Born in 1584, Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara was the only child of father Munisai and mother Omasa. His father was an accomplished swordsman and expert with the jutte (iron truncheon). Munisai was a vassal of the Shinmen clan and it is believed he taught young Musashi both the sword and Jutte from a very early age.
Musashi started testing out his sword skills at the young age of 13 using single combat as a medium. He went on to fight over 60 duels winning all of them – many of which were to the death. He was said to have used a live sword or bokuto in actual duels. It is known that Musashi did not care which weapon his foe used — such was his mastery. These included bouts with the Yoshioka-ryu school in Kyoto, where he beat every teacher and successor of the school. The Yoshioka family were outraged and therefore for their last bout with Musashi they planned an ambush. He survived this encounter by drawing both his swords; the katana and wakizashi and defending himself. This was the beginning of formulation of his Nito (two swords) style.
He also participated in at least 3 major conflicts on the battlefield.
At the age of 30, he fought and defeated Sasaki Kojiro who was also making a name for himself as “The Demon of the Western Provinces”, wielding a large sword known as a nodachi in Japanese. It is said he defeated him with a Bokuto he made from a boat oar whilst rowing to Ganryu island where they fought.
Defeating Kojiro was a pivotal time in his life. He looked very deeply into the purpose of his practice and the very essence of his hyoho (strategy). He continued to fight duels but only to demonstrate his skill, not to win. It was through his study that he developed his own school of fencing in the early 1600s called Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu which he taught to a number of students.
In his later years he went on to retire to Reigando (spirit rock cave) as a hermit. For 2 years he meditated and wrote Go Rin No Sho – The Book of Five Rings which would become an influential text throughout history to the present day.
Through his life he wrote other texts but most have been lost in time. One example still found is the Dokkodo – The Way of Walking Alone which he wrote before his death. It is one of his short works which contains 21 precepts expressing a stringent, honest, and ascetic view of life.
He died in 1645, leaving his teachings in the hands of one of his senior student; Terao Kyumanosuke Nobuyuki.
Musashi: A man of many talents
Miyamoto Musashi was an expert in the martial arts. He was proficient in not only the sword arts but also Bo (Japanese quarterstaff), Jutte (iron truncheon) and unarmed combat (Jujutsu).
He was also a master strategist, able to describe and apply principles in conflicts of varying scales from the one on one duel to a whole battlefield conflict. Much of this is found in The Book of Five Rings and is also a major characteristic of Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu, ‘Hyoho’ meaning strategy.
Outside of martial arts and strategy, Musashi believed it was important to explore other professions and skills in order to be a well-rounded individual. Therefore not only was he a master of martial arts, he was also a talented artist working in painting, sculpting and metalwork. Some of his art works have still survived to this day.
He had a talent for writing, including poetry and was also talented in Japanese tea ceremony from the Ogasawara-ryu tradition.