ARTICLE From: Jack Slack: MMA’s Book of Five Rings

ARTICLE From: Jack Slack: MMA’s Book of Five Rings

The way this guy breaks down fights and technique is awesome. For all you martial artists out there, I urge you all to do your research and invest into your martial arts. Whether it comes down to technique, mindset, or physical discipline. 

If you haven’t read The Book of Five Rings .. IT IS A MUST READ!

In the text below, the famous Jack Slack breaks down the Book of Five Rings MMA style!



MMA’s Book of Five Rings: Knowing Collapse, Crushing and Pushing Down the Pillow

Rising from almost complete obscurity—no-one really knows when he was born, in fact his father, Munisai died four years before the most widely accepted date of birth for Musashi—Miyamoto Musashi died a legend in his own time, and the most accomplished duellist in Japan.

Musashi was a ronin—a masterless samurai—in an age when they were considered a nuisance and a danger. Heavily influenced by Buddhism and an understanding that one can find “The Way” in the arts just as one can in The Way of the Sword, Musashi was more than the brute that some imagine him as.

One of Musashi’s sketches.

Musashi engaged in dozens of duels, most notably against his famous rival Sasaki Kojiro, who wielded a “drying pole” sword of unusual length, and against the staff master, Muso Gonnosuke. Musashi’s greatest feat was his creation of the Niten-ryu style of swordsmanship, the first to use both the short and long sword at the same time.

Musashi versus Kojiro.

Reportedly, it was during an ambush in which he was severely outnumbered that Musashi decided he had no intention of dying with one sword hanging uselessly at his waist. Traditionally, the samurai wore two swords (a short sword and a long sword) and used one or the other, with both hands. Musashi taught himself to dual-wield and even throw his swords. However you look at it, the man was a break with tradition.

Musashi’s greatest feat, however, was his scribing of the Go Rin No Sho – The Book of Five Rings. Considered the finest classical text on martial arts despite its description of only a handful of actual swordsmanship techniques. A great deal of the book is about concepts and strategy, and consequently has become—along with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (which we will look at another day)—required reading at a number of business schools.

Today I want to take a look at some of the aspects of combat which Musashi discusses, and which can be readily seen in our combat sports world today. Perhaps it is the vagueness of his writing, perhaps it is the unchanging nature at the core of one-on-one combat, but Musashi’s great text seems to have aged incredibly well in the almost 400 years since it was penned.

Split into five parts (hence, five rings)—Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Emptiness—each scroll focuses on a different element of the martial arts. Today’s ideas will come from the Water (swordsmanship) and Fire (battle strategy) chapters.

The Autumn Leaf Strike

We already spoke about the the idea of the Autumn Leaf Strike. In Musashi’s text, this is striking down on the sword or even on the hand with the sword, in order to force the opponent to drop his weapon. Musashi was also keen on cutting at the arms as his opponents struck. Using both swords allowed Musashi to block or parry with one blade and slash away with the other. This is a principle you will see in Filipino martial arts and other knife fighting systems. But destroying or damaging the opponent’s best weapon is a great strategy even in mixed martial arts.

You will remember that Jon Jones immediately moved to a clinch with Glover Teixeira and repeatedly attempted to tear Teixeira’s shoulder joint. There was no attempt to gain a verbal submission, because the standing Americana is not a controlled, pain compliance technique—it is a destructive technique. Against Glover Teixeira, who really only has a power right hand, the attacks on the right arm really stunted the Brazilian’s chances.

This concept doesn’t need much more attention here, because I covered the idea in Fighting Motives: Life, Death and Humiliation, but it is a nice introduction to classical principles in modern combat, and ties in closely with Touching the Corner which we will talk about next time.

Knowing Collapse

From The Fire Scroll:

“Collapse is common to all things… in the martial arts of one-on-one as well, you grasp the moment of an opponent’s collapse in your opponent’s changing rhythm during the fight. If you are negligent enough to miss this, he will recover and begin anew, and you make no progress”

I don’t know how many times you have seen it, but in a life of watching combat sports I must have seen it a hundred times. A fighter eats a body shot, stops attacking, and is clearly winded. He is broken, he is collapsing, and he is incapable of defending himself, let alone attacking in that instant. Yet time and time again, we see the fighter who has done the hurting not realize.

How many times have you heard Joe Rogan say “that body shot hurt fighter x” and fighter y is doing nothing about it? Rogan sees the drop off in activity, but a fighter rarely sees that. A fighter will often see a change in an opponent’s rhythm or output as the chance of something crazy happening—a change of strategy, rather than a loss of confidence.

Rhythm is a very vague and wishy washy concept in the martial arts and combat sports, but in our clinical, scientific age—it helps to think in terms of volume and numbers. If an opponent’s attacks suddenly drop off, he is hurt, he is taking a breather, or he has run out of ideas. That is the point to take control of the fight. When Musashi speaks of the rhythm of collapse, he is probably talking about the change of pace in a sword fight that hesitation and confusion bring—but we can readily see the principle in the fight world.

Just the other month we saw Kyoji Horiguchi wind his opponent with a front snap kick to the body, and seemingly not realize. Sometimes you can just see it in a fighter’s change of demeanor, they pause for ideas. The same thing happened the first time Chris Weidman checked one of Anderson Silva’s low kicks, Silva looked to have hurt himself a little and took a step back and a little breather. Poker faces are very effective in the martial arts—but the numbers rarely lie. If a fighter stops throwing or slows way down, something is wrong.


Also from The Fire Scroll:

“…once you have confused them and found their weakness, you crush them… If your crushing is weak, they will be able to rally… if your opponent is inferior to you, or his rhythm has broken… it is essential that you crush him immediately, without letting him catch his breath or even letting him glance at you. It is your primary consideration to not let him recover even a little.”

While there are plenty of times that fighters seemingly miss the confusion or fatigue in an opponent—sometimes fighters are given blatant indications that they have their man hurt and completely fail to finish the job. A couple of embarrassing ones have come as fighters have attempted Mark Hunt style walk away knockouts.  I will never forget the ire from Luke Barnatt’s corner in Manchester as he attempted to walk away as he knocked his opponent down, and for a second time his opponent just dived at his legs. Takanori Gomi was also hindered by this style of premature celebration.

“What are ya doing, ya fookin spaz!”

You will hear commentators in boxing continually despair that a fighter is letting his opponent get their thoughts back together after a knockdown. The most glaring example in mixed martial arts history must be Heath Herring versus Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira III. Herring essentially knocked Nogueira out with a high kick, but refused to jump on the Brazilian and deliver the couple of extra punches needed for a stoppage.

Nogueira would not have submitted Heath Herring while reeling from a head kick—I think we can say that with some certainty. Yet Herring, losing the fight up to that point, thought he was doing the smart thing by not jumping into the Brazilian’s highly touted guard. The opportunity obviously didn’t come again—it was a once in a fight chance, and Herring blew it badly and lost the bout on points.

Perhaps the best active fighter encompassing this Crushing mindset is Nate Marquardt. Marquardt is flawed and full of holes on the feet—he’s wild and he gets clipped a lot—but if he does find a moment, he ruthlessly exploits it like no other. It seems as though the whole fight for him is just that wait for a momentary lapse in the opponent’s mind or confidence—and he can recognize it like no-one else when he has someone hurt. Once Marquardt has landed one good punch, he’s in throwing eight limbs like an enraged octopus.

Marquart throws a quick two strike combo, and within a split second recognizes the lack of retaliation or defence from Woodley. He sees that Woodley is thrown off for the moment and follows up brutally.

Marquardt catches his man coming in with a jumping knee and immediately recognizes the opportunity to flurry.

Pressing Down the Pillow

“When he is going to strike, before the word strike could even be pronounced, be intent on suppressing him and prohibit the rest of his action. This is the heart of Pressing Down the Pillow. In ‘attack’ for example, suppress your opponent at the letter a… 

“The mind that thinks ‘suppress this, suppress that’ about an opponent’s actions is also a mind on the defensive… Sustain your action over your opponent so that anything he does comes to nothing. Thus you will be forged in the martial arts.”

Reading that section, I am sure that some of you could not help but think of Cain Velasquez. If I had to describe Cain Velasquez’s style to a laymen, smothering someone with a pillow would be one of my chosen analogies. We talked about this last week when we were discussing Matt Brown—even a great technician becomes pretty much worthless when you take away his chance to move as he is only thinking about it.

I don’t like to talk too much about “imposing your will on the opponent” because a great many sports writers take that as gospel and treat the fight game as a game of will power rather than of clashing strategies and techniques. But Velasquez has truly mastered the art of forcing his game and his pace onto an opponent. Even when his rival, Junior dos Santos, did land some punches in their second and third meeting, they were muffled, Velasquez was already on him. There was no room to move. Velasquez was in with a right hand and ducked into the clinch as Dos Santos was at ‘j’ for ‘jab’.

But Pushing Down the Pillow certainly didn’t mean a grinding engagement for Musashi. In fact he talks about breaking away from grappling and wrestling (because that has always been a big part of life and death swordsmanship). Musashi’s idea of pushing down the pillow was of keeping the opponent’s head down and trying to overwhelm them, which flows into his ideas on crushing. If you aren’t already picking up on it, Musashi was a major proponent of staying on offense rather than fighting on the counter.

Perhaps no performance encapsulates both the idea of Pushing Down the Pillow and of Crushing in mixed martial arts as Fedor Emelianenko’s destruction of Tim Sylvia. From the moment the fight began, Fedor checked Sylvia’s lead hand, leapt in with a left hook, recognized that Sylvia was hurt (as we spoke about in Knowing Collapse), and swarmed all over him with punches. He immediately took the back and choked Sylvia for the finish in under thirty seconds.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, against a dangerous opponent the best thing a fighter can do for himself and his career is test their chin early and go for a quick finish. No-one remembers that we didn’t really see what Sylvia could do against The Last Emperor, folks just remember the laughably short and one sided fight. Fedor was never troubled by talk of a rematch against a genuinely dangerous heavyweight, he was just remembered for his destruction of the former UFC champion.

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