Most historians agree that the greatest man to hold a katana was born in 1584 Japan. This great Samurai warrior was named Musashi Miyamoto, he was born into a Samurai family from the Miyamoto village centered in the Harima province. His mother soon died after birth, leaving him with his harsh and strict father, Munsai. Musashi was trained by his father, which built a relationship of turmoil between the two, and even though the details are unclear Musashi was sent to live with his uncle.
His uncle was a monk of the Shoreian temple where learned Zen Buddhism as well as how to read and write. Musashi finally had his first duel at the age of 13. It was against a samurai warrior by the name of Arima Kibei. Musashi wasted no time before rushing Arima, he caught the warrior off guard and knocked him down with his bokuto. Musashi proceeded to beat the life out of him with repeated blows to the head. Few years later Musashi left his temple to hone his skills in the art of kenjutsu while wielding his katana. He knew in his heart he had to learn the warrior’s way on his own.
Even at the young age of 16 Musashi was showing the signs of a battle tested warrior. Then on October 21, 1600 there was a war between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans for the unification of Japan. Musashi sided with the Toyotomi Clan because they were allied to his family. During this war he took part in the attack on Fushimi Castle during the battle of Sekigahara.
After being victorious in war Musashi turned a new page in life. He would journey across Japan perfecting his kenjutsu skills through duels. These duels started out against the Yoshioka Clan, where Musashi challenged the top swordsmen of the Clan, Yoshioka Seijuro. The due took place on March 8, of 1604, they used wooden swords called bokuto and the first one to land a single blow would be the victor. Musashi took a very impractical approach to the duel by arriving late. This infuriated his opponent so much that he lose his temper and his cool. Musashi had already won, Seijuro had lost sight of what really mattered, the outcome. Eventually, Musashi kick started the duel by instantly hitting Seijuro’s shoulder, breaking his arm. Seijuro was so ashamed by this that he left his warrior life behind to become a monk of the Zen order.
This single duel started an unwinding of the Yoshioka Clan. With this brother removing himself from the top spot Yoshioka Denshichiro was the next in line. He had to gain back the honor that had been lost with his brother’s defeat. He challenged Musashi to a duel to the death, and again Musashi would show up late as to creep inside the head of his opponent. When he arrived he had the same bokuto. Denshichiro had a long staff with steel rings, but there was no use as Musashi instantly killed him with one single blow to the head.
With the top two of the family gone this left them with a 12-year-old by the name of Yoshioka Matashichiro. Like his brothers before him, he also challenged Musashi, his family now desperate to regain their honor. This time they did everything in their power to make sure they would finally bury Musashi six feet under. Matashichiro would have the duel at night this time. Musashi could smell something was up so he arrived early and hid. When Matashichiro arrived, he was surrounded by a small army of men by his side. Musashi calculated his attack just right and without hesitation ambushed them and quickly cut the boys head clean off. With his dual katanas, he fought off the other armed men and nearly made his escape, and with the death of Matashichiro the Yoshioka Clan crumbled away.
Few years have passed for Musashi when he would now have non-lethal duels with the monks in the area. One went by the name, Shishido Baiken, a master with the kusarigama. This weapon was a sickle that had a chain connected to a weight at the end of it. He had no luck as to overpowering Musashi. Then there was Muso Gonnosuke, a famous swordsman who was a master of Tenshin Katori Shinto Ryu. He had never lost in a duel till he faced off with Musashi.
There is always one battle that is with a greater or equal foe. Musashi found this foe in Sasaki Kojiro, an undefeated duelist who wielded a longer katana that required two hands, it was called a no-dachi. His movements were said to mimic the movements of a swallow’s tail. The two great duelists agreed to have their duel on April 13, 1612 and as you might have assumed, Musashi was up to his old tricks, once again showing up late. This made Sasaki flustered with rage. Musashi arrived with his bokuto per usual, as Sasaki drew out his no-dachi and threw his sheath. To this Musashi replied, “ If you have no more use for your sheath, you are already dead.” Sasaki charged forward and Musashi countered the attack and hit Sasaki in the rib. With the rib broken, it punctured the lung and killed Sasaki. Musashi had killed the greatest swordsmen besides himself and at that moment he was definitely finished with lethal duels.
Musashi used all of these unique life experiences to teach his students the ways of kenjutsu. He also gave us the ‘Thirty-Five Instructions to Fighting,’ a book that went over his philosophy to fighting. His last days he spent in the cave of Reigando to write the book of five rings. He also produced ‘The Way of Walking Alone,’ a book that covers self-discipline. Musashi died in June 1645, but still lives on through the legend that he created with his dual katanas and barbaric ways.