Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645)
Born in the village of Miyamoto, Mimasaka province,
Japan in 1584, Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no
Genshin – better known as Musashi Miyamoto – was the son
of a samurai with a long and honorable lineage. His father
either left or was killed, and his mother died, leaving
Musashi an orphan in the care of a local priest.
Musashi was a precocious martial artist. Large for his
age and prone to violence, he slew his first man in single
combat at age 13, throwing his sword-armed opponent to
the ground and dashing in his head with a stick – foreshadowing
a tactic for which he would later become famous. At
age 16, he joined the Ashikaga army in their fight against
Tokugawa Ieyasu at the battle of Sekigahara. Musashi chose
the losing side but survived both the battle and the subsequent
hunting down and massacre of the defeated army.
Musashi then began his “Warrior’s Pilgrimage.” He traveled
around Japan, honing his sword skills and fighting anyone
willing to meet him in mortal combat. He was utterly
single-minded about the martial arts. He left his hair uncut
and took neither a wife nor a job. His sole concern was perfecting
his art, and he thought only of battle. It’s said that he
wouldn’t bathe without his weapon close at hand, to prevent
enemies from taking advantage. He was eccentric, and
showed up to more than one duel so disheveled and behaving
so oddly that it unnerved his foe.
Musashi fought in six wars and hundreds of single combats
until about age 50. A legend in his own time, he features
prominently in stories from all parts of Japan. For instance,
practitioners of Jojutsu (p. 192) proudly tell the tale of how
their founder lost to Musashi and went on to perfect a style
so powerful that even Musashi couldn’t defeat him!
After his pilgrimage, Musashi adopted a son and became
a teacher, commander, and advisor at the court of a daimyo
on Kyushu. He fought in even more battles, acted as a general
and sword instructor, and took up painting and woodcarving.
In his final years, he left the court and lived alone
in the mountains, contemplating the ways of the sword and
of strategy. Shortly before his death, he wrote Go Rin No
Sho, or “A Book of Five Rings,” in which he expounded that
strategy and swordsmanship were identical.
Musashi is best known for the style of Kenjutsu (pp. 173-
175) he created, Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu. He felt that fighting
exclusively with two hands on a single sword was limiting,
and espoused fighting with long and short swords simultaneously.
Musashi did not himself use actual swords often -
his preferred weapon was the bokken, or wooden training
sword. His record of success in duels leaves little room to
debate its deadliness. Musashi even fought duels with
improvised clubs made from tree branches or oars.
Musashi was a ferocious fighter in his youth, ruthlessly
killing his foes regardless of age, skill, and social position. In
his later years, though, he became less bloodthirsty and was
widely regarded for his great skill