Miyamoto Musashi was born in Japan around 1584 and died in June 1645. As well as Miyamoto Musashi, he was also known as Shinmen Takezo, Miyamoto Bennosuke and Niten Doraku. The legendary swordsman was renowned for his outstanding samurai skills and boasted an unblemished duelling record, winning all of his 60 contests. His nearest rival, Ito Ittosai, trailed by 27 contests. An incredible feat for an incredible man.
Musashi, as he was commonly known, founded and developed the Niten-Ryu style of swordsmanship. It’s a technique that involves the use of two swords rather than one, at the same time – a master feat of multitasking. Musashi’s style of swordsmanship is still studied, practised and used today.
Teaching and Guidance
Little is known about Miyamoto Musashi’s early life with details being hard to verify. He did, however, author a book, which contained a little insight into his life. For example, Musashi states his full name as Shinmen Musashi-no-Kami Fujiwara no Harunobo in the publication.
The release was titled The Book of Five Rings, extensively covering expert swordsmanship. The chapters include;
- The Book of Earth
This section acts as an introduction. It discusses the strategy taught by Musashi along with swordsmanship.
- The Book of Water
In this chapter basic techniques and fundamental principles are discussed. Musashi’s style, Ni-ten Ichi-Ryu, is described.
- The Book of Fire
This section refers to instructions and hints when in specific situations during battle. Fighting methods are also discussed.
- The Book of Wind
Other strategies that existed during Musashi’s time are referred to in this part. It’s not necessarily all still applicable today as the previous parts. It does teach people that knowing your opponent's strategy and technique is essential to success.
- The Book of Void
This chapter is the shortest of the five and is a sort of epilogue. Musashi discusses his thoughts on the correct mindset.
The book is not only used by martial artists but by others who find the messages contained applicable in their own life. The teaching of mindset and mental ability, as well as understanding others, can be applied to almost anyone. Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous translations, revisions and updates of The Book of Five Rings over the years.
The First Duel
At the age of 13, Musashi had his first successful duel. He left his village a few years after his success to travel, engaging in more duels along the way. When war broke out in 1600 and Musashi took part in numerous battles alongside The Toyotomi clan during the conflict. His experience and raw talent was vital and saved his life.
Musashi, aged around 20, then began duelling against the Yoshioka School. Musashi challenged the master of the school, Yoshioka Seijuro, to a duel. A single blow by Musashi to his counterpart’s left shoulder, saw Musashi emerge victoriously. Seijuro’s brother and the newly appointed head of the school wanted to avenge his brother’s defeat. Musashi once again was the victor after disarming his opponent.
Understandably, the Yoshioka family were enraged at the two successive defeats and put together a team consisting of archers and swordsmen, challenging Musashi to a battle. This saw the birth of the Niten Ichi sword style. Due to being unfairly outnumbered, Musashi had to draw his second sword to defend himself. He did, however, kill Matashichiro during the opening stages.
Musashi continued to travel, duelling and learning along the way. It is estimated that he battled over 60 times and was never defeated. It was often said that Musashi didn’t care which weapon his opponent chose to use due to his exceptional swordsmanship.
No Rest In Retirement
Musashi retired to a cave in 1643, and that is where he authored the acclaimed The Book of Five Rings. Prior to that, he had also penned another text, Hyoho Sanju Go Kajo, which translates as Thirty-Five Instructions on Strategy.
Incredibly, Mushahu had even more skills, as he was also a talented artist. He created many masterpieces using classic ink and calligraphy. His pieces were characterised by his use of ink washes, and he mastered the broken ink school of landscapes too.
A couple of years after retiring to the cave, Musashi died, allegedly of cancer. Immediately before his peaceful passing, he had written Dokkodo. It was based on self-discipline. Musashi’s body was removed from the cave after his death, and he was buried in armour.
Musashi Lives On
In popular culture, Musashi is still talked and written about. There are numerous films based on him and his life, with many having Miyamoto Musashi as the title. Iron Maiden, the British heavy metal group, sing about Musashi on their 4th album. He is referred to in the track “Sun and Steel” which is from their Piece of Mind album.
Miyamoto Musashi is undoubtedly Japan’s greatest ever swordsman. He was the ultimate warrior. He will forever have legendary status due to his duelling prowess and teachings. The aforementioned book, The Five Rings that was written on his deathbed will continue to be studied and admired by many individuals across the world.