at the point of being able to assess the ma.

In general you should think that when your sword reaches your opponent, he can also reach you. When you want to kill an opponent, you have a tendency to forget your own body. You must reflect well on this.


Let us recall that ma is not exactly distance but is a description of the space-time of a relationship.

Ma also refers to the action of the mind by which this spatial and temporal phenomenon is grasped.

In this text Musashi is doubtless alluding to the habits acquired by Lord Hosokawa in the Yagyu ryu.


8. Regarding State of Mind

The mind should be neither solemn nor agitated, neither pensive nor fearful; it should be straight and ample.

This is the state of mind that should be sought after. The will should not be heavy, but the depth of one’s awareness should be; in this way you make your mind like water that reacts appropriately to shifting situations.

Whether it is a drop or an ocean with blue depths, it is water. You should examine this well.


9. Knowing the Three Levels of Strategy

Someone who adopts guard positions in strategy and displays different guard positions while handling the sword sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, practices strategy of a low level.

Someone who has refinement in strategy and who appears magnificent due to the subtlety of his techniques, who is a master of the cadences and has an elegant bearing, practices at an intermediate level.

The supreme strategy appears neither strong nor weak, neither slow nor fast, neither magnificent nor bad, but broad, straight, and calm. You should examine this well.

In Musashi’s text the three levels— low, intermediate, and high (or supreme)— are expressed by the terms ge, “low,” chu, “intermediate,” and jo, “high.” When these words are associated, the usual order is jo-chu-ge; this expression refers to level or quality.

10. A Graduated Cord Measure

You must always have a graduated cord measure in your mind.

If you measure your opponent by adjusting the cord to him, you will be able to ascertain clearly his strength and weakness, his straightness and crookedness, where he is relaxed and where he is tense. With this measure you must size up all aspects of your opponent— round, square, long, short, crooked, or straight. You should examine this well.


“A graduated cord measure,” ito gane: Gane is the connecting form of the word kane, which means “metal ruler”; the expression refers to a cord that is used as a measure.


11. The Pathway of the Sword

Without knowing the pathway of the sword, you cannot handle it freely. You cannot properly slash your opponent if you put too much force into it, if you do not have a sense of the back and side of the blade, if you shake the sword around like a knife or a spoon for serving rice. You must train in hitting your opponent well, always knowing the pathway of the sword and moving it calmly, following its weight.


12. The Strike and the Hit

This is almost identical to the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water).


13. The Three Kinds of Sen


This is almost identical to the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Fire).


14. Getting Past a Critical Passage

You often find yourself in a situation where you and your opponent can reach out and touch each other. In this situation, you strike. And if you see before finishing the strike that your opponent is in the process of avoiding your sword, get up as close as possible to him, moving your body and your feet.


If you get past this critical moment, you are in no danger. For this you must understand well what I have written concerning how to take the initiative.


15. The Body Replacing the Sword

This idea is developed more completely in the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water).

16. The Two Steps


You should move your feet in two movements (one foot, then the other) in making a single strike. This is what I call “the two steps.”

When you parry, pressing on your opponent’s sword, or when you move forward or backward, you must move your feet in two steps, as though one foot were taking over from the other. If you move with a single step when making a strike, your body will be held by this movement and it will be difficult for you to react immediately for the next movement.

Ordinary walking is the basis for the two steps. You should examine that well.


17. Breaking the Sword with Your Feet

This is almost identical to the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Fire).

18. Leaning on the Shadow

Here is what I call “leaning on the shadow.” If you observe clearly what is happening in the body of your opponent, you can discern where his mind is excessively full and where it is absent.

If you place your sword on the shadow of the place where his mind is absent, while at the same time vigilantly watching the place where it is overly full, your opponent’s cadence will be disturbed, and your victory will be facilitated by this.

Nonetheless, it is important never to miss a strike as a result of attaching your mind to your opponent’s shadow. This must be worked out.

19. Moving Your Shadow

This idea is more completely developed in the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Fire).

20. Disconnecting the Cord

There are situations in which it seems you are attached to your opponent by a cord that is pulling you together. At this point you disconnect the cord. You must disconnect it without delay, as much with your body as with your sword, as much with your feet as with your mind. It will be easy for you to disconnect it if you make use of that which your opponent does not have in mind. This must be worked out.

21. The Teaching of the Small Comb

The idea of the small comb is to disentangle. You have a small comb in your mind and you should disentangle yourself each time your opponent snags you with a thread. Snagging with a thread and pulling with a cord are similar, but pulling is strong and snagging is weaker. You should examine that well.

22. Recognizing a Gap in a Cadence

Avoid in a cadence should be discerned in relation to your opponent, who could be either fast or slow. When you are fighting a slow opponent, without moving your body at all and without letting him see the beginning of your sword movement, you strike him fast on the basis of the void. This is the cadence “in one” (ichi hyoshi or hiotsu hyoshi).
Against a fast opponent, you feint a strike with your body and with your mind, your opponent will move, and you will strike after his movement. This is the double hyoshi for passing over the top, koshi.

Your body is ready to strike, your mind and your sword are kept back, you strike with force starting from the void— at the instant when a gap (ma) arises in the will of your opponent. This is the “strike of nonthought” (munen muso).

When your opponent is ready to strike or parry, you make a striking movement that is deliberately slow, braking the movement during its trajectory, and you strike at the point where a void (ma) appears in his attention. That is the delayed cadence (okure hyoshi). You should examine that well.

The term ma is used here in the sense of a gap or a void in perception.

23. Holding Down on the Headrest

24. Recognizing the State of Things

25. Becoming Your Opponent

The ideas in the previous three articles are developed more completely in the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Fire).

26. Holding and Letting Go of One’s Mind

Depending on the situation and the moment, you must either hold your mind or let go of it.

In general, when wielding a sword, you must launch your will but hold on to the depth of your mind. When you strike your opponent with certainty, you must let go of your mind deep down and hold your will.

These two states of mind, holding and letting go, can take on different forms, depending on the situation. This must be worked out well.

“Holding the mind,” and “letting go of the mind” in Musashi’s text translate zan shin and ho shin, respectively. These terms are used in contemporary martial arts.

27. The Chance-Opening Blow

28. Paste and Lacquer

29. Body of the Autumn Monkey

30. Competition in Size

The ideas in the previous four articles are developed more completely in the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water).

31. The Door Teaching (Toboso)

When you are glued to your opponent, take a position in which you straighten up your body and accentuate its breadth, as if you were covering the sword and the body of your opponent with your body, without leaving any gap between him and you.

Then pivot, keeping your profile quite straight and making it as narrow as possible. Then deliver a powerful blow to your opponent’s chest with your shoulder so as to knock him over. You must train well in this.

Regarding “the door teaching,” toboso no oshie, toboso refers to the mechanism for holding in place and closing a door that pivots on a central axis. It is composed of two pivot points situated in the middle of the door on the floor and above the door.

32. The General and His Troops

This is almost identical to the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water, “The General Knows His Soldiers”).

33. The Guard without a Guard

This idea is developed more completely in the Gorin no sho (the Scroll of Water, “The Teaching of the Guard without a Guard”).

34. The Body of a Rock

The body of a rock is the state of an unmoving mind, powerful and large.

Something inexhaustible that comes from the universal principle exists in the body. It is through this that the power of the mind resides in every living being. The grass and trees, which do not have a consciousness, are powerfully rooted in the earth.

This mind is also found in the rain and the wind. You must examine well what is meant by “the body of a rock.”

35. Spotting Opportunities

You must know how to spot opportunities: those that come sooner or later, the opportunity to escape or not escape. In my school the ultimate teaching consists in spontaneous emanation of the universal energy, jiki tsu.

The details of this teaching are given through oral transmission.

All reasons and principles come from emptiness. The meaning of this sentence is impossible to explain— be so good as to reflect on it yourself.

I have described above the principal aspects of my conception of strategy and state of mind in thirty-five articles.

A number of sentences are inadequate, but it all has to do with what I have already explained to you. I have not written down the technical details of my school, which I teach you directly and orally. If you run across an obscure passage, be so kind as to permit me to explain it to you directly.

The auspicious day of the second month of the eighteenth year of Kanei [1641]
Shinmen Musashi Genshin