During the ancient period of Japan there existed a time of war and power struggles. There were many people who followed the Bushido code or way of the warrior. These people were called samurai. Of the countless men who devoted their lives to the Bushido code there were none greater than Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi was one of if not the most famous samurai to ever walk the lands of medieval Japan. He was a legend in his own time.
The Life and History of Miyamoto Musashi
Miyamoto Musashi was born in 1584 in the village of Miyamoto in the province of Mimasake. Musashi full name was Ben no suke Shimmen Genshin no Fujiwara no Kami Miyamoto Musashi Masana no Kensei. When Musashi was a child his mother died when he was six years old and his father abandoned the family a year after her death. Musashi was raised by a number of family members and started to train in the ways of Kendo (fencing) under his uncle guidance. Musashi proved to have tremendous talent with a blade. He was also very big and strong for a boy of his age. But with this strength and size came aggression. Musashi was not known a calm and mannerly youth. Rather he was considered a troublemaker and a uncontrollable child by the town elders.
Musashi used his strength and demeanor in his first real duel with a known samurai when he was thirteen years of age. He fought against Arima Kigei from the Shinto Ryu school of Military Arts. Unarmed, Musashi threw the samurai to the ground and beat him savagely with a stick until Arima died vomiting his own blood. Musashi next duel came when he was age sixteen. He fought Tadashima Akiyama. Tadashima was challenging anyone who would accept his challenge to a duel. Musashi accepted and killed Tadashima with just one swing of his sword.
During this time period Japan was in a bloody civil war to unite the country. The two sides were Shogun Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Musashi joined ranks with Shogun Hideyoshi in hopes of fame and riches. In one huge battle called the battle of Seki ga Hara, seventy thousand samurai lost their lives in the three day skirmish. Tokugawa Ieyasu won the battle and the war. A man-hunt was conducted for all samurai who swore allegiance to Hideyoshi. Musashi survived both the three day fight and Tokugawa man hunt.
Musashi finally returns to his hometown of Miyamoto but was not welcomed back as a hero. The people remembered what Musashi was like as a youth. He was falsely accused of a crime but could not be captured by the locals. Musashi was too powerful for the people to beat. In the end it took only one man with little battle experience to capture him. That one man was a Zen priest named Takuan Soho. Legend has it that the priest captured the runaway Musashi without resorting to violence. The captured Musashi was then held at Hejime castle for three years.
It was here where Musashi matured and studied the ways of the samurai. He read and studied the Chinese classic The Art of War. When Musashi was finally released he went off on his own to further study the way of the warrior and improve his swordsmanship skills.
Musashi travels brought him straight to Kyoto, the capitol of Japan. Musashi came here for a reason. He had an old vendetta to settle with the Yoshioka family. Years before, Musashi father, Munisai, was killed in a duel with the Yoshiokas. He was able to win two fights before he lost his life. Musashi blames the Yoshioka family for his father death and challenged them to a duel when he arrives. He fought in three duels against three brothers, Seijiro, Denshichiro, and Hanshichiro. Musashi first fought Seijiro. Musashi used a wooden sword while Seijiro used a real one. Seijiro injuries to his arm forced him to amputate it. Musashi then fought Denshichiro. The fight lasted mere minutes with Musashi quickly breaking Denshichiro skull. In the last fight Musashi hid and waited at the battle sight. The last brother, Hanshichiro came to the battle in full armor with a unit of a hundred samurai. They planed to ambush and kill Musashi. Musashi finally appeared and killed Hanshichiro. He then made a run for it, killing anyone who was in his way.
Musashi was involved in sixty duels during in his lifetime. He won every one of them. Musashi most famous duel was against Sasaki Kojiro in the year 1612. Sasaki was well known for the fighting style that he developed. It was called Tsubame-gaeshi or swallow counter. It was based on the motion of a swallow tail when the bird is in flight. The duel was to be held at 8:00 AM on an island a few miles off of Ogura. Musashi left the place he was staying for the night in an effort to play mind games with his opponent, trying to make him think that Musashi was scared. Musashi then arrived late to the duel in an effort to make Kojiro impatient and cocky. When Musashi finally arrived he made a wooden sword from a spare oar and then fought Kojiro. Musashi was able to kill Kojiro with one swift blow to his skull. After seeing the condition that Kojiro was in, Musashi dropped his sword and walked back to his boat.
It was after this duel Musashi stopped ever using real swords. He was unstoppable. No one could touch him. He dedicated his life to improve and master his technique. In 1643 Musashi settled down in a cave and spent his time writing his book called Go Rin No Sho or A Book of Five Rings. Musashi also created many ink paintings and sculptures that highly valued in Japan. Musashi was given the title of “Kinsei” or Sword Saint.
Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings – Introduction
Musashi masterpiece, The Book of Five Rings is used in almost every Kendo class there is. In the Introduction of his book, Musashi gives a very brief look at his life. Musashi personality is best summed up in his own words, “When I reached thirty I looked back on my past. Perhaps it was natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other school strategy was inferior.” Musashi invented the style of fighting with two swords which was called Ni Ten Ichi Ryu. The writings that Musashi left behind are sort of like his final teachings to the world of his form.
The Ground Book
The first chapter in Musashi book talks about the basics of his strategy. He compares the way of the warrior with other arts like carpentry. He sets up an outline of what each of the other books will be about. He talks about what kinds of weapons to use in certain situations. He gives us nine basic guidelines to live by.
- Do not think dishonestly.
- The Way is in training
- Become aquatinted with every art.
- Know the Way of all professions
- Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
- Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
- Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
- Pay attention even to trifles.
- Do nothing which is of no use.
The Water Book
In the second chapter Musashi goes into more detail about the actual fighting and swordplay. He shows us the basis of different cuts and moves and when to apply them in a fight. He talks about how a proper stance and footwork are vital to victory. Musashi tells us that every cut should be swung at the same strength. He says that you should swing the same for cutting a man or cutting a board. Focus is the most important thing.
The Fire Book
The third chapter is more about a person attitude and focus during a fight. Musashi writes, “There is nothing wrong with the principle “one man can beat ten, so a thousand men can beat ten thousand.” He writes about how to distract and forestall your enemy. You must have your timing down on when to strike and when to react. If you can frighten or startle your opponent by shouting them do so. Your spirit is as important as your skills.
The Wind Book
This chapter discusses other schools strategies. Musashi says that one must know your opponent is you are to truly beat him. He dislikes schools that use longer or lighter weapons that use length and speed to make up for lack of true skill and knowledge.
The Book of the Void
In the last page of his book we find the final chapter. Musashi tells us that there is no beginning or end. One can never become a true master. There will never be a time where a person can not improve or learn something new.
In conclusion we see just how dicated and powerful Musashi was. We also come to realize how he thinks and his point of view about many things concerning training and life. Musashi is considered one of the greatest swordsmen that ever walked the face of the Earth. We were able to learn from Musashi through his book and legends.
Miyamoto, Musashi. A Book of Five Rings
Woodstock, New York: 1974
Author Unknown. Concerning the life of Miyamoto Musashi
Author Unknown. Life Of Miyamoto Musashi