The legendary lone-wolf warrior has, through historical twists of fate, become one of the Pacific nation’s greatest cultural icons. As a result the almost mythical Musashi has become a ubiquitous character in Japanese popular culture,making appearances in print, film, television, as well as youth staples, Animé and Manga mediums.
The legend of Miyamoto Musashi begins in 1854, in the farming village of Miyamoto, situated in Japan’s Harima province. Young Musashi, then known as Bennosuke, was the son of a renowned swordsman Miyamoto Munisai. Musashi showed, quite early, the signs of a prodigy as he would often criticize his father’s technique. This drove a rift between the young lad and his dad, as his father found him arrogant. Aged 8, he went to live with his uncle following a near fatal quarrel with his father. The lad then dedicated himself to mastering the sword, training day and night with an almost religious fervor. He would go on to take part in his first duel at the tender age of 13. Marking the first in many spectacular victories that would go on to cement him into Japanese cultural history. After defeating master samurai, Arima Kihei, by beating him to death with a stick – his least glamorous win – and best exemplifying one of the warrior’s key principles – “The purpose of any duel is to win, by any means”, Miyamoto Musashi started on the road to becoming a sword master. Leaving Miyamoto for good.
The Wandering Years
Musashi began his samurai rite of passage, or musa shugyo – a training ritual of wandering the country, dueling other warriors to hone one’s skill – and at age 17 found himself on the battlefield, aiding in a monumental power struggle following the death of then Shogun (supreme political ruler), Toyotomi Hideyori. Becoming a ronin following the defeat of his master, by the new Shogun , Tokugawa Ieyasu, Musashi went on a 4 year quest to further his skill. Racking up a sum total of 60 duels between his teens and late 50’s, along with devloping a dual-sword fighting technique. Miyamoto Musashi’s final battle, one that affected him into his later years – was against Sasaki Kojiro who, at the time, was venerated as Japan’s greatest swordsman. Kojiro personified all the ideals of a Bushido swordsman, incredibly skilled, and equally disciplined. Kojiro used a longsword which had served him well in previous battles. Except, the experienced Musashi had, through the years, developed an unorthodox fighting style. He fought his opponent’s mind before ever fighting them physically. One could say that he had mastered the art of psyching-out his enemies long before it became common tactical practice. On the day of the appointed duel, Musashi woke late and ate a full breakfast without the mildest hint of urgency. He was about 3 hours late when he finally arrived on the island on which the duel was to take place. Kojiro, having found insult in Musashi’s actions, was extremely angry. He rushed at Musashi, who was still at the edge of the water, and tossed his scabbard aside. Musashi – upon seeing this – jokingly remarked to Kojiro, that the angry warrior had already lost, because the loser of a duel had no use for a scabbard. This must have really had an impact on Kojiro, because his next move would prove fatal. Kojiro swung his blade aiming for Musashi’s forehead. Musashi however, had fashioned a wooden sword from an extra oar on the boat ride over to the island. Attacking first would prove to be Kojiro’s undoing, as Musashi countered his attack and delivered a blow to Kojiro’s ribs that punctured his lungs and killed him. Musashi was victorious, but that would be his last battle.
The Later Years
In his older years, Miyamoto Musashi applied his focus to other disciplines; keeping a garden, calligraphy, etc. It was in this period, that he condensed his experience into key principles, which he recorded in his first work The Book Of Five Rings. Following it up with his second book, The Way Of Walking Alone – a collection of the 21 tenets of discipline – written some weeks before his death in 1645.
Musashi The Myth
With the decline, and eventual death, of the samurai code during the period of the rapid modernization of 19th century Japan, Miyamoto Musashi all but disappeared from the annals of history. That was until 1935, that is, when Eiji Yoshikawa published an autobiography of the gentleman warrior, that the name Miyamoto Musashi came to take up a big part of the Japanese pysche. Musashi became a symbol of national pride when Japan went to war in 1937, invading China. Musashi became a symbol that linked modern Japan to it’s noble past, and he exemplified all the best traits of the time, deadly focus, self discipline, tactical prowess, etc. The warrior who, upon sensing death approaching, had propped himself up on his sword so he could die in the fudoza position (a cross legged sitting position, traditionally assumed by samurai warriors at rest) has been a spectre of Japanese excellence ever since. There is little doubt that the name of Miyamoto Musashi lives on as he has been depicted in many Japanese films and television series.
The name Miyamoto Musashi is not lost to Japanese youth culture either, and can be found in over 21 animé and manga series. The common use of the name, Miyamoto Musashi, in manga and animé is probably a result of the prominent place the legendary warrior holds in Japanese culture. A warrior who sought perfection in his skill, to the point that he found enlightenment.