Miyamoto Musashi was a Japanese swordsman, philosopher, rōnin, and philosopher who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He fought 61 duels during his lifetime and remained undefeated. Mushashi’s wisdom lives on in his classic text “The Book of Five Rings”. Musashi’s life had an incredible influence on Japanese culture, and his legacy remains strong to this day.
Musashi was born in 1584 into a family of samurai rank. He was born in Miyamoto village in Harima province, where Miyamoto Musashi derives his family name. Musashi’s mother died shortly after he was born, and he was raised by his father: an accomplished swordsman. As was typical for a young samurai, Musashi was taught swordsmanship by his father and displayed great talent despite his young age.
Musashi fought his first duel when he was only 13 years old. Although young, Musashi defeated his opponent in a brutal duel, beating him to death with a wooden sword. At 15 Musashi left his village and spent his time traveling and engaging in duels across Japan.
Musashi’s first famous duel occurred in Kyoto when he was 20 or 21 years old. Musashi challenged the head of the famous Yoshioka clan: Yoshioka Seijuro, to a duel. Seijuro accepted, and they agreed the duel would be decided by a single blow using wooden swords. As part of his strategy, Musashi arrived late to the duel, angering his opponent and disturbing his mind. The two swordsmen faced off, and in an instant Musashi struck his opponent, shattering his left arm. Musashi had won.
The leadership of the Yoshioka clan passed to Seijuro’s brother: Yoshioka Denshichiro. Eager for revenge, Denshichiro challenged Musashi to another duel, this time to the death. Once again, Musashi was late to the duel, angering his opponent and throwing him off-balance. The two faced off, and once again Musashi struck his opponent with a lightning-quick blow to the head, killing him instantly.
Having lost their two leading swordsmen, the Yoshioka clan was desperate to kill Musashi and regain their honor. The leadership of the clan passed to Yoshioka Matashichiro: a 12-year-old boy. Matashichiro once again challenged Musashi to a duel, and arrived at the duel heavily armored and surrounded by armed retainers.
Unlike his previous duels, Musashi had arrived early and was hiding in the bushes. At the appropriate time, Musashi stepped out of the bushes, drew his sword, and sliced off Yoshioka Matashichiro’s head. Matashichiro’s men then surrounded Musashi, attacking him from all sides. Musashi was forced to wield a sword in each hand to defend himself, and eventually cut his way out of the ambush. Musashi would later develop this two-sword style into his famous Nito-Ryu style of Japanese swordsmanship.
Musashi’s most famous duel was fought against Sasaki Kojiro: the so-called “Demon of the Western Provinces”. Kojiro wielded a long, heavy Japanese greatsword (no-dachi), and was exceptionally quick despite the weapon’s weight. Once again, Musashi arrived more than three hours late to their duel, wielding an oversized wooden sword that legend says Musashi had carved from the oar of his boat. Musashi’s lateness infuriated Kojiro. Blinded by anger, Kojiro attacked, and Musashi countered viciously. Musashi’s oversized sword smashed Kojiro’s left ribs, puncturing his lungs. Legend says Musashi was saddened by the death of such a skilled opponent, and he never fought a fatal duel again.
Besides his duels, Musashi’s greatest remaining legacy is his famous “Book of Five Rings”, which Musashi wrote between 1643-1645. Suffering from ill health, Musashi wrote the book during his retirement, living in a cave as a hermit. “The Book of Five Rings” is a no-nonsense guide to swordsmanship and strategy. Musashi described technical flourishes as excessive and concentrated exclusively on ways to kill your opponent. Musashi also advocates his two-sword Nito-Ryu style in the text.
Miyamoto Musashi is a legendary figure in Japanese culture. His martial record remains unparalleled to this day, and his “Book of Five Rings” continues to be read by martial artists, businessmen, and others. Musashi’s status as the greatest swordsman who ever lived has never been usurped, and likely never will be.