Book Review: The Book of Five Rings

One thing I have noticed about great leaders, regardless of their industry or occupation, is that they are voracious readers. I am not great, but I am constantly working to get better.

I started to get into audio-books for my long drives and runs, but I had a hard time keeping track of notable quotes or passages. Even with borrowed eBooks from the library, my Kindle notes and highlights disappear at the end of the borrowing period. I will be posting periodic reviews for books I have learned from in the hopes of having a resource to go back to. I hope you will be inspired to go out and read the book, or at least take away some of the lessons I found useful.

The first book I am reviewing here is The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. This book has been mentioned in a few different podcast interviews from successful people in the military, business, and investing. Although the book is written through the lens of battle leadership, there were some great lessons to apply to the modern business world.


Below are some of my highlights and notes, along with a bit of reflection to apply the concept to my life. All text from the book has been indicated as an italicized block quote.

The teacher is as a needle, the disciple is as thread. You must practice constantly.

I have found that constant practice, and even constant learning have really sharpened my skills. The information security space is rapidly evolving, if you can’t keep up with these changes, you will quickly find yourself out of a job. To this end, I have made it a point to always be learning something new. Over the last year or so, I have used industry certification exams to plan this learning. I have identified a certification, made a preparation schedule, and set the exam date. This forces me to stick to my study plan to learn the material by a set date, which keeps procrastination to a minimum.

It will seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.

Keeping with the theme of constant improvement, embrace the challenge. Learning something new is hard for a reason – it is NEW to YOU. Do not get discouraged when you first crack open that new textbook and you feel overwhelmed just reading the introduction. That feeling of helplessness shows that there is a tangible benefit to tackling this new subject, and that you have identified an area where you can truly learn something new. Stay the course and soon enough you will be laughing looking back at your “page one” self vs. “just crushed the exam” self.

The foreman should take into account the abilities and limitations of his men, circulating among them and asking nothing unreasonable. He should know their morale and spirit, and encourage them when necessary.

This seems like it should be common sense, but this was a concept I struggled with transitioning to leadership roles in my athletic career. Luckily, I have been able to use those uncomfortable experiences in my professional life. Working with a team of people means working with many different personalities and skill sets – there can be no cookie-cutter approach to teamwork. Being able to identify the skills and preferences of your teammates will allow you to establish real individual relationships; which in turn will lead to getting the most out of everyone.

This concept should also be applied to giving feedback and constructive criticism. Some folks, like me, want zero “fluff” added, while others will take that as a personal attack. Make sure you are treating people as THEY want to be treated, not how YOU would like to be treated.

You should not have a favourite weapon. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well.

Dealing with various people will surely lead you to potential conflicts based on all the personalities involved. Being able to identify these potential roadblocks, and being able to adapt will play a critical role in your success. There are always different ways to approach a problem, and you should not go barging into a room thinking you have the one and only solution. You may have the best solution based on your reality, but have you considered the perspectives of other people involved?

Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.

This is something I have observed in role models I look up to – they never seem to be flustered, stressed out, or overly worked – yet they have a tremendous output. Seeing this calm demeanor has inspired me to try and emulate the image – even when if feels like every alarm bell possible is going off internally. I realize that projecting this image not only influences how others act around you, but can block out the internal alarms. The saying “fake it ’til you make it” seems to hold true here. When everything feels like it is going wrong, focus on your successes to date, project the image of having been here before, and instill a sense of calm into the team.

Step by step walk the thousand-mile road.

As much as I would like to already be at the peak of life – there is no instant travel. It is important to have goals identified and a plan mapping out how you will get there. The only thing left is to put one foot in front of the other, tackling each incremental goal along the way.

If you have any books you would like to recommend please let me know, I am always looking for a good book!

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