Did Miyamoto Musashi Say Something Like "There is nothing outside of yourself..."?

I am not a life coach!

Introduction

Aside from sourcing so-called "Bruce Lee quotes," I usually don't pay much attention to other sayings attributed to martial artists. I ran into this quote yesterday, however, and it triggered my radar:

"There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself."

The quote is attributed to Miyamoto Musashi, the famous Japanese swordsman who was the topic of the first official Martial History Team podcast episode.

The question is, did he say anything like this?

The Source

The Martial Artist's Book of Five Rings, 1994

The source of this saying is easy enough to find. It appears in the book first published by Tuttle in 1994 as The Martial Artist's Book of Five Rings, by Steve Kaufman. The subtitle says "The definitive interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi's classic book of strategy."

Since 2004, Tuttle has sold it as Musashi's Book of Five Rings.

The saying of interest appears in the last chapter, "The Book of No-Thing."

About Kaufman's "Translation"

Kaufman writes the following in a preface titled "About the Translation":

"The majority of translations of Musashi's work available on the market are little more than intellectual exercises in translating Japanese to English. They do not adequately express the feeling required to study life and death confrontations and therefore fall short of the mark.

The present work has been done with the purpose of clearing up the misconceptions of naive Westerners and Easterners as to the 'real' purpose of the Five Rings.

It explains in depth, with additional definition, the truths that must be comprehended before it is possible to come to terms with the teachings of Musashi...

With deep reverence and profound homage to the master, I take full responsibility for the interpretation of all concepts presented herein." (emphasis added)

The publisher's description says:

"Famed martial artist and bestselling author Stephen Kaufman has translated this classic without the usual academic or commercial bias, driving straight into the heart of Musashi's martial teachings and interpreting them for his fellow martial artists." (emphasis added)

The bold terms used here will be important later in the post.

Real Translations

If I could read 17th century Japanese, I would "simply" find the original text, 五輪書, Go Rin no Sho, and compare it to what Kaufman wrote. As I cannot do that, I decided to research translations, and find several that appeared authoritative.

One resource I found useful was The Transmission of Musashi - An analysis of translation methods and differences in "The Book of Five Rings" by Michael Bengtsson, published in 2013.

I found text for four recent and well-respected translations:

The Book of Five Rings: A Classic Text on the Japanese Way of the Sword, translated by Thomas Cleary, Shambala, 1993.

The Book of Five Rings, translated by William Scott Wilson, Shambala, 2002.

Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings, by Kenji Tokitsu, translated by Sherab Chodzin Kohn, Weatherhill, 2006.

The Complete Musashi: The Book of Five Rings and Other Works, translated by Alexander Bennett, Tuttle, 2018.

There are a few others available online, but these four are sufficient to answer my original question.

In the following sections, I will present the text of the entire fifth chapter of Musashi's book. As you will see, each is only around 400 words. I've color coded equivalent sections across each translation, so the red text in one translation appears to be similar to the red text in another translation. I tried to paste the text itself, but the formatting was a mess. I ended up posting images, which are sufficient to make the point.

Thomas Cleary

Thomas Cleary's Translation

Cleary's translation is 325 words.

Musashi Chapter 5, Cleary

William Scott Wilson

William Scott Wilson's Translation
Wilson's translation is 402 words.

Musashi Chapter 5, Wilson

Kohn's Translation of Tokitsu

Sherab Chodzin Kohn's Translation of Kenji Tokitsu

Kohn's translation of Tokitsu is 385 words.

Chapter 5, Kohn's Translation of Tokitsu

Alexander Bennett

Alexander Bennett's Translation

Bennett's translation is 375 words.

Chapter 5, Bennett

On the Four Translations

As you can see, all four translations range from 325 to 402 words, with Cleary's being the most terse, and Wilson being the most verbose. I highlighted nine different sections in each. I started with the easy parts, like the last sentence, and moved from there to other parts.

Certain elements are easy to pick out -- sections mentioning two aspects of the mind, or mentions of Buddhism. Others are more difficult. I didn't try to match every sentence, but most of the chapter is mapped. After reading each, you will have a sense of what the author is trying to convey.

Steve Kaufman

Kaufman's "Translation"

Now let's look at Kaufman's version. In this edition, I tried to map the sections using the same colors. I also changed the color of some sections to light gray. Those light gray sections have nothing at all in common with the four previous translations. The quote in question appears in bold.


Chapter 5, Kaufman


Kaufman's version is 814 words.

Analysis of Kaufman

Kaufman's text is double the size of the other four translations. I was generous with the matches I made, and formatted as normal text large sections that were still dubious but possibly related to Musashi's writings. The gray text, however, shows that Mr. Kaufman invented the bulk of the chapter.

The saying in question appears in bold in light gray. There is nothing at all like it in any of the four serious translations of The Book of Five Rings.

Similar material invented material is easy to spot. There is nothing about "koans" or "Mu" or "perfection" in the four translations.

The conclusion is obvious: Steve Kaufman invented the saying "There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself." Musashi was not a life coach.

Conclusion

The following comment from a 1995 mailing list post by Professor Phillip Fellman sums up the situation:

"I took a look at Steve Kaufman's so-called translation of Musashi this Summer, and would have been far more comfortable if it had simply been titled Steve Kaufman's book of 5 Rings.

Why bring Musashi into it at all.  From a scholarly point of view I think it is both unethical and
misleading to call it a "translation" and I resent Kaufman's cavalier dismissal of earlier translations as simply being exercises in transcribing kanji." (emphasis added)

Fellman is right. If the book were called "Kaufman's Five Rings," I would have fewer problems with it. I would still not be happy with his characterization of his work as "clearing up the misconceptions of naive Westerners and Easterners as to the 'real' purpose of the Five Rings." Subsequent research (cited in the Appendix to this post) questions whether Kaufman has the necessary language skills, and hints at his admission that he didn't translate the book at all.

If anyone wants to quote Musashi, I recommend excerpts from the four translations cited here. If you want to read a martial artist's interpretation of Musashi, I have a copy I could lend.

Appendix: Previous Analysis of Kaufman

I'd like to share a few other sources which informed this research.

Extracts from letters written by Donn F. Draeger to Robert W. Smith. Letters in the Joseph R. Svinth collection, reprinted courtesy of Robert W. Smith and Joseph R. Svinth



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Comments

  1. thanks, this immediately cleared up my radar which detected a quote that didn't seem to be from the book of five rings..which I have read and of which I have a copy, probably thomas cleary but I'd have to check..

    ReplyDelete
  2. thanks, this immediately cleared up my radar which detected a quote that didn't seem to be from the book of five rings..which I have read and of which I have a copy, probably thomas cleary but I'd have to check..

    ReplyDelete
  3. thanks, this immediately cleared up my radar which detected a quote that didn't seem to be from the book of five rings..which I have read and of which I have a copy, probably thomas cleary but I'd have to check..

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is a false quote, one example could simply be F1 drivers using telemetry to improve their skill without which they would never be able to get to level of other drivers, finding almost perfect lap time requires source from otuside, if they only would seek improvement from within they would never achieve such level. Horrible and not true quote, romantic but foolish

    ReplyDelete
  5. Can you include what Groff's passage was for comparison?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, I was not able to share pictures in this comment but I posted them to FB, IG, and Twitter. Here is the Twitter link:

    https://twitter.com/martialhistoryt/status/1517327410466807809

    Enjoy!

    ReplyDelete

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