Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584 – 1645) was one of the legendary Japanese swordsmen and samurai of all time. He was the creator of Kenjutsu style – under this samurai style, two swords are used at the same time. Also, this warrior is best known around the world for winning the sixty-one deadly duels. This article briefly delineates his early life, dueling years, his teachings, later life and death, and his written books. Although some of his information appears difficult to be confirmed. Yet, we put an effort to collect the following information from the most authentic sources.
Musashi’s Early Life
Miyamoto Musashi was also known as Shinmen Takezo, Miyamoto Bennosuke, or by Niten Doraku. At the same time, he was a Japanese swordsman, strategist, philosopher, ronin, and writer. He is still very famous for his stories and unique fighting styles. He invented the unique double-bladed swordsmanship technique, also he was an undefeated warrior of 61 duels.
The information of Miyamoto Musashi’s early life is very unclear and not confirmed since he emphasized to left behind the writings pertaining to his teachings. His birth year is not confirmed, but his “The Book of Five Rings” states that he was born in 1584 (the Year of the Monkey) at Harima Province. His childhood name was Bennosuke – often worked in the fields before he had pursued the life of martial art and sword fight. His father, Munisai, was a farmer as well as an accomplished martial artist and a swordsman. His mother was died in the aftermath of birth and raised by his step-mother, Toshiko. Later, he moved to live with his uncle – named Dorin who is a monk. During his visit to the monk, he mastered Zen Buddism and some basic skills e.g. reading and writing.
It is believed that Miyamoto Musashi learned Kenjutsu and Juttejutsu from his father at a very young age. His father gave him these teachings following the tradition of samurai families. Surprisingly, Musashi showed his talent and outstanding performance in the art of Kenjutsu. However, his father had behaved in a very harsh, strict, and demanding way towards his son. Also, due to some unspecified reason his father had not shown any sign of love towards his young son. When Musashi aged between 9 and 10, his father either died or abandoned him. According to some historians, a swordsman named Ganryu Yoshitaka had killed his father in the course of a deadly duel.
It is believed that he has had an education at the Yoshioka-ryu school. It’s also believed that during the last years of his education, he used to defeat his opponents with a single hand. Besides, he received excellent formal training either from his father or his uncle at the age of seven.
A piece of important information has derived from his book “The Book of Five Rings” that Miyamoto Musashi performed duel for the very first time at the age of 13. Arima Kihei, a samurai swordsman from Tajima Province, had acted as an opponent of Musashi in this duel.
Arima used to travel to perfect his skills and posted public challenges.Miyamoto Musashi enrolled his name one of Arima’s challenges. Later, Musashi was sent a message that Arima had accepted his duel challenge. But this news terrified Dorin, Musashi’s uncle, and he begged to remove his nephew’s name from the challenge.
However, adamant Arima said his honor would only be cleared if Musashi asked his pardon when the duel would take place. During the day of the duel, when Dorin began to apologize to Arima on behalf of Musashi. Yet, Arima attacked Musashi with a waskizashi (Japanese sword). But 13-year-old Musashi astonishingly threw 6ft Arima over the ground. As soon as Arima began to stand up, Musashi made a strike between the eyes of Arima and had beaten him to death with his wooden sword. Arima reportedly died following vomiting blood. Later, Musashi left the monk to perfect his skill in the art of Kenjutsu.
In 1599, 15-years-old Musashi left his village. His family possessions, such as weapons, furniture, and other genealogies were inherited by his sister and her husband (According to the Registry of the Sakushu Region). It’s known from history, he spent most of the time in traveling and engaging himself in dueling.
Musashi also at the age of 16 fought another duel with a powerful adept named Akiyama from Tajima Province and successfully defeated him. From the book, it’s also appeared that at the age of 21 he went to Kyoto. There he participated in several duels against swordsmen from different famous schools. He defeated all the swordsmen without losing a single fight.
In the year of 1600, a war raised between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi clans. Musashi’s family owed allegiance towards Toyotomi clan. Thus, Musashi fought with Toyotomi’s Army of the West. Later, he fled and spent his time in mastering various arts. The Book of Five Ring states that Musashi fought in six battles throughout his life including the Battle of Sekigahara.
Once the battle had finished, history failed to record the post-battle activity of Musashi. Subsequent history explains that he set out his journey to Kyoto. At the age of 20 or 21, he fought duels on numerous occasions against the members of Yoshioka School in Kyoto. Interestingly, several documents collected from Yoshioka family claim that Musashi was the only one who could successfully defeat them on the duels.
Besides, his father Munisai had also fought duels against a master of Yoshioka of that time, and he won 2 out of 3 bouts. Also, Munisai received the title of “Unrivaled Under Heaven” from Ashikaga Yoshiaki.
Musashi vs. Yoshioka Seijuro
Once Miyamoto Musashi issued a challenge to duel to Yoshioka Sejiruo, the master of Yoshioka School. Sejiruo accepted that challenge and both of them agreed to fight the duel before Rendaiji Temple located in the north part of Kyoto. The duel was scheduled on 8th March 1604. But on the day of the duel, Musashi arrived very late which had made Seijuro greatly annoyed. As soon as the fight began, Musashi attacked with a single blow following their agreement. The blow directly struck on the left shoulder of Seijuro and left his left arm crippling. Consequently, he retired from his position and passed the headship of the school to his brother named Yoshioka Denshichiro who is equally qualified.
Musashi vs. Yoshioka Denshichiro
Later, Yoshioka Denshichiro became the head of the school and the Yoshioka family. Upon presiding the position he wanted to take revenge for his brother’s defeat and regain his family’s honor back. Thus, he threw a challenge to Miyamoto Musashi and the challenge was accepted.
The duel was scheduled to take place before Sanjusangendo, a Buddhist temple located at Higashiyama. On the day of the duel, Musashi again arrived late to fight with Denshichiro. However, this duel was agreed to be to death. They both were armed too. Musashi was possessing a bokuto and Denshichiro came with the steel rings.
History states that Musashi used to be often mentally, physically, and technically stronger compared to his opponents. When the duel began, Musashi struck Denshichiro using his wooden sword. Surprisingly, a single strike to Denshichiro’s head which led him to suffer death.
Musashi vs. Yoshioka Matashichiro
Following the death of Denshichiro, the 12-year-old Yoshioka Matashichiro became the head of Yoshioka Clan. The death of Denshichiro and two times defamations caused by Miyamoto Musashi lead to outrage to Yoshioka Family.
As like the predecessors, young Matashichiro also challenged Musashi to a duel to the death. At this point, Yoshioka Family wanted to regain its reputation at any cost. Basically, they were ready to do anything to defeat Musashi this time.
Yoshioka family scheduled the duel between Matashichiro and Musashi to take place at night in front of Ichijo-ji Temple. But it was very unusual for duels to happen at night. Consequently, the whole matter appeared to be very suspicious before Musashi. This time Musashi broke his previous habit of arriving late at duels. He arrived at the temple hours early and hid or disguised himself.
Before the duel, Yoshioka clans came with their all archers, swordsmen, and musketeers intending to kill Musashi. The army hid themselves nearby the temple and set a trap for Musashi.
Musashi waited patiently in the bushes. When the right time arrived, he came out from the bushes and drew his swords. Musashi attacked the army and then killed Matashichiro by cutting off his head. Everything had happened in just lighting speed. While he was escaping from the battle zone, he was being attacked by dozens of Yoshioka’s army. To escape the place and fight back to his opponents he drew his second sword. He was holding two swords in each hand and attacking the opponents simultaneously. Many historians believe that Musashi first disclosed his Niten Ichi-ryū or wielding two swords style at that combat. Sadly, the death of Matashichiro brought an end to the Yoshioka School.
Musashi vs. Sasaki Kojiro
In the year of 1612,Miyamoto Musashi had begun to live at Myoshin-ji temple to practice zazen. Where he received a proposal to have a duel to the death with Sasaki Kojiro who was given the title of “The Demon of the Western Provinces.” On 13th April 1612, 30-year-old Miyamoto Musashi fought the duel against Sasaki Kojiro. Musashi arrived late and finished the duel within a very short time. In that duel, Musashi killed Sasaki Kojiro with a bokken.
Some sources state that after Musashi moved from Kyoto, he set out his journey to Hozoin in Nara. There he learned several techniques from the monks and he also had duels with them. Nara was widely known for having expertise in lance weapons. He settled down there at Enkoji Temple in Banshu. Also, on those days he delivered teachings to the brother of Tada Hanzaburo (Head of Monk).
In the years between 1605 and 1612, he traveled all over Japan. During this pilgrimage, he perfected his skills by participating in duels. It was often said that during those duels he was commonly seen to have used either bokken or bokuto swords. Surprisingly, most duels were not duels to the death. Participants in most of the duels wouldn’t try to take the opponent’s life unless both of them agreed to do so. Frankly, Musashi was such a great warrior that he often did not care what type of weapon his opponent was holding. Basically, his mastery had exceeded beyond a reasonable limitation.
A document, from 5th September 1607, states that he moved from Nara to Edo. During this travel, he fought and killed Shishido Baiken who was a Kusarigama practitioner. In his staying days at Edo, he also defeated Muso Gonnosuke – founder of Shinto Muso-ryu school. According to the Shinto Muso Ryu tradition, Muso Gonnosuke’s failure against Musashi had devastated him severely. Consequently, Muso spent his retired days in developing a stick fighting technique which was aimed to make counter attack defeat Musashi in the following duel. However, there aren’t any reliable source that confirms whether a second duel between them took place or not.
History reveals that Miyamoto Musashi fought over 60 duels and no one could ever defeat him. However, this estimate is not conclusive. Since the records of deaths by his own hands in major battles are either missing or omitted.
Musashi’s later life and death
This sword-saint of Japan founded a school – named Nito-Ichi-ryū. In his later years, he authored two books: The Book of Five Rings and Dokkodo (The Path of Aloneness). “The Book of Five Rings” mainly explains the concept of Miyamoto Musashi’s fighting style; also, the generic significance of it. Differently, Dokkodo describes the philosophy of Miyamoto Musashi’s life and the theory behind his martial art.
In 1633,Miyamoto Musashi started to live at Kkumamoto Castle where he engaged in a few duels. One duel occurred in 1634 with a lance specialist and Musashi had won that match. In 1640, with an official arrangement, Musashi became the permanent retainer of the Kumamoto’ Hosokowa lords.
In 1642,Miyamoto Musashi experienced a disease called Neuralgia. Upon experiencing severe illness, in the year of 1642, he placed himself in a cave called Reigando where he had written The Book of Five Rings. Upon realizing his imminent death, he passed his worldly possessions. Also, he had handover a copy of The Book of Five Rings to one of his closest disciples. The great warrior Musashi died on 13th June 1645 at the age of sixty-two. Although it’s not absolutely confirmed that how did Musashi died, but it’s believed that he had died due to thoracic cancer.