Musashi Miyamoto 15841645

Born in the village of Miyamoto, Mimasaka province, Japan in 1584, Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no Genshin - better known as Musashi Miyamoto - was the son of a samurai with a long and honorable lineage. His father either left or was killed, and his mother died, leaving Musashi an orphan in the care of a local priest.

Musashi was a precocious martial artist. Large for his age and prone to violence, he slew his first man in single combat at age 13, throwing his sword-armed opponent to the ground and dashing in his head with a stick - foreshadowing a tactic for which he would later become famous. At age 16, he joined the Ashikaga army in their fight against Tokugawa Ieyasu at the battle of Sekigahara. Musashi chose the losing side but survived both the battle and the subsequent hunting down and massacre of the defeated army.

Musashi then began his "Warrior's Pilgrimage." He traveled around Japan, honing his sword skills and fighting anyone willing to meet him in mortal combat. He was utterly single-minded about the martial arts. He left his hair uncut and took neither a wife nor a job. His sole concern was perfecting his art, and he thought only of battle. It's said that he wouldn't bathe without his weapon close at hand, to prevent enemies from taking advantage. He was eccentric, and showed up to more than one duel so disheveled and behaving so oddly that it unnerved his foe.

Musashi fought in six wars and hundreds of single combats until about age 50. A legend in his own time, he features prominently in stories from all parts of Japan. For instance, practitioners of Jojutsu (p. 192) proudly tell the tale of how their founder lost to Musashi and went on to perfect a style so powerful that even Musashi couldn't defeat him!

After his pilgrimage, Musashi adopted a son and became a teacher, commander, and advisor at the court of a daimyo on Kyushu. He fought in even more battles, acted as a general and sword instructor, and took up painting and wood-carving. In his final years, he left the court and lived alone in the mountains, contemplating the ways of the sword and of strategy. Shortly before his death, he wrote Go Rin No Sho, or "A Book of Five Rings," in which he expounded that strategy and swordsmanship were identical.

Musashi is best known for the style of Kenjutsu (pp. 173175) he created, Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu. He felt that fighting exclusively with two hands on a single sword was limiting, and espoused fighting with long and short swords simultaneously. Musashi did not himself use actual swords often -his preferred weapon was the bokken, or wooden training sword. His record of success in duels leaves little room to debate its deadliness. Musashi even fought duels with improvised clubs made from tree branches or oars.

Musashi was a ferocious fighter in his youth, ruthlessly killing his foes regardless of age, skill, and social position. In his later years, though, he became less bloodthirsty and was widely regarded for his great skill in Kenjutsu, earning the name Kensei, or "sword saint."

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