Miyamoto Musashi was not just a Japanese swordsman; he was a philosopher, a writer, and ronin.
A ronin is a masterless samurai warrior who was part of the elite aristocrats of the Muromachi and Tokugawa era. At times, the ronin was disruptive and quite rebellious. It was a turbulent period in Japan.
He was also known by another name: Shinmen Takezo. He is also called by his Buddhist name Niten Doraku. He was famous for his unique double-bladed swordsmanship.
In fact, he had an undefeated record of 61 duels. He was the founder of a swordsmanship school. Through the end of his life, he wrote a book entitled The Book of Five Rings.
The Origins of Miyamoto Musashi
The specific details of Miyamoto Musashi’s life as a child are hard to verify. It was said that he was born in Harima Province. He was born in 1584 which was considered as the Year of the Monkey.
His childhood name was Bennosuke. His father was Shinmei Munisai who lived in Miyamoto Village found in the district of the Yoshino District.
His father was a gifted warrior who visits his son and gives him instruction on swordsmanship and other aspects of Samurai culture. However, when he was around 10 years old, Miyamoto Musashi’s parents died one after the other.
Since he was orphaned at a young age, he lived in a monastery. As he stayed there, he learned Zen Buddhism from the monks.
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Miyamoto Musashi: Life as a Teenager
At the age of 13, he became highly confident about his ability that he tried to beat an older samurai from the Shinto Ryu School named Arima Kihei.
The latter did treat Musashi as a child. With that, Musashi felt disrespected. As a result, the older samurai was thrown on the floor and was beaten to death with a wooden staff that had a length of six feet.
Three years later, 16-year-old Musashi left the monastery. Not long after this, he faced a second duel and he easily won. Tougher battles lied ahead when he fought in the Battle of Sekigahara and sided with the Ashikaga Clan.
Even when he fought for the losing side, he was brave enough to survive the battles that awaited him, like the massacre of Ashikaga troops.
The Wandering Years
After the last battle that he fought, the massacre of Ashikaga troops followed. He was left without a master. In the society of the samurai, Musashi was called a ronin.
He started wandering throughout Japan. He went into warrior’s pilgrimage which was better known as Musha Shugyo. This was the time when he honed his fighting skills by engaging in a series of duels that were deadly.
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As Miyamoto Musashi continued his pilgrimage through Kyoto, he faced a series of battles with the leading notorious school, the Yoshioka Clan.
He had to face three sets of challenges to prove that he was a great warrior. As he started beating his opponents one by one, this established his reputation.
The First Challenge Against the Yoshioka Clan
Miyamoto Musashi fought Seijuro Yoshioka with a wooden sword known as bokken. It was agreed that the one who could deliver the first blow was to be declared the winner.
It was easy for Musashi to break Seijuro’s arm. After Seijuro’s loss, he retired from his position as head of the Yoshioka Ryu to become a Zen monk.
The Second Challenge Against the Yoshioka Clan
Musashi’s next challenger was the Denshichiro, the brother of Seijuro. He challenged Musashi to regain the honor for his family name. Again, Musashi made his opponent angry by being late for the second time, which was just as effective as the first one.
Musashi was able to win the fight just as the first round. This time, he killed his opponent with a head blow. This ruined the Yoshioka clan’s reputation further. Losing more than once was a disgrace for any clan during that period of time.
The Third Challenge Against the Yoshioka Clan
The last challenger of the Yoshioka clan was a 12-year old child named Matashichiro Yoshioka. However, Musashi was suspicious for this fight so he turned up early.
His hunch came true because the Matashichiro arrived with a group of men who were armed with swords, bows, and rifles. The plan of his enemies was to use the young boy as a bait.
Surrounded by the boy’s armed men, Musashi grabbed his second sword and cut the boy’s head off. He escaped the ambush through the rice fields. This last victory over the Yoshioka clan became his trademark in the later years.
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Defeating Sasaki Kojiro
Miyamoto Musashi fought against Sasaki Kojiro in 1612. At that time, Sasaki was one of the most respected warriors in Japan. He was feared for his skills as a martial arts teacher and practitioner.
Kojiro strictly adhered to the Bushido code. Musashi was not concerned about how Japanese society saw him. He pursued in beating anybody who faced him in battle.
These two agreed to fight on an island. Since Kojiro was punctual, he arrived on the exact time that he promised to do so. Kojiro was also dressed with the best kind of clothes that money could buy.
Musashi was able to beat one of his greatest fight with Kojiro. With the first attack, Kojiro was able to cut a small piece of Miyamoto Musashi’s clothes. After this, Kojiro suffered a cut in the head.
The second attack was fatal since Musashi was able to cut Kojiro’s throat while he only suffered a few cuts on his clothes. This act instantly killed his challenger.
Teachings Of Miyamoto Musashi
The fighting techniques and the strategies that Musasi had developed have been followed by other samurai. Having fought a lot of duels from 1604 to 1613, he shared his firsthand experience at war. He has a reputation for being the finest swordsman in the country.
Miyamoto Musashi spent his years teaching swordsmanship until he decided to undertake another musha shugyo. This time, the goal was different: he focused on fighting to test his ability as a warrior.
He also wanted to learn how to improve his skills. Musashi remained the victor throughout the duels that he encountered.
Miyamoto Musashi was a true strategist. He was not only proficient in the sword and devising battle techniques. He was also a master of other forms of art.
He could write, paint, and he even engaged in tea ceremony (sado). In Japan, these were skills that a samurai had to acquire.
Musashi placed a strong emphasis on the use of the correct strategy in his book, The Book of Five Rings. He made a comparison of the techniques used by a foreman carpenter.
Somebody who was efficient as a carpenter knew the tools of his trade. A great foreman carpenter would be able to guide and delegate responsibilities to those under him.
He was said to know how to treat those under him so that the finished product would be the best one. This illustrated how Musashi planned his battle tactics.
It was not about an emphasis on bloodshed. Instead, it was focused on building a structure by learning to see things from a different perspective.
Miyamoto Musashi: The End of His Life
Musashi became a retainer of Hosokawa Tadatoshi, the Lord of Kumamoto. Three years after this Miyamoto Musashi became sick.
He sensed that his end was near. He decided to retire in a cave where he wrote what Japanese scholars consider as his masterpiece.
This was the book entitled Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings, as previously mentioned above. He was able to write another book about self-discipline known as Dokkodo before his death in 1645.
Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi wrote his classic book “The Book of Five Rings” in 1645. This gives the readers an indistinct look at the confrontation and victory in the Asian Japanese culture.
This book focuses not just on martial arts but in general, it gives emphasis on the principles that guide one in their daily lives.
This book analyzes the process of struggling over conflict that can be naturally found in daily human interaction even through different societies.
Miyamoto Musashi: His Legacy
Miyamoto Musashi’s influence on future generations of martial arts could not be questioned. He promoted the art of patiently waiting for a flower to bloom.
He emphasized the use of the proper timing for every warrior to gain success in anything he sets his mind to do.
In Japan, he was treated as a sword saint or kensai. He was not an ordinary warrior but instead, he was known as somebody trained to be as quick as lightning.
This was said to be debatable, however, his skills with the pen assured that his legend lived on especially in his best literary work.
He also showed that he learned through his own experience and mindset, and that he practiced everything without depending on a teacher or mentor to learn from. This way of thinking was said to make him a highly regarded swordsman.
Image Source: User Alkivar on en.wikipedia [Public domain]