Musashi Miyamoto: Legendary Samurai and Author of The Book of Five Rings
The word samurai brings to mind an image of fearless Japanese warriors in unique armor hacking and slashing at one another with swords. The modern day image of the samurai has become a thing of the imagination. Tales of these ancient warriors told through movies, books, and even video games hold a place of exciting adventure in our minds that almost become fictional. The Samurai were very real however, and the legends they left behind them remain a legitimate aspect of our world's history.
One of these renown warriors left behind him such a legacy, that long after his death, he would continue to impact the world even to this day. Even though he wasn't the typical samurai as we think of them, it is fair to say that not only was he one of, if not the greatest samurai, but also a major part of why these ancient warriors are still in our minds today. The correct Japanese way to say his name is actually Miyamoto Musashi. He was a warrior, a writer, and a teacher among other things. He perfected the art of fighting with a sword in each hand, and this was his preferred style of combat. He wrote The Book of Five Rings which detailed this school of training.
The Legend Begins
There are many things that will forever remain a mystery about the young Musashi's life, and historians can't prove one theory or another about his boyhood. It is even unclear in what year exactly he was born, though most historians believe it was in 1582 1584 A.D.. There are many legends surrounding this man, and though he was a writer, many aspects of Musashi's life remain unclear because his writing revolved mostly around strategy, and less about his personal life.
It is also unclear who trained, educated, and raised Musashi, it is commonly believed that his first duel occurred when he was thirteen years old. As he states in his book, The Book Of Five Rings, “My first duel was when I was thirteen, I struck down a strategist of the Shinto school, one Aima Kihei. When I was sixteen I struck down an able strategist Tadashima Akiyama. When I was twenty-one I went up to the capital and met all manner of strategists, never once failing to win in many contests.”
A few years after his first duel, Musashi would leave behind all of his possessions and leave home. He traveled around the country fighting duels and honing his skills.
During his life it is believed that Musashi took part in six battles, but as with other aspects of his life it isn't perfectly clear which known battles they all may have been. It is believed that he took sides with the Toyotomi army, perhaps alongside his father, as they warred the Tokugawa clan. It is believed he may have taken part in the battle to take Fushimi castle, the defense of Gifu castle, and the famed Battle of Sekigahara. Some believe that prior to the Battle of Sekigahara Musashi may have stated that he was no man's vassal and refused to partake. Musashi didn't like war. Though he was a great strategist and possibly the greatest warrior of his time, he felt that war was a senseless waste of human life.
Musashi gave up being a soldier and though it is unclear exactly what he did for a few years it is believed that he returned to traveling the country perfecting his art and dueling when he could find a challenging opponent. Musashi was more than adequate with all weapons but he preferred to battle with a sword in each hand. Throughout history there weren't many men that were accomplished dual wielding swords. Musashi was not only proficient with two swords, but perfected the art.
Musashi returned to the pages of history when he was in his early twenties, and had several duels against members of the Yoshioka school. Musashit challenged the head of the school, Yoshioka Seijuro. Seijuro accepted, and the duel was scheduled. However, greatly irritating Seijuro, Musashi showed up late for the battle. Musashi hit Seijuro with a single blow that crippled him and ended the duel.
Shortly thereafter, Seijuro passed control of the school over to his brother Yoshioka Denshichiro. Denshichiro was believed to be an equal or better warrior than his brother. He desired revenge against Musashi for the shame against his family that Musashi's victory had caused. He also challenged Musashi to a duel. Musashi of course accepted and again showed up late, angering the second brother as well. Denshichiro wielded a staff with steel rings or a ball and chain attached. Musashi quickly disarmed and defeated Denshichiro.
After this 2nd defeat the entire Yoshioka family was infuriated at Musashi and desired his death. The next brother in the family Yoshioka Matashichiro challenged Musashi to a duel as well. This brother however had no intention of fairly fighting. He gathered swordsmen, archers, and musketeers to surround, outnumber, and kill Musashi Miyamoto. This time however Musashi didn't show up late. In fact he arrived several hours earlier than the force that intended his demise, and waited for them in hiding. When the force arrived, the lone Musashi ambushed the large force. Musashi killed Matashichiro, and then many other members of his force as he made his escape. This would bring an end to the Yoskioka School.
The Demon of the Western Provinces
The Demon of the Western Provinces was a man named Kojiro Sasaki. He was a famous swordsmen, who's preferred weapon was a very long katana called a nodachi. He is considered to have been the greatest challenge to Musasahi. It is unclear why the duel was arranged exactly, but some view it as inevitable as they were each well known and the greatest challenge to one another.
The exact details of the duel are unknown, and much is speculated. The duel had been scheduled to occur on a small island. In usual fashion Musashi showed up three hours late for the duel in a small boat. Many believe that Sasaki intended to have Musashi killed by men he had hiding even if he lost, so that his name would go down in history as the victor. Musashi timed the tides to take him to shore, and that while en route he whittled one of the boat oars into a large wooden sword. When he arrived the infuriated Sasaki began throwing insults at Musashi, who just smiled in return. Furious not only by the silent insults of Musashi and that his plan had failed Sasaki attacked. Musashi then quickly defeated and killed Sasaki with his large wooden sword, and jumped back in his small boat as the tide changed and carried him away, all before Sasaki's men could respond. This is of course one of many theories surrounding this event, and the only thing that is known for sure is that Musashi did kill Kojiro Sasaki.
Go Rin No Sho
In his later years Musashi settled down and began his school of training and wrote the book Go Rin No Sho, or as it is more commonly referred to as The Book Of Five Rings, is a book about strategy and battling with two swords as was Musashi's preferred form of combat. Go Rin No Sho would become one of the most famous books in Japanese history, and would continue to influence the world even today. Even though the man Musashi Miyamoto died in 1645, his legend lives on through the lessons in Go Rin No Sho which many people today still study and apply to business and life. The story of Musashi also lives on through books, movies, and even video games and his effect on the world will continue onward for generations to come.
Check out my other articles about legendary samurai.
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- Uesugi Kenshin: God of War
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- Hattori Hanzo: Ninja Master
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- Tokugawa Ieyasu: Shogun and Third Unifier Of Japan
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- Toyotomi Hideyoshi: The Monkey, From Sandal Bearer To The Second Unifier
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- Oda Nobunaga: The Demon King And The First Unifier
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