|Musashi's painting of Hotei watching two |
cocks facing off - this is about as close as
Musashi got to sports, although he did
briefly mention the game commonly
known as kemari - somewhat akin to
hacky sack in Gorin no sho
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are just over as I write this. It might seem strange to suggest a connection between Miyamoto Musashi and what is possibly the most famous international modern sporting event, but a connection there is. As anyone living in Japan is probably aware, the Olympic Games are commonly referred to here as Gorin - the same gorin (or five rings) as The Book of Five Rings or Gorin no Sho. Of course, this is just a coincidence…or is it?
When I first heard the Olympics referred to in this way, I was pleased that I recognised the term from Musashi’s work, and the online searches that brought up results such as ‘Musashi’s Olympic book’, seemed weird but amusing. Five rings are five rings, and the reference to the Olympic symbol was clear enough. Besides, this was about the time that some more serious commentary began to appear on Musashi (beyond occasional articles in Black Belt or Fighting Arts), and some quite well-known names had explained that the gorin of Musashi’s work might more properly be referred to as spheres, or elements, rather than rings. Perhaps, early translators had been influenced by the Olympics? Anyway, I put it to the back of my mind as an interesting cultural peculiarity and thought no more of it. However, with the games being held in Tokyo, it was a coincidence I couldn’t ignore.
|A poster advertising the |
1940 Olympic games
For first use of the term Gorin for the Olympics, we have to go back to 1936 -Japan is looking ahead to the possibility of the first Tokyo Olympics, scheduled for 1940 (Japan pulled out two years later, deciding they needed to devote more of their resources to the war in China), and Nobumasa Kawamoto, sports editor of the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper, had been conducting interviews on the Japanese bid for the 1940 Olympics.
For a newspaper editor, space is an important commodity, and the Olympics was proving to be something of a problem, taking up six characters when rendered into Japanese using the phonetic alphabet (オリンピック), the usual practice with foreign words. Kawamoto had recently been reading the well known literary figure Kan Kikuchi on Gorin no Sho. He was impressed by Kan’s assessment of Musashi as a National treasure who should be counted amongst the great artists and philosophers, and saw parallels with the Olympics, an event that brought together the best athletes from around the world. Not only did the Olympic symbols consist of five rings, but to the Japanese ear, Gorin sounds very much like the first two syllables of Olympics (Orin in Japanese pronunciation, with equal stress on the two syllables).
|Nobumasa Kawamoto (photo courtesy |
of Sasakawa Sports Foundation)
Kawamoto used Gorin in the article ‘Reconstruction of the Capital on the Olympic Flame’ (August 6 1936), and it was quickly picked up by other newspapers, whose editors were pleased to be able to shorten the unwieldy オリンピック. Kawamoto continued to be closely connected with the Olympics, eventually becoming a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee after the war. By then, the use of Gorin had been standard for many years.
Yet even though Gorin is a direct reference to Musashi’s work, Musashi himself might not have recognised the title. He did not, in fact, give his work a title, merely stating, “This treatise is divided into five Ways. The quintessence for each Way is conveyed in five scrolls.” (Bennett’s translation). It seems Gorin no sho was first used by two later teachers of his school to refer to the otherwise untitled document: Nagaoka Naoyuki (who studied directly under Musashi when young, but mainly under his successor, Terao Magonojo) and his one-time attendant, Toyota Masakata, who brought together the teachings of several of Musashi’s students, and became a domain instructor.
It is easy to understand their need to call it something – Masataka was busy collecting all the material he could about Musashi, which he was later to pass on to his son, Masanaga, who wrote one of the major source documents for Musashi lore, the Bukoden. Of course, although it is usually translated as ‘book’ in English, it was actually written as five separate scrolls, Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Void. Early translators may well have known this, despite accessing it in book form themselves, and wisely opted for the euphonious ‘book’ instead of cumbersome alternatives such as ‘treatise’. Once again, the name stuck – The Book of Five Rings.
It is a curious journey for an unnamed text by a 17th century swordsman to a sporting event watched by millions around the world. I suspect that although Musashi may not have entirely disapproved of the motto ‘faster, higher, stronger’ the art he developed was a world away from the sporting achievements that are celebrated at the Olympics.