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Miyamoto Musashi: One of the greatest Samurai that ever lived

Goran Blazeski

Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no Genshin, better known as Miyamoto Musashi, is probably the most famous samurai today as a result of his highly acclaimed martial arts text, The Book of Five Rings.

He was born in Miyamoto-Sanoma in the province of Mimasaka, Japan in 1584 and he went to become the greatest swordsman of the period. He was a prodigious child, and he trained himself in the art of sword fighting at an early age so much so that at the age of thirteen, he went on to win his first duel.

Musashi Miyamoto with two Bokken (wooden quarterstaves)

Musashi Miyamoto with two Bokken (wooden quarterstaves)

He won sixty duels in his life, some of which were against multiple enemies. He spent his life wandering through the countryside, challenging people to prove his outright capabilities and toughness.

He was born into a samurai family and probably grew up with his mother or step-mother. His father, Shinmen Munisai, visited him regularly and gave him training in sword and in other aspects of samurai culture. He was only ten years old when his parents died he found himself living in a monastery where he learned Zen Buddhism from the monks there.

When he was 13 years old, a Samurai by the name of Arima Kihei was passing through Musashi’s town. He challenged anyone who felt brave enough to fight him. A 13-year-old boy answered the challenge; it was Musashi’s first duel.

Miyamoto Musashi having his fortune told.

Miyamoto Musashi having his fortune told.

Arima Kihei was a professionally trained adult samurai but still Musashi accepted the challenge. Musashi used a wooden sword as a weapon and Arima Kihei had a razor sharp short sword. Musashi attacked first and he picked up Arima and slammed him headfirst into the ground. Using his wooden sword he beat Arima to death.

When he was 16 years old he left the monastery. He was ready for his second duel against a strong Samurai named Akiyama. The fight quickly ended and Musashi killed Akiyama.

Later he fought in the Battle of Sekigakarai (1600). His side lost the battle but he fought bravely and somehow managed to stay alive. He was now a masterless samurai, known as a ronin. During these years of his life, he improved his fighting skills and philosophy in a series of duels which he won.

He went to the capital of Japan, Kyoto to challenge the best swordsman in the country. He also challenged the Yoshioka group, which was the most famous and respected at that time. He challenged Seijuro Yoshioka to a duel with a bokken (wooden sword). He managed to break Seijuro’s arm and he won the battle. Musashi defeated the head of one of the most prestigious martial arts schools in the land.

Miyamoto Musashi, Self-portrait, Samurai, writer and artist, c. 1640

Miyamoto Musashi, Self-portrait, Samurai, writer and artist, c. 1640

The Yoshioka family was embarrassed because their leader lost the battle and they decided to challenge Miyamoto again. Seijuro Yoshioka’s younger brother Denshichiro would be the next to challenge Musashi to a duel.

He was also a great warrior and a very accomplished Samurai. This time Musashi killed his opponent. Their reputation was now in ruins. Their next plan was to kill Miyamoto, but he wasn’t an easy target.

A group of Yoshioka men attacked Musashi. He killed the new head of the Yoshioka Clan named Matashichiro and somehow he managed to cut himself a path through the men trying to kill him before escaping into nearby rice fields.

His next opponent was Sasaki Kojiro who was the most feared and respected warrior in the land. It was the year of 1612. They agreed to meet on an island to fight. Musashi cut his opponent’s throat, killing him instantly.

The grave-marker of Miyamoto Musashi, in present-day Kumamoto Prefecture

The grave-marker of Miyamoto Musashi, in present-day Kumamoto Prefecture

Around 1642 Musashi became sick and sensing that his end was near, he retired to a cave where he wrote his masterpiece, Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings).

He also wrote a book on self-discipline called Dokkodo (The Way of Walking Alone), which he completed in 1645, just months before he died. He died On May 19th, 1645, at the age of sixty-one from natural causes.

He is known to be one of the greatest swordsmen that ever lived.