Miyamoto Musashi killing a giant nue

Miyamoto Musashi killing a nue, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861).

Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵 c.May 19, 1584 or June 13, 1645), prior to adulthood known as Miyamoto Bennosuke or Miyamoto Musana, was a famous Japanese swordsman. He is believed to have been one of the most skilled swordsmen in history. Musashi, as he is often simply known, became legendary through his outstanding swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He is the founder of the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu, or Nito Ryu style of swordsmanship and wrote Go Rin No Sho, The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy still studied by martial artists, businesspeople, and others even today.


Musashi ts pic

Musashi Miyamoto in his prime, wielding two bokken.


Much of Miyamoto Musashi's early life is shrouded in mystery; his early life is fairly well-documented, but the sources conflict. His place and date of birth are uncertain. The most generally accepted possibility is that his elder brother, Sirota, was born in 1578 (dying in 1660), and Musashi himself was born into a samurai family called the Hiratas, in either the village of Miyamoto (in present-day Mimasaka, Okayama (then Sakushu, west of Kyoto), in the province of Mimasaka. Banshu village has also been suggested. His family owed allegiance to the Shinmen clan; Musashi later alluded to this relationship in the formal introduction to the Go Rin No Sho, that his full name was Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no Genshin.

His father is generally given as Hirata Munisai (or Miyamoto Munisai, or Miyamoto Muninosuke), a vassal to Lord Shinmen, and a skilled martial artist in his own right; he was renowned as an master of the jitte and a sword adept. In his youth, he won 2 out of 3 bouts against a master swordsman named Yoshioka in front of the then-shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki; the shogun granted him the title "Best in Japan". Munisai also taught in a local dojo his family jitte techniques. Mysteriously, his tomb says he died in 1580, which obviously conflicts with the accepted birth date of 1584 for Musashi. Further muddying the waters, the family genealogy of the extant Miyamoto family, Musashi was born in 1583. Kenji Tokitsu has suggested that the accepted birth date of 1584 for Musashi is wrong, as it is primarily based on a literal reading of the introduction to the Go Rin No Sho where Musashi states that the years of his life "add up to 60" (yielding the twelfth year of the Tensho era, or 1584, when working backwards from the well-documented date of composition), when it should be taken in a more literary and imprecise sense, indicating not a specific age but merely that Musashi was in his sixties when he wrote it.

Because of the uncertainty centering around Munisai (when he died, whether he was truly Musashi's father, etc.), Musashi's mother is known with even less confidence. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Munisai's tomb was correct. He died in 1580, leaving two daughters; his wife adopted a recently born child, from the Akamatsu clan, intended to succeed Munisai at his jitte school. Omasa, Munisai's widow, was not truly Musashi's mother.
  2. The tomb was wrong. Munisai lived a good deal longer, later than 1590 possibly. Musashi, then, was born to Munisai's first wife, Yoshiko (daughter to Bessho Shigeharu, who formerly controlled Hirafuku village until he lost a battle in 1578 to Yamanaka Shikanosuke). Munisai divorced her after Musashi's birth, whereupon she decamped for her father's house, leaving Musashi with Munisai. Musashi grew up treating Munisai's second wife, Omasa (daughter to Lord Shinmen) as his mother. This second scenario is laid out in a entry to the Tasumi family's genealogy:
    "The daughter of Bessho Shigeharu first married Hirata Muni and was divorced from him a few years later. After that she married Tasumi Masahisa.
    The second wife of Tasumi Masahisa was the mother of Miyamoto Musashi.
    Musashi's childhood name was Hirata Den. He later became famous on account of his swordsmanship. During his childhood, he went to Hirafuku to find his real mother. He moved in with the Tasumi family." [1]
  3. A variant of this second theory is based on the fact that the tombstone states that Omasa gave birth to Musashi on 4 March 1584, and died of it. Munisai then remarried to Yoshiko. They divorced, as in the second theory, but Yoshiko took Musashi with her, and married Tasumi Masahisa.
  4. Kenji Tokitsu prefers to assume a birth date of 1580, which avoids the necessity of assuming the tombstone to be erroneous (although this poses the problem of whom then Musashi received the transmission of the family martial art from).


Regardless of the truth about Musashi's ancestry, when Musashi was seven years old, the boy was raised as a Buddhist by his uncle, Dorinbo (or Dorin), in Shoreian temple, three kilometers (~1.8 mi.)from Hirafuku. Both Dorin and Musashi's uncle by marriage - Tasumi - educated him in Buddhism and basic skills such as writing and reading. This education is possibly the basis for Yoshikawa Eiji's fictional education of Musashi by the historical Zen monk Takuan. He was apparently trained by Munisai in the sword, and in the family art of the jitte. This training did not last for a very long time, as in 1589, Munisai was ordered by Shinmen Sokan to kill Munisai's student, Honiden Gekinosuke. The Honiden family was displeased, and so Munisai was forced to move four kilometers (~2.5 mi.) away to the village of Kawakami.

It has been suggested that in 1592, Munisai died, although Tokitsu believes that the person who died at this time was really Hirata Takehito.

It is said that Musashi contracted eczema in his infancy, and this adversely affected his appearance. Template:Fact Another story claims that he never took a bath because he did not want to be surprised unarmed. While the former claim may or may not have some basis in reality, the latter seems improbable. An unwashed member of the warrior caste would not have been received as a guest by such famous houses as Honda, Ogasawara and Hosokawa. These and many other details are likely embellishments that were added to his legend, or misinterpretations of literature describing him.

The literature leaves one unsure of his father's fate, but he may have died at the hands of one of Musashi's later adversaries, who was punished or even killed for treating Musashi's father badly. This, however, is uncertain, as there are no exact details of Musashi's life, since Musashi's only writings are those related to strategy and technique.

Training in swordsmanshipEdit

The name "Musashi" was thought to be taken from the name of a warrior monk named Musashibō Benkei who served under Minamoto no Yoshitsune, but this is unconfirmed. In any case, the name seems fitting, particularly when comparing the level of mastery of weaponry - both being able to masterfully use nine or more weapons.


Ichijoji Sagarimatsu, Location of the battle between Musashi and the Yoshioka school

It is said that he may have studied at the Yoshioka ryu school, which was also said to be a school Musashi defeated single-handedly during his later years, although this is uncertain.

First duelEdit

"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 the prefecture of Tajima. 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." -Musashi Miyamoto, Go rin no sho

According to the introduction of The Book of Five Rings, Musashi states that his first successful duel was at the age of thirteen, against a lesser-skilled Samurai named Arima Kihei who fought using the Shintō-ryū style, founded by Tsukahara Bokuden (b. 1489, d. 1571). The main source of the duel is the Hyoho senshi denki ("Anecdotes about the Deceased Master"). Summarized, its account goes as follows:

In 1596, Musashi was 13, and Arima Kihei, who was travelling to hone his art, posted a public challenge in Hirafuku-mura. Musashi wrote his name on the challenge. A messenger came to Dorin's temple, where Musashi was staying, to inform Musashi that his duel had been accepted by Kihei. Dorin was shocked by this, and tried to beg off in Musashi's name, but when he asked Kihei to drop the duel, he was adamant that the only way Kihei's honor could be cleared was if Musashi apologized to him when the duel was scheduled. So when the time set for the duel arrived, the monk began apologizing for Musashi, who merely leaped into the ring with a piece of wood shaped like a sword, shouting a challenge to Kihei. Kihei attacked with a wakizashi, but Musashi threw Kihei, and while Kihei tried to get up, Musashi struck him between the eyes and then beat him to death.

The duel is odd for a number of reasons, not least of which is why Musashi was permitted to duel Arima, whether the apology was a ruse, and why Arima was there in the first place.

Travels and duelsEdit

In 1599, three years later, Musashi left his village, apparently at the age of 15 (according to the Tosakushi, "the registry of the Sakushu region", although the Tanji Hokin hikki says he was 16 years old in 1599)[1]. His family possessions such as furniture, weapons, genealogy, and other records were left with his sister and her husband, one Hirao Yoemon.

He spent his time travelling and engaging in duels, such as with an adept called Akiyama from the Tajima province.

In 1600, a war began between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa. Musashi apparently fought on the side of the Toyotomi's "Army of the West", as the Shinmen clan (to which his family owed allegiance) had allied with them. Specifically, he participated in the attempt to take Fushimi castle by assault in July 1600, in the defense of the besieged Gifu castle in August of the same year, and finally in the famed Battle of Sekigahara. Some doubt has been cast on this final battle, as the Hyoho senshi denki has Musashi saying he is "no lord's vassal" and refusing to fight with his father (in Lord Ukita's battalion) in the battle. Omitting the Battle of Sekigahara from the list of Musashi's battles would seem to contradict the Go rin no sho's statement that Musashi fought in six battles, however.

Regardless, the Army of the West lost decisively, and Shinmen Sokan fled to Kyushu province. It has been suggested that Musashi fled as well, and spent some time training on Mt. Hikosan.

After the Battle of Sekigahara, Musashi disappears from the records; the next mention of him has him arriving in Kyoto at the age of 20 (or 21), where he famously began a series of duels against the Yoshioka school.

Musashi's father had fought against an adept of the Yoshioka school in his youth, receiving the title of "Best in Japan" as mentioned earlier. The Yoshioka school (descended from either the Shinto ryu or the Kyo hachi ryu) was the foremost of the eight major schools of martial arts in Kyoto, the "Kyo ryu"/"schools of Kyoto". Legendarily, these eight schools were founded by eight monks taught by a nigh-mythical martial artist resident on the sacred mountain Kurama. At some point the Yoshioka family also began to make a name for itself not merely in the art of the sword but also in the textile business and for a dye peculiar to them. They gave up teaching swordsmanship in 1614 when they were in the Army of the West against Tokugawa Ieyasu, in the Battle of Osaka, which they lost. But in 1604, when Musashi began dueling them, they were still preeminent. There are various accounts of the duels- the Yoshioka family documents claim that there was only one, against Yoshioka Kenpo, which Musashi lost.

Musashi challenged Yoshioka Seijuro, master of the Yoshioka school, to a duel. Seijuro accepted, and they agreed to a duel outside Rendaji Temple on 8 March 1604. Musashi arrived late, greatly irritating Seijuro. They faced off, and Musashi struck a single blow, per their agreement. This blow struck Seijuro on the left shoulder, knocking him out, and crippling his left arm. He apparently passed on the headship of the school to his equally accomplished brother, Yoshioka Denshichiro, who promptly challenged Musashi to get revenge. The duel variously took place outside Kyoto or in a temple called Sanjusangen-do. Denshichiro wielded a staff reinforced with steel rings (or possibly with a ball-and-chain attached), while Musashi arrived late a second time. Musashi disarmed Denshichiro and defeated him. This second victory outraged the Yoshioka clan, whose head was now the 12 year old Yoshioka Matashichiro. They assembled a force of archers, riflemen, and swordsmen, and challenged Musashi to a duel outside Kyoto, near Ichijoji temple. Musashi broke his previous habit of arriving late, and came to the temple hours early. Hidden, Musashi assaulted the force, killing Matashichiro, and escaping while being attacked by dozens of their supporters. With the death of Matashichiro, that branch of the Yoshioka school was destroyed.

After Musashi left Kyoto, some sources recount that he travelled to Hozoin in Nara, to duel with and learn from the monks there, widely known as experts with lance weapons. There he settled down at Enkoji Temple in Banshu, where he taught the head monk (one Tada Hanzaburo's) brother. Hanzaburo's grandson would found the Ensu ryu based on the Enmei Ryu teachings and iaijutsu.

From 1605 to 1612 he traveled extensively all over Japan in Musha-Shugyo, a warrior pilgrimage during which he honed his skills with duels. He was said to have used bokken or bokuto in actual duels. Most of the duels from these times did not try to take the opponent's life unless both agreed, but in most duels it is known that Musashi did not care which weapon the other was using - such was his mastery of the way of strategy.

In 5th of the 9th month of 1607, a document purports to be a transmission by Miyamoto Munisai of his teachings, suggesting Munisai lived at least to this date. In this year, Musashi departed Nara for Edo, in the meanwhile dueling (and killing) a kusari gama practitioner named Shishido Baiken. In Edo, Musashi defeated Muso Gonnosuke, who would found an influential staff school, the Shinto Muso Ryu.

Musashi is said to have fought over 60 duels and was never defeated, although this is a conservative estimate, most likely not accounting deaths by his hand in major battles. Japanese historians seem to believe that he could not have won all of them alone, without some assistance from his students; although this is unlikely because of the sheer mastery Musashi had above his students, particularly noting that most students found his techniques difficult, even as he states in his own books.

In 1611, Musashi began practicing zazen at the Myoshinji Temple, where he met Nagaoka Sado, vassal to Lord Hosokawa Tadaoki; Tadaoki was a powerful lord who had received the fief of northern Kyushu after the Battle of Sekigahara. Munisai had moved to northern Kyushu and became Tadaoki's teacher, leading to the possibility that Munisai introduced the two. Nagaoka proposed a duel with a certain adept named Sasaki Kojiro. Tokitsu believes that the duel was politically motivated, a matter of consolidating Tadaoki's control over his fief.

Duel with Sasaki KojiroEdit


In April 14, 1612 aged approximately 28, Musashi had his most famous duel with Sasaki Kojiro who wielded a nodachi (a type of long two-handed sword). Musashi came late to the appointed place — the remote island Funajimu, north of Kysuhu, and unkempt — possibly as an attempt to unnerve his opponent — and killed him with a bokken that he had made from an oar (this may be related to the Okinawan weapon known as the shureido eakuTemplate:Fact) to be longer than the nodachi, an impressive feat by the standards of any samurai or swordsman.

He briefly established a fencing school that same year.


In 1614 - 1615 Musashi participated in the war between the Toyotomis and Tokugawas. The war had broken out because Ieyasu saw the Toyotomi family as a threat to his rule of Japan; most scholars believe that as in the previous war, Musashi fought on the Toyotomi side. Osaka Castle was the central place of battle. The first battle (the Winter Battle of Osaka; Musashi's fourth battle) ended in a truce, and the second one (the Summer Battle of Osaka; Musashi's fifth battle) resulted in the total defeat in May 1615 by Ieyasu's Army of the East Toyotomi of Hideyori's Army of the West. Some reports go so far as to say that Musashi entered a duel with Ieyasu, but was recruited after Ieyasu sensed his defeat was at hand. Although this seems unlikely, it is unknown how Musashi came into Ieyasu's good graces.

Other accounts claim he actually served on the Tokugawa side, but such a claim is unproven, although Musashi had a close relationship with some Tokugawa vassals through his duel with Sasaki Kojiro, and in the succeeding years, he did not drop out of sight as might be expected if he were being persecuted for being on the losing side. In his later years, Lords Ogasawara and Hosokawa supported Musashi greatly — an atypical course of action for these Tokugawa loyalists, if Musashi had indeed fought on behalf of the Toyotomis.

In 1615 he entered the service of Lord Ogasawara Tadanao of the Harima province, at Ogasawara's invitation, as a foreman or "Construction Supervisor", after previously gaining skills in craft. He helped construct Akashi Castle, and to lay out the organization of the town of Himeji (this last in 1621). He also taught the martial arts during his stay, specializing in instruction in the art of sword-throwing, or the shuriken. During his service, he adopted a boy.

In 1621, Musashi defeated Miyake Gunbei and three other adepts of the Togun ryu in front of the lord of Himeji; it was after this victory that he helped plan Himeji. Around this time, Musashi developed a number of disciples for his Enmei Ryu although he had developed the school considerably earlier; at the age of 22, Musashi had already written a scroll of Enmei Ryu teachings called "Writings on the Sword Technique of the Enmei Ryu" (Enmei ryu kenpo sho). "En" meant "circle" or "perfection"; "mei" meant "light"/"clarity", and "ryu" meant "school"; the name seems to have been derived from the idea of holding the two swords up in the light so as to form a circle. The school's central idea is given as training to use the twin swords of the samurai as effectively as a pair of sword and jitte.

In 1622, Musashi's adoptive son, named Miyamoto Mikinosuke became a vassal to the fief of Himeji. Possibly this prompted Musashi to leave, embarking on a new series of travels, winding up in Edo in 1623, where he became friends with a Confucian scholar named Hayashi Razan. Musashi applied to become a swordmaster to the Shogun, but as he already had two swordmasters (Ono Jiroemon and Yagyu Munenori- the latter also a political advisor to the shogun, in addition to his position as the head of the Shogunate's secret police), his application was denied. Musashi left Edo in the direction of Oshu, ending up in Yamagata, where he adopted a second son, Miyamoto Iori. The two then travelled, eventually stopping in Osaka.

In 1626, Miyamoto Mikinosuke, following the custom of junshi, committed seppuku because of the death of his lord. In this year, Miyamoto Iori entered Lord Ogasawara's service. Musashi's attempt to become a vassal to the Lord of Owari, like other such attempts, failed.

In 1627, Musashi began to travel again. In 1634 he settled in Kokura with Iori, and later entered the service of daimyo Ogasawara Tadazane, taking a major role in the Shimabara Rebellion. Iori served with excellence in putting down the rebellion and gradually rose to the rank of karo - a position equal to a minister. Musashi, however was reputedly injured by a thrown rock while scouting in the front line, and was thus unable to accrue any form of merit.

Later life and deathEdit

Six years later, in 1633, Musashi began staying with Hosokawa Tadatoshi, daimyo of Kumamoto Castle, who had moved to the Kumamoto fief and Kokura, to train and paint. While there he engaged in very few duels; one would occur in 1634 at the arrangement of Lord Ogasawara, in which Musashi defeated a lance specialist by the name of Takada Matabei.

In 1637, the Shimabara Rebellion began. Musashi's sixth and final battle would have him supporting his son Iori and Ogasawara as a strategist, directing their troops. As a reward, Iori became Ogasawara's principal vassal.

In the second month of 1641, Musashi wrote a work called the Hyoho sanju go ("Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy") for Hosokawa Tadatoshi; this work overlapped and formed the basis for the later Go rin no sho. This was the year that his third son, Hirao Yoemon, became Master of Arms for the Owari fief. In 1642, Musashi suffered attacks of neuralgia, foreshadowing his future ill-health. In 1643 he retired to a cave named Reigandō as a hermit to write The Book of Five Rings. He finished it in the second month of 1645. On the twelfth of the fifth month, sensing his impending death, Musashi bequeathed his worldly possessions, after giving his manuscript copy of the Go Rin No Sho to his closest disciple (Terao Magonojo)'s younger brother. He died in Reigandō cave around the nineteenth of the fifth month, or possibly June 13, 1645. The Hyoho senshi denki described his passing thusly:

"At the moment of his death, he had himself raised up. He had his belt tightened and his wakizashi put in it. He seated himself with one knee vertically raised, holding the sword with his left hand and a cane in his right hand. He died in this posture, at the age of sixty-two. The principal vassals of Lord Hosokawa and the other officers gathered, and they painstakingly carried out the ceremony. Then they set up a tomb on Mount Iwato on the order of the lord."

It is notable that Musashi died of what is believed to be thoracic cancer, and was not killed in combat. He died peacefully after finishing the Dokkodo ("The Way of Walking Alone", or "The Way of Self-Reliance"), 21 precepts on self-discipline to guide future generations.

His body was interred in armor within the village of Yuge, near the main road near Mount Iwato, facing the direction the Hosokawas would travel to Edo; his hair was buried on Mount Iwato itself.

Nine years later, a major source about his life- a monument with a funereal eulogy to Musashi- was erected in Kokura by Miyamoto Iori; this monument was called the Kokura hibun.


Musashi on the back of a whale

Another picture of Musashi engaged in fantastic combat, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861).

Musashi created and perfected a two-sword kenjutsu technique called niten'ichi (二天一, "two heavens as one") or nitōichi (二刀一, "two swords as one") or "Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu" (A Kongen Buddhist Sutra refers to the two heavens as the two guardians of Buddha). In this technique, the swordsman uses both a large sword, and a "companion sword" at the same time, such as a katana and wakizashi.

It is said the two-handed movements of temple drummers inspired him, although it seems more likely that the technique was forged by a means of natural selection through Musashi's combat experience, or from jitte techniques which were taught to him by his father- the jitte was often used in battle paired with a sword; the jitte would parry and neutralize the weapon of the enemy whilst the sword struck or the practitioner grappled with the enemy. In his time a long sword in the left hand was referred to as gyaku nito. Today Musashi's style of swordsmanship is known as Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū.

Musashi was also an expert in throwing weapons. He frequently threw his short sword, and Kenji Tokitsu believes that shuriken methods for the wakizashi were the Niten Ichi Ryu's secret techniques. In fact before the Meiji era multi-faceted skills were a necessity, so the likelihood of such information is accurate. (see Hayakutake-Watkin: [1])

Musashi was a loner. He spent many years studying Buddhism and swordsmanship. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor, and calligrapher. Records also show that he had architectural skills. Also, he had a rather straightforward approach to combat, with no additional frills or aesthetic considerations. This was probably due to his real-life combat experience.

Especially in his later life Musashi also followed the more artistic side of bushido. He made various Zen brush paintings and calligraphy and sculpted wood and metal. Even in The Book of Five Rings he emphasizes that samurai should understand other professions as well. It should be understood that Musashi's writings were very ambiguous. Translating them into English make them even more so. That is why we find so many copies of Gorin no Sho. One needs to read this work, Dokkodo and Hyoho Shiji ni Kajo to get a better idea of what he was about and understand his transformation from Setsuninto (the sword that takes life) to Katsujinken (the sword that gives life).


After his death, various legends began to appear. Most talk about his feats in kenjutsu and other martial arts, some describing how he was able to hurl men over 5 feet backwards, other about his speed and technique. Other legends, tell of how Musashi killed giant lizards in Echizen, as well as Nues in various other prefectures. He gained the stature of Kensei, a "sword saint" for his mastery in swordsmanship. Some believed he could run at super-human speed, walk on air, water and even fly through the clouds. Other legends say that he fought in the battle of Sekigahara and the Summer seige of Osaka Castle. In both of these battles he is said to have fought alongside the Toyotomi clan.


Throughout Musashi's last book, Go Rin No Sho (五輪の書, The Book of Five Rings), Musashi seems to take a very philosophical approach to looking at the "Craft of War"; "There are four Ways in which men pass through life: as Gentlemen Warriors, Farmers, Artisans and Merchants." these falling into one of the few profession groups that could be observed in Musashi's time.

Throughout the book, Musashi employs that the way of the Warrior, as well as the meaning of a "True strategist" is that of somebody who has made mastery of many art forms away from that of the sword, such as tea drinking (sado), laboring, writing, and painting as Musashi practiced throughout his life. Musashi was hailed as an extraordinary sumi-e artist in the use of ink monochrome as depicted in two such famous paintings: "Shrike Perched in a Dead Tree" (Koboku Meikakuzu, 古木明確図) and "Wild Geese Among Reeds" (Rozanzu, 魯山図).

He makes particular note of Artisans and Foremen. In the time in which he writes the book, the majority of houses in Japan were made of wood. In the use of building a house, foremen have to employ strategy based upon the skill and ability of their workers.

In comparison to warriors and soldiers, Musashi notes the ways in which the artisans thrive through events; the ruin of houses, the splendor of houses, the style of the house, the tradition and name or origins of a house. These too, are similar to the events which are seen to have warriors and soldiers thrive; the rise and fall of prefectures, countries and other such events are what make uses for Warriors, as well as the literal comparisons of the: "The carpenter uses a master plan of the building, and the Way of strategy is similar in that there is a plan of campaign".

The Way of StrategyEdit

Throughout the book, Go Rin No Shō, the idea which Musashi pushes is that the "Way of the Strategist" is similar to how a carpenter and his tools are mutually inclusive, e.g. - A carpenter can do nothing without his tools, and vice versa. This too, he compares to skill, and tactical ability in the field of battle.

Initially, Musashi notes that throughout China and Japan, there are many "sword fencers" who walk around claiming they are Strategists, but are in fact, not - this may be due to the fact that Musashi had defeated some such Strategists, such as Arima Kihei.

The idea is that by reading his writings, you can become a true strategist from ability and tactical skill that Musashi had learned in his lifetime. He pushes that Strategy and Virtue are something which can be earned by knowing the ways of life, the professions that are around, to perhaps learn the skills and knowledge of people and the skills of their particular professions.

However, Musashi seems to state that the value of Strategy seems to be homogeneous. He notes that:

The attendants of the Kashima Kantori shrines of the province Hitachi received instruction from the gods, and made schools based on this teaching, travelling from country to country instructing men. This is the recent meaning of strategy.

As well as noting that Strategy is destined to die;

Of course, men who study in this way think they are training the body and spirit, but it is an obstacle to the true Way, and its bad influence remains for ever. Thus the true Way of strategy is becoming decadent and dying out.

As a form, strategy was said to be one of "Ten Abilities and Seven Arts" that a Warrior should have, but Musashi disagrees that one person can gain Strategy by being confined to one particular style, which seems particularly fitting as he admits " I practice many arts and abilities - all things with no teacher" - this perhaps being one of the reasons he was so highly-regarded a swordsman.

Musashi's metaphor for Strategy is that of the Nut and the flower, similar to western philosophy of "The chicken or the egg", the "nut" being the student, the "flower" being the technique. He also notes that most places seem to be mostly concerned with their technique and its beauty. Musashi writes, "In this kind of Way of strategy, both those teaching and those learning the way are concerned with coloring and showing off their technique, trying to hasten the bloom of the flower" (as opposed to the actual harmony between strategy and Skill.)

With those who are concerned with becoming masters of strategy, Musashi points out that as a carpenter becomes better with his tools and is able to craft things with more expert measure, so too can a warrior, or strategist become more skilled in his technique. However, just as a carpenter needs to be able to use his tools according to plans, so too must a strategist be able to adapt his style or technique to the required strategy of the battle he is currently engaged in.

This description also draws parallels between the weapons of a trooper (or soldier) and the tools of a carpenter; The idea of "the right tool for the right job" seems to be implied a lot throughout the book, Go Rin No Shō. Musashi also puts into motion the idea that when a Carpenter is skilled enough in aspects of his job, and creates them with expert measure, then he can become a foreman.

Although it is not expressly mentioned, it may be seen that Musashi indicated that when you have learned the areas in which your craft requires, be it carpentry, farming, fine art or battle, and are able to apply them to any given situation, then you will be experienced enough to show others the wisdom of your ways, be it as a foreman of craftsmen, or as a general of an army.

From further reading into the book, the idea of "Weapons within strategy," as well as Musashi referring to the power of the Writer, may seem that the Strategy which Musashi refers to does not exclusively reside within the domain of weaponry and duels, but within the realm of war and battles with many men:

Just as one man can beat ten, so a hundred men can beat a thousand, and a thousand can beat ten thousand. In my strategy, one man is the same as ten thousand, so this strategy is the complete warrior's craft.

Of Ni-Ten Ichi RyuEdit

Within the book, Musashi mentions that the use of Two swords within strategy is mutually beneficial between those who utilise this skill. The idea of using two hands for a sword is an idea which Musashi disagrees with, in that there is not fluidity in movement when using two hands - "If you hold a sword with both hands, it is difficult to wield it freely to left and right, so my method is to carry the sword in one hand", as well as the idea of using a sword with two hands on a horse, and/or riding on unstable terrain , such as muddy swamps, rice fields, or within crowds of people.

In order to learn the strategy of Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu, Musashi employs that by training with two long swords, one in each hand, you will be able to overcome the cumbersome nature of using a sword in both hands. Although difficult, Musashi agrees that there are times in which the Longsword must be used with two hands, but if your skill is good enough, you should not need it. The idea of using two long swords is that you are starting with something to which you are unaccustomed, and that you will find difficult, but will adapt to after much use.

After using two long swords proficiently enough, Musashi then states that your mastery of a Longsword, and a "Companion Sword", most likely a wakizashi, will be much increased - "When you become used to wielding the long sword, you will gain the power of the Way and wield the sword well.".

In short, it could be seen that from the excerpts from Go Rin No Shō, the real strategy behind Ni-Ten No Ichi Ryu, is that there is no real iron-clad method, path, or type of weaponry that is specific to the style of Ni-Ten No Ichi Ryu:

You can win with a long weapon, and yet you can also win with a short weapon. In short, the Way of the Ichi school is the spirit of winning, whatever the weapon and whatever its size.

Of the Long SwordEdit

The strategy of the long sword is different than other strategies, in that is much more straightforward. In the strategy of the longsword, it seems that Musashi's ideal was, that by mastering gripping the sword with two fingers, it could become a platform used for moving onto the mastery of Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu, as well as being able to use two broadswords, or more masterfully use a companion sword.

However, just because the grip is to be light, it does not mean that the attack or slash from the sword will be weak. Like with any other technique in the Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu, he notes:

"If you try to wield the long sword quickly you will mistake the Way. To wield the long sword well you must wield it calmly. If you try to wield it quickly, like a folding fan or a short sword, you will err by using "short sword chopping". You cannot cut down a man with a long sword using this method."

Like with most disciplines in martial arts, Musashi notes that the movement of the sword after the cut is made must not be superfluous; instead of quickly returning to a stance or position, one should allow the sword to come to the end of its path from the force used. In this manner, the technique will become freely flowing, as opposed to abrupt; this principle is also taught in Tai Chi Ch'uan.


Even from an early age, Musashi separated his religion from his involvement in swordsmanship. Excerpts such as the one below demonstrate a philosophy that is thought to have stayed with him throughout his life:

"The Way of the warrior does not include other Ways, such as Confucianism, Buddhism, certain traditions, artistic accomplishments [,] [-and] or dancing. But even though these are not part of the Way, if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything. Men must polish their particular Way." Template:Fact

The idea that Musashi hated Shinto is a somewhat inaccurate translation, since he only notes differences in its style of swordsmanship (which he refers to as "strategy") when speaking on Shinto, and their "alien" practices, is believed by many to be completely false. The argument that Musashi was biased against Shintoists finds much of its basis in the fact that he duelled with a great many followers of that religion. However, since Shintoism is the native religion of Japan and adherents of that religion were in the majority at that time, the prevalence of Shintoists as opponents hardly seems unreasonable. According to other sources, Musashi was really an atheist but he never expressed it in public when Japanese society was extremely uptight about atheism. Most historians have tried to delete atheism from popular celebrities´ biographies, and includes Musashi's.

Musashi as an artistEdit

In his later years, Musashi claimed in his Go Rin no Sho that "When I apply the principle of strategy to the ways of different arts and crafts, I no longer have need for a teacher in any domain." He proved this by creating recognized masterpieces of calligraphy and classic ink painting. His paintings are characterized by skilled use of ink washes and a economy of brush stroke. He especially mastered the "broken ink" school of landscapes, applying it to other subjects, such as his "Koboku meikakuzu" ("Kingfisher Perched on a Withered Branch"; part of a triptych whose other two members were "Hotei Walking" and "Sparrow on Bamboo"), his "Hotei Watching a Cockfight", and his "Rozanzu" ("Wild Geese Among Reeds").

Partial bibliographyEdit

  1. The 35 Articles of Swordsmanship
  2. Dokkodo (The Path of Self-Reliance)
  3. Go Rin No Shō (The Book of Five Rings; a reference to the Five Rings of Zen Buddhism)

Myth and legendsEdit

  • It was said that Musashi always "grasped his swords tightly" by many people reading information about him. However, he categorically states that your grip must not be too tight as it restricts your movement with a sword.
  • It has also been said that Musashi used nothing but a wakizashi and a katana. This is untrue; one of Musashi's signature peculiarities was that he would prefer a wooden sword (bokken) over a katana in duels. In fact, the Book of Five Rings talks much about how the warrior should not have a favorite weapon, the true way is to be acquainted with all weapons.
  • Legends state that Musashi never bathed, for fear of being caught without his swords. Since he was a frequent visitor in the courts of nobles, and the dojos of renowned masters, this is unlikely.
  • It has been suggested by some historians that Musashi created the two swords style after seeing a European duel in the Nagasaki area. European fencing at the time would have used a long sword with a short one - rapiers and daggers. From certain documents, however, it seems that he naturally pulled out his wakizashi during a duel because he felt he needed it. He won and after the fight he began to refine his technique.

Musashi in fictionEdit


There have been thirty six films made about Musashi, including six with the title of "Miyamoto Musashi" and a television series about his life. Even in Musashi's time there were fictional texts resembling comic books. It is therefore quite difficult to separate fact from fiction when discussing Musashi; this is especially true on the internet. Eiji Yoshikawa's novelization has greatly influenced successive fictional depictions and is often mistaken for a factual account of Musashi's life.

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite book

External linksEdit


Template:Persondatabg:Миямото Мусаши de:Miyamoto Musashi es:Musashi Miyamoto fr:Musashi Miyamoto it:Musashi Miyamoto la:Miyamotus Musashi ja:宮本武蔵 pl:Musashi Miyamoto pt:Miyamoto Musashi fi:Miyamoto Musashi sv:Miyamoto Musashi zh:宮本武藏