Miyamoto Musashi

The famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was born Shinmen Takezo in Harima Province and may have fought at Sekigahara under the Ukita as a common soldier. He claimed to have defeated his first opponent (a certain Arima Kihei) at the age of 13, following this up with a victory over " powerful martial artist called Akiyama of Tajima province."

"From youth my heart has been inclined towards the Way of strategy. My first duel was when I was thirteen, I struck down a strategist of the Shinto school, one Arima Kihei." (Musashi)

Musashi was born in Miyamoto village of the Ohara town (Mimasaka province), in 1584. His ancestors are related to the powerful Harima clan in island Kyushu. ?is grandfather, Hirada Shokan, is a retainer of Shinmen Iga (lord of Takeyama castle). He still married his lord’s daughter. ?usashi’s father, Shinmen Munisai, was also in the service of the Shinmen family, who had been controlling the Mimasaka county.

?usashi’s mother Omasa., died after giving birth to Musashi, and his step-mother Yoshiko raises him like her real son. His father, soon divorces with Yoshiko , and the young Musashi is raised in Harima by his step-mother and her parents. Musashi, soon pays visits to his father, who starts teaching him the art of Sword and Jutte. The young Musashi has an early talent for fencing, but the relationship with his father is not calm, because Munisai is extremely harsh with him.

When his step-mother died, his uncle (on mother’s side), a Buddhist priest, undertakes the young Musashi. In 1591, his father, Munisai gets killed with deceit by Ganruy Yoshitaka. That time father and son both were not on speaking terms. Musashi feels guilty and wants revenge.

At his 13, he has his first fencing duel. He fights deadly Arima Kibei, a famous fencer in the area, an exponent of Shinto-Ryu Kenjutsu.

After 1600 Musashi drifted to Kyoto and became involved in a well-known battle with the Yoshioka School of swordsmanship, emerging victorious. He wrote that he engaged in sixty duels without suffering defeat once, and was noted in this regard for his skill at handling two swords at once. He was also remembered for employing a simple bamboo sword, which he used to deadly effect.

Much of Musashi’s life between 1600 and 1640 is the stuff of legend and some have postulated that he served at Osaka Castle (1614-1615) on the defending side, taking quite a few heads in the process. In a similar vein, he is sometimes said to have helped quell the Shimabara

At his 21, he leaves his home. ?e feels he has to test his skills and perfect his technique. ?is ambition is to become a great fencer. He sets out to Kyoto. In Kyoto, the Yoshioka family was served the Ashikaga Yoshiaka Shogun as Martial Arts Instructors for generations. It is also said that Munisai-Musashi’s father- had been invited by the Shogun Ashikaga in Kyoto and he had fought the Yoshiokas winning two out of three duels, a generation before.

So, Seijiro, the head of the family, is the first who fights Musashi, in an isolated area outside the city. Seijiro draws his katana, Musashi is armed only with a ‘bokken’ (wooden sword), but his fierce attack makes Seijiro fall senseless on the ground. His retainers carry him home. Seijuro out of shame cuts off his topknot and it is said that he never taught swordsmanship again.

Soon, his first brother Genzaemon, challenges Musashi. He accepts the duel but he is late for 2 hours. Someone is sent to find him. They find him asleep in an inn! Musashi, apologises to Genzaemon and tells the messager that he’ll arive soon. Finally, Musashi, arrives for the duel after another couple of hours! The contest beggins, and Genzaemon is infurious. Musashi, with his wooden sword wins him easily, and Gonzaemon collapses unconsciousness. Later, he became priest giving up the Way of the sword.

After that, Genzaemon?s younger brother, Denshichiro attempts to restore the family’s honour. This contest takes place in Sanjusangendo Temple area, a very known archery contests place and home to the thousand statues of Kannon (goddess of mercy and compassion). As a military strategy, Musashi arrives again on the appointed day late. Unfortunately, at that time Musashi’s attack with his wooden sword collpases Denshichiro dead on the ground .

Seijiro’s youngest son Hanshichiro (or Matashihiro) challenges Musashi, but his real plan was to ambush and kill Musashi with the help of the seniors of the Yoshioka family. Musashi, this time, arrives early to the duel site and is hidden. When Hanshichiro (in war armory) and the seniors arrive they expect Musashi to be late so they are not as alert as they should be. Musashi, suddently appears from the bushes, attacks them with two swords and kills some seniors and Matashishiro setting free his way to escape.

He starts becomimg a legend, and it’s the beginning of his researching journeys throughout Japan, known as the Musha-Shugyo ( warrior pilgrimage) years.

In Hozoin Temple (1605), Musashi defeats twice (with wooden sword) the chief pupil of the Temple, and renowned spearman Oku Hozoin. Since then, Oku has defeated all the ‘Ronin’ who visit the Temple. Musashi, stays a while at the Temple learning fighting techniques with the Zen priest master Hoin Inei and enjoying philosphical talks with other priests.

At that time, late 1605, in Edo (Akashi-Harima Province), a legendary meeting takes place with Muso Gonosuke (founder of the Jodo school). Gonosuke was a great undefeated warrior. Wayne Muromoto writes in an article about that duel inspired from the KAIJO MONOGATARI (1629). The legend says that Musashi himself considered this match a defeat because Gonosuke managed to touch him with his long wooden sword.

Rebellion of 1638 - a theory which, as with his glories at Osaka, is impossible to prove. On the other hand, many of the important events depicted in Yoshikawa Eiji’s famous novel Musashi have a basis in reality, to include his battle with the Yoshioka School, his defeat of the noted spearman Inei (chief priest of the H?z?-in), and his duel in 1612 with Sasaki Kojiro, another famed swordsman. Less well-known is his skill as a painter, his works including a number of self-portraits and naturescapes.

Musashi the man must have cut a forbidding appearance: he was said to have rarely bathed or changed his clothes as well as suffering from a somewhat disfiguring skin condition. Following his duel with Sasaki, he seems to have focused his energies on perfecting his style of swordsmanship, spending much time in travel and reflection - thus epitomizing the much-beloved image of the brooding wanderer samurai.

In 1640 Musashi accepted service with the Hosokawa clan, and three years later, in Higo Province, began work on his great book, Gorin no sh? (The Book of Five Rings). He finished this influential work on swordsmanship in May 1645 - the same year he died.

Musashi has enjoyed an immense popularity in the 20th Century and beyond, largely as a result of Yoshikawa’s novel (which was originally published in serialized form in the Asahi Shimbun). Musashi skillfully weaves fact and fiction together to create an engrossing tale that has experienced increasing reknown in the West. Interestingly, the Asahi Shimbun noted in 1988 that at least one Edo Period source questioned Musashi’s duel with Sasaki, stating that Musashi was not alone at the fight, and that his followers killed Ganryu when he had been knocked down to the ground.

Cleary, Thomas The Japanese Art of War Shambala 1991
Turnbull, Stephen The Lone Samurai and the Martial Arts Arms and Armour 1990