Musashi Miyamoto - the Legend

Miyamoto Musashi was a legendary swordsman, famed already in his early youth for his duels and distinctive style. Founder of the Niten-ryu style, he is also famous as the author of The Book of Five Rings (Gorin no sho), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.
Musashi was also an artisan that created masterpieces of calligraphy and classic ink painting.

A young master swordsman

Musashi's full name was Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no Genshin, and he was born (as he stated himself) in Harima Province in 1584, probably in Miyamoto village of the Ohara town where his father, Shinmen Munisai, lived.

Shinmen Hirata Munisai was an accomplished martial artist and master of the sword and jutte (or jitte), a weapon that was carried in one hand, and used on the battlefield to trap an enemy's sword and then slay them. Musashi´s mother most likely was the second wife of Munisai, Omasa (although it is possible that the mother would be the father’s first wife that died in childbirth).

When Musashi reached the age of seven, he moved to Shoreian temple where his uncle, Dorinbo, educated him in Buddhism and basic skills such as writing and reading.
As a young boy he participated on the side of Shimnen clan in the main battle between so called Western and Eastern Forces that took place in Sekigahara; later on he fought five more battles. Still, he barely mentioned them in his book, possibly because he had fought on the loosing side, and he was afterwards forced to live as outsider.

Musashi has his first fencing duel at the age of 13. In his book “Gorin no sho” Musashi wrote: “I have trained in the way of strategy since my youth, and at the age of thirteen I fought a duel for the first time. My opponent was called Arima Kihei, a sword adept of the Shinto ryu, and I defeated him. At the age of sixteen I defeated a powerful adept by the name of Akiyama, who came from Tajima Province. At the age of twenty-one, I went up to Kyoto and fought duels with several adepts of the sword from famous schools, but I never lost.”

As a young man he participated also on the side of Shimnen clan in the main battle between so called Western and Eastern Forces that took place in Sekigahara; later on Musashi fought five more battles. Still, he barely mentioned them in his book, possibly because he had fought on the loosing side, and he was afterwards forced to live as outsider. After few years of secluded life in the mountains, he went to Kioto where he single-handed brought down one of the most respected schools of swordsmanship of that time.

The Duels with Kyoto Clans

The duels against adepts of the Yoshioka School in Kyoto are among some of Musahi´s most famous. The first duel on March 8, 1604 against Yoshioka Seijuro, master of the Yoshioka School, at Rendaiji in Rakuhoku, in northern Kyoto was a psychological masterpiece. By arriving late, Musashi was irritating Seijuro. As they faced off, Musashi struck a single blow on Seijuro´s his left shoulder that almost knocked the opponent out and crippled his left arm. After this defeat, Seijuro passed on the headship of the Yoshioka School to his brother, Yoshioka Denshichirô who wanted revenge, so he challenged Musashi. This time the duel took place outside the San´jusangen-do temple. Once again Musashi arrived late. Yoshioka Denshichirô wielded a staff reinforced with steel rings but Musashi disarmed Denshichirô and defeated him. The Yoshioka clan was justifiably outraged and the head of the clan was now the 12-year old Yoshioka Matashichiro. Yoshioka challenged Musashi to a duel near the Ichijoji Temple just outside Kyoto. He brought with him to the duel swordsmen, archers and musketeers. But this time Musashi changed tactic, instead of being late, he arrived to the temple hours early.  When Yoshioka Matashichiro and his men were arriving, they were expecting to have to wait for Musashi. Instead Musashi assaulted Matashichiro and his men from a hidden position and killed Matashichiro. Musashi directly escaped while being attacked by dozens of his victim's supporters. With the death of Matashichiro, this branch of the Yoshioka School was destroyed.

Duel with Sasaki Kojiro

Musashi fought over 60 and was never defeated. In 1612, in one of the most famous of his battles – against a long-time rival, a samurai called Sasaki Kojiro, he used a sword he quickly fashioned out of a spare oar from the boat he was travelling on to the island of Funajima (today: Ganryujima) where the duel with this prominent swordsman carrying a nodachi, a large two-handed sword, would take place. Musashi´s wooden sword turned to be longer than nodachi. A single strike on the skull killed the opponent.

The heritage

The written works
In 1640 Musashi entered the service with the Hosokawa clan and a couple of years later he started to work on his great book, Gorin no sho. As his health deteriorated, he moved to a cave to finish the book. Only a week before his death (he died of what is believed to be thoracic cancer) he wrote also Dookodo, "The Way of Walking Alone" or “21 precepts on self-discipline to guide future generations”.

Nine years later a monument with a funereal eulogy to Musashi was erected in Kokura by Miyamoto Iori. An account of Musashi's life called the Niten-ki was published in Kumamoto in 1776 by Toyota Kagehide. It was based on the recollections of his grandfather Toyota Masataka, who was a second generation pupil of Musashi.

Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu - "two heavens as one" school
This kenjutsu technique created by Musashi is a two-sword technique where the swordsman uses both a large sword (like katana), and a "companion sword" (like wakizashi) at the same time.
This school of classic swordsmanship of the early Edo period is in modern times preserved in kendo.

See the movie
Kendo glossary
Japanese expressions used in kendo. 
Osame-to and read more
World Championships
Results of the kendo competitions held every third year since 1970. Read more
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