THE LADY OF THE RINGS
Musashi’s Book of Five Rings Interpreted for Women
Stephen F. Kaufman
Author of the world’s best-selling Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings
The phenomenal success of Hanshi Kaufman’s original interpretation of Musashi’s Book of Five Rings was the inspiration that eventually led to the creation of The Lady Of The Rings. A chance meeting of two incredibly diverse human beings led to a collaboration, the results of which came of their own personal relationship. Hanshi Kaufman taught the principles of the “Rings” to Ann Davis, a successful entrepreneur, over a period when she was dealing with issues that occur in every woman’s life. This book expresses Ann’s words, based on Musashi’s universal ideas that override any form of prejudice. It is an expose of a woman coming to terms with her own reality. Bright, witty, pithy, and personal, Ann tells her story without making excuses for herself. Steve Kaufman captures her sensitivity as only a master teacher and writer can.
I sat on the beach watching the gulls soar in and out of the clouds landing on and near the water’s edge as the dogs ran through the sand dunes yelping and barking in their futile attempts to capture the birds. It was now midsummer, and the boats had already come into Newport with what we locals called the “boat people” who would captivate the streets and mansions with their incessant curiosity of how the great wealth makers of the 19th century had lived.
I could not help but laugh at the frustration that grew more evident by the dogs turning in all directions and being unable to manipulate the flock as it landed. Briefly, the two toy poodles began to chase each other as part of their frustration. I laughed heartily, and for a moment considered my own life as an expression of my own confusion in relationships while trying to attain higher levels of my own being in business. I also thought about the amount of men who had come and gone in and out of my life.
Being a hard-boiled realist, I never permitted myself to fall prey to current trends in what was hip or not. I don’t believe in fantasies and only know my life to be singular and without compromise, even when I have had to condescend to the needs of immediate others. As a result, I am considered cold and callous, especially by strangers, though I like to think of myself as a warm and pleasant person.
Bright and charming, when I want to be, I am self-educated and thought of as quite a “handsome” woman; a term that I always felt was antiquated, but nonetheless quite explanatory. To the best of my memory, I always exhibit all of the good graces of a life of relative grandeur won through the hardships I have had to overcome. My childhood did not provide me with any special favors aside from brains and adequate good looks that have carried me through various relations with men and two failed marriages.
While looking at the dogs in their sincere efforts to catch the birds, I thought about the previous evening’s bridge game with friends that eventually turned to the age-old conversation of why women had to constantly put up with unanswered questions about relationships in their business and personal lives. The answers to the difficulties of my friends, and certainly my own self, consistently become a normal part of any evening’s discussions.
I thought about Richard, my current lover, and though I feel very much in love with him, I always wonder why he is unable to commit to me in marriage, even though he admits he loves me as well. He doesn’t seem able to break out of his self-imposed entrapment in his own little world. We share things together and even enjoy the differences of opinion in matters of the arts, theater, and politics. The five years we have been together have been filled with the normal and natural deviation that any relationship endures; we are always able to quell things when matters do get out of hand. He travels a great deal of the time, and I feel that that should be enough to draw us closer to each other. Sometimes it does, but mostly it doesn’t. I am becoming disenchanted with him and wonder if it is time for me to move on with my life. Even if I do “move along,” the next relationship would probably go in the same manner. A self-proclaimed destiny? Perhaps, but oh well, such is life and instinctively I know that something better has to exist.
I smiled at the bright hot sun and looked at my watch realizing that it was now past noon, and it was time to get ready for work; I own a restaurant and have to get the kitchen prepped for the afternoon high tea and early dinner crowd. I built the business from scratch, and because of my eclectic interests, have turned it into a serious destination-dining place. I have recently been awarded a five star rating from a prominent gourmet association, and I am quite proud of my accomplishment. I am able to keep things under control by myself, never having to rely on any outside help, but I have paid dearly for my success in many ways including my emotions and health.
Never one to ask for help where help did not seem to be without great cost to me, there have been many times that I have come close to failure. However, I would dig into my psyche, and with sheer determination, save my pride and joy. Now, as I think about it, I wonder why I couldn’t maintain a relationship and always felt I was in competition with anyone I was involved with, or they succumbed to their inadequacies relative to me.
There has to be someone who could understand me and be sympathetic to my ideals. I simply will not stand for anything else. In my mind and heart, I know I am right. What was that idea I read in a book about independent women? Something about never relinquishing your hold on your own life? Ok, I’m good at that, but why is there always the idea that something was missing?
Calling the dogs, I walked towards my car. I wasn’t in a rush knowing my routine and knowing exactly what had to be done and how my staff was expected to function and behave. The routine had become a set of actions totally without feeling. The lack of passion that was developing was starting to take hold of my whole life. My children had long since left the nest, and even with Richard, I feel alone and sometimes go to the extreme of feeling alienated from everything. Even sex has become too matter of fact, and though he empties himself inside of me, and I am sure he is faithful; I sense that he isn’t concerned with my needs. He has become mechanical, and I have begun to lose respect for him.
I got back to the house and jumped into a delicious bubble bath for a few minutes before dressing for the afternoon and evening. The stereo was playing soft jazz, and as I was preparing to leave, the phone rang and Marisa, one of my wait staff, whined into the phone saying that Garcia, the line cook, had called saying he wouldn’t be in because he had gotten hurt during his karate workout. “Damn,” I said in no uncertain terms. “Ok, I’ll be right down,” and hung up the phone angrily. Now I would have to be line cook as well as hostess. Why was there always idiotic annoyance to have to deal with?
Garcia is a fairly reliable worker, and even though he does have periodic bouts with the bottle, he always does his job. Well, almost always. Tonight is the last night of the week, so I will have at least two days to recuperate from the Saturday night madness. Tomorrow, I promise myself, I will get into the car and take a long drive, maybe to Cape Cod. Richard won’t be home this week, and I will actually relish the time I will have to myself. We’ll speak on the phone and swear eternal love to each other, but somehow I don’t get the thrill that it had originally given me when he did swear his love.
The night was without incident, and when I closed at 1 a.m., I took one last look around the room and the kitchen. Reaching for the light switch in the kitchen, I noticed a book, Musashi’s Book of Five Rings. That had to be one of Garcia’s. Offhandedly, I thought that if Garcia was reading that, then he probably shouldn’t have gotten hurt during his practice. I picked it up and quickly thumbed through it stopping to briefly read subtitles called “attitudes of attack/no-attack,” “becoming the enemy,” “nine principles of strategy,” and other strange looking subjects. Typical macho nonsense, I thought, and roughly put it back on the pile of junk in the corner.
Locking the restaurant, I walked towards the car, carefully looking in both directions as I approached it. Locking the doors, I revved up the motor and put the car in gear, but suddenly stopped for no apparent reason and I went back into the restaurant and retrieved the Book of Five Rings. I didn’t know it then, but the Fates had changed my life.
In my bedroom, I turned on the television for the latest meaningless and boring news about the recent world events and local gossip. The steaming cup of English tea replete with condensed milk waited on my night table. The dogs frittered around nipping at each other and jumped on the bed as I snuggled myself in for the night and set the TV shutoff timer for thirty minutes.
The news was indeed boring, and I wondered why those in power seemed lost in their own self-aggrandizement without concern for the rest of the people. But, what else is new, I thought. The world is what it is, and one has to make the best of conditions. Even Richard, who claims to be astute in the ways of the world, is only interested in himself when it comes down to it. I made the decision to get rid of the encumbrance he had become in my life.
I tossed about for a while and turned off the TV without waiting for the timer to shut it. The decision to end our life together caused me to feel dismay. It was too sad that relationships always came to this juncture. I lay there for a while and decided to make another cup of tea. The dogs followed me into the kitchen, and as I waited for the kettle to boil, I noticed the book on the entry table where I had put it when I came in and took it into the bedroom with my cup of tea.
It was not a large book, only 110 pages and 5 chapters enticingly named, Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and No-thing, whatever that was supposed to mean. I can knock this off in about an hour, I thought, and randomly opened the book to a section called “no thought, no idea” in the Water chapter and read about not having a preconceived notion about how a situation should resolve itself. How the hell can you do that, I thought? You have to know in your mind how you think things will turn out or you are at the mercy of circumstance. If it meant that you should remain detached from things, then how could you ever express your true feelings? The restaurant had to have a profit, and so I would always make sure that I did what had to be done in order for that to occur. Having to fend for myself caused me to focus on success, and I always made sure to do those things that could fairly well guarantee that, such as making sure the quality of my food was the highest and that the service performed by my staff was up to my standards. Obviously, “no thought, no idea” was common sense. So where was the mystery in that? Unless, of course, as an individual, you weren’t firm in your own belief, and I am definitely firm in mine. You do it my way or hit the highway, unless it’s to my advantage to let you get away with something.
Other sections drew my curiosity such as “crushing the enemy’s body and spirit.” It seemed to me that the book was only about killing people. That’s probably why Garcia tried to apply it to his karate. I read the introduction and intuitively knew that the term “killing” was used to express the idea about winning battles of any kind based on true conviction of intent. Killing did not necessarily mean the constant taking of life. It had to do with fundamental living and living a complete and unfettered life, but how could you do that without becoming involved with everyday matters? Still, it appeared to only have to do with battles.
I put the book down and reached for a copy of Town and Country. I knew the lifestyles of the people in that magazine and appreciated the finer things in life that they represented. Even though I knew it was mostly superficial, I always enjoyed looking at the picture of the great houses, beach resorts, supercilious cocktail parties, fund-raiser events, and the overpriced baubles that kept the rich happy. They always seemed to be detached from the reality of the rest of the world and only cared about themselves and their possessions. Probably, and in their oblivion, they did not have to concern themselves with anything out of their immediate circle. Money was certainly the great equalizer. That, along with health and success. Add to that a normal healthy sexual appetite as well. What else did one need? I am sure that though they had their trials and tribulations, they didn’t have to dwell on the everyday drama foisted on the rest of the world.
The advertisement for the Mercedes didn’t intrigue me as much as having a 1953 Mercedes that I really wanted. Well, I would get it soon enough, even though Richard felt that it was too showy. He preferred his Saab convertible. He was always interested in how the stock market was going and practically cried when the index went down. He also worried about losing business and never seemed to really enjoy himself even when he landed a good contract. He was always concerned with performance. But, then again, so am I. What would happen if the business went down? What would happen if I suddenly found I couldn’t maintain the pressure of the job and the business? These things constantly play on my mind, and to offset the possibility of losing control of my life, I go shopping and acquire all sorts of things that give me temporary pleasure through ownership. Come to think about it, everything sucks.
I am always getting hit on in the restaurant by suave empty suits, even when they are with their ladies. I am treated with disdain in business as a single woman with an attitude of self-reliance, and I am hardly given the deserved respect by the men in business that envy my success and independence, always being told to get married and to enjoy the attendant absurdities of that life. My children still call me when they have money troubles, but seem to not be there when I want or need something from them. And Richard is becoming a little momma’s boy on top of everything else. Even he expressed anxiety at my success, and when he wasn’t working, he was a real bitch. I am tired and have to admit that I am very angry. I have become annoyed with myself as I realize that indeed, and though it shouldn’t, everything sucks. I don’t like that mentality and attitude. It isn’t really me. There has to be a better way to live and not have to be the paradigm of virtue that everyone expects me to be.
I thumbed through the book again and read about “differences in cutting and slashing attacks.” “You must be utterly resolved to cut the enemy down. Slashing can be equated with just tapping the enemy with either a sword or a fist. It is not a truly resolved and committed attack.” Was everything indeed, a battle? No, there is something going on here that I am going to have to read and learn about. I know what I’ll do. I will read it and rewrite it according to a woman’s needs. My needs! I will relate it to my life and the things I have to deal with.
The first thing I had to know was why the book itself was considered the “bible” of the martial arts and how it would relate to ordinary life experiences without getting into the alleged methodology of killing everything and everyone in sight that displeased me. As a normal woman, I knew it would have to be made easy in my own mind in order for me to express the ideas therein. It would have to be done in such a manner that would make it pleasant to digest. Scanning through it again, I noticed that this Musashi fellow, who was considered the fiercest swordsman in ancient Japan, had no qualms when it came to taking someone’s life. This would absolutely not do. Then the idea struck me that I could replace certain ideas with everyday events. For example, I might take a general approach to life strategy and make it fit my needs. This included the manner in which I even walked the dogs or sat at the beach. For that matter, it even had to do with my own approach to the relationships I had with people, intimately or not. If I took it out of the realm of maleness and applied the principles to true femininity, it could readily apply itself to me personally.
In the introduction to the work, it says that Musashi had killed over sixty men in fights and duels. Though I hadn’t actually killed anyone in fights and duels, I certainly had experience in dealing with all kinds of jerks that I would have had no qualm in killing either. But, that was not what I was looking for. I even wondered why I would want to do this. Instead of driving myself intellectually crazy, I applied the first thing I had read about no thought and no idea concerning the outcome. It seemed so simple to do when I stopped thinking about it and began to write. It became obvious that it could be done in the manner I had prescribed for myself.
The introduction also speaks about coming to terms with one’s own skills and abilities and the reality of what he had accomplished that held him to a higher ideal of what life is. I have no problem with that, and I see myself in regards to having built a business from nothing and developing my own skills while learning the secrets of my own trade. This could also be applied to relationships. Take things at face value and don’t try to determine how the face value should work either for or against me. That way, I could see from the other person’s perspective and even gain control if I wanted to. Yes, control of myself and my emotions and possibly even those of the person I was involved with for any particular situation.
The idea became more and more lucid in my mind. Then when I read that he was also dedicated to painting, sculpture, and music, I even felt more comfortable because he, Musashi, said that his Way of the Sword was not the only thing that mattered, yet it was the only thing that mattered. This was going to be great for me, and I would learn how to deal with reality from a completely different perspective. It would be functional and real. Besides, if a man could do it… Then it dawned on me. My heart, my mind, and my vagina were my sword.
And, so here it is, ladies. Men, you had better beware.
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