Musashi Miyamoto with two Bokken (wooden quarterstaves) depicted on an ancient Japanese scroll.

Musashi Miyamoto with two Bokken (wooden quarterstaves) depicted on an ancient Japanese scroll.

My editor asked me the other day what single book I would recommend to any young officer coming on the job. It was a simple answer; it doesn't matter whether you're a student, rookie, veteran officer, instructor or chief. You should read, "A Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi.

There are several translations of the original transcripts. These various editions have their own followings in print and online. I've purchased many copies and given them to friends, colleagues, and staff. My favorite version is "A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy," translated by Victor Harris.

Before you dive into the book, read about the background and history of the samurai era so you'll better understand the historical setting of the writing. Musashi was a swordsman and ronin. The book was written around 1645, near the time of his death. It's, in part, a book about the strategy, tactics, and philosophyof sword fighting. Much of what Musashi writes is still applicable today as a personal strategy for every aspect of life. Musashi is a mythic figure in Japanese samurai history, military history, and lore.

You must insert your topic of interest such as personal fitness, defensive tactics, or personnel management with sword fighting. It can be used in any situation involving planning and strategy. There are many management and business schools that have embraced this philosophy. It's a small book that's had a huge impact, and you'll have to read it several times to draw the revelations out. It works.

How many times have I read it? I was given the book by a trusted instructor in the early 1980s. I read it several times a year. My version is dog-eared, marked, underlined and nearly worn out. If you've read my writings, you'll see some of this book come through.

On page 48 of my copy, there's a unique paragraph that speaks volumes to law enforcement trainers, FTOs, and leaders. Read this and ask of yourself if you follow these suggestions?

"You should not have a favorite weapon. To become over-familiar with one weapon is as much a fault as not knowing it sufficiently well. You should not copy others, but use weapons which you can handle properly. It is bad for commanders and troopers to have likes and dislikes. These things you must learn thoroughly." 

How many times have you wanted to carry your favorite weapon? You practice with your favorite and neglect other lethal or less-lethal options? Some officers have become overly reliant on OC or ECDs (Electric Control Devices) and have forgotten the baton or physical hands-on defensive tactics. When was the last time you practiced with your secondary weapon? How many officers do you know who carry only one caliber or brand of firearm? You must master all options and learn to adapt to what is available to you.

I've heard many times, "I wish I was issued..." this brand or that caliber. You must master what you have available to you and not mourn what could be. Later, Musashi reminds you to "become acquainted with every art." The best advice for recruits comes from the strategy, "perceive those things which cannot be seen" and "do nothing which is of no use."

I'm not professing that this is the end-all book to answer all of the questions of the world. There are many other books that answer your questions about life, work, and all else. This just happens to be my all-time favorite and one that I give to those who need insights into their personal strategy. As Musashi writes, "exist for the good of man."

Author

William Harvey
William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

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William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

View Bio
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