Famous samurai expert in katana (shinken) sword fighting, Miyamoto Musashi is one of the most important Kenshi (grand master of ken-jutsu) that Japan has known and whose exploits have inspired many stories.
He is the archetype of the Japanese medieval hero. Born in 1584 in Harima province, he was the second son of Munisai Shinmen, himself an expert in katana, who left him orphaned at the age of 7 (killed during a duel). Raised by his uncle in a monastery, Musashi took advantage of this forced stay to train in katana and won his first duel at the age of 13 against Arima Yoshibe. At 17, he participated under the banner of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, during which he was seriously wounded.
From 1604, he was found in Kyoto where he challenged and defeated Yoshioka Seijuro, an important katana expert, as well as many members of his clan. Unbeaten in more than 60 duels, he faced for the last time the famous swashbuckler Sasaki Kojiro of the Mori clan, renowned for his long saber (O-dachi). Killing his opponent with a simple wooden oar according to legend, Musashi never fought again.
From the 1630s, he devoted himself entirely to the study of the Way (Do), while practicing calligraphy and painting, arts in which he excelled. He becomes Kensei during his lifetime (saber saint). In 1637, he returned to the service of his former adversaries the Tokugawa and fought for them the Christian rebels of Shimabara. He was then seen in charge of the command of a reserve corps by Ogasawara, lord of Kokura, during the siege of Hara castle in 1638. At that time, he adopted two children: Iori and Mikinosuke. The latter gets seppuku years later. He became an instructor in 1640 of the powerful Hosokawa family of Kumamoto. In 1643, he retired to the Reigendo cave (temple of Ungan-ji) on Mount Iwato, east of Kumamoto. It was there that he wrote a few weeks before his death in 1645 the text Gorin no Sho (treatise on five wheels), which has become a classic in martial arts literature. He died at the age of 62 and was, according to his will, buried in his armor.
Musashi Miyamoto contracted eczema at a young age which left him with large scars on his face which he retained throughout his life. For this reason, he does not look like other samurai of his time. As a result, he never shaved his hair, nor sported the hairstyle of the samurai: the forelock. Miyamoto Musashi was a giant for his time. He was nearly 1m84 (about 6 feet) tall while his Japanese colleagues averaged 1m53 (5 feet).
It is said that Musashi never took a bath in his life. He washed himself in the icy water of the torrents in order to work his mind.
The path of the Saber
When Musashi returned to his village, he was not greeted as a hero. The village elders considered him to be uncontrollable and he had to leave. He eventually found himself captive at Hejime Castle where he learned the way of the warriors. After a long apprenticeship, Musashi was offered an important post with a daimyo (lord of a larger or smaller region). He courteously declined, preferring to become a Warrior in search of Enlightenment (musha shugyo).
The Yoshioka Family
So he left for Kyoto, which was the capital at the time. Eager to want to test his fighting skills, in 1604 he challenged one of the most renowned schools; that of the Yoshioka family, whose founder was apparently a renowned duelist. The first to rise to Musashi's challenge was the head of the Yoshioka family, Seijiro. The latter was armed with a real sword while Musashi was armed with a bokken, a wooden saber. The fight lasted only a short time. Seijiro lost his arm in the duel and died. This earned him the hatred of the Yoshioka clan. The second duel took place against Denshichiro, Seijiro's brother. The fight was, once again, brief. Musashi broke Denshichiro's skull in the blink of an eye ...
The latter, exasperated by Musashi's attitude, challenge him a third time to a duel against Matashihiro, still a child, taking care to set a trap for him from which he will not be able to escape. But once is not customary, Musashi arrived early. He had time to see the cowardice of the Yoshioka in action and finally attacks them. Matashihiro dies and Musashi escapes the 80 samurai ambushing him, killing a dozen clan members. It was Ichijoji's famous fight.
He then hit the road again, winning challenge after challenge, unbeaten in more than 60 duels.
Iwami sohke, 11th successor to Miyamoto Musashi.
The story brings us different versions of the meeting between Musashi and Muso Gonnosuke. Having met Musashi and defeated by him for the first time in 1605 in the province of Harima in Akashi, the latter estimated that the traditional stick of 1m80 could not reach sufficient speed against a katana. Retiring to Mount Honman (in Kyushu), he reduced the length of the staff to 1.30m after some mystical experiences. He combined the handling of this new staff (Jo) with what he already knew from those of the spear, the katana and the Naginata. Legend has it that when he met Musashi for the second time, the length of the Jo, even trimmed, allowed him to reach a weak point on the opposing swordsman's body at the solar plexus. Gonnosuke managed to defeat Musashi without causing him any great harm. But it was the only loss suffered by Musashi and it was because of a new technique from Jo-Jutsu.
In April 1612, Musashi met the famous Sasaki Kojiro, of the Mori clan, renowned for his famous long saber (O-dachi). He confronts him on the island of Mukojima using a simple piece of wood or an oar (depending on the version). The duel takes place on the beach. A single blow to Kojiro's head and Kojiro is stretched out on the sand, defeated by the weapon's unusual reach. There are many other versions of this fight saying that Musashi lost or that Musashi was just a coward etc. Musashi never followed the teaching of a particular kenjutsu school. Having certainly benefited from the talent of his father, then the teaching of the monastery, he mainly acquired his fighting techniques on his own, later taking the status of musha-shugyo (the quest of the warrior, a form of learning of the warrior arts which consisted of going from master to master, from school to school to learn and compare his technique to the most multiple sources). Musashi experimented a lot and obviously made his own technical synthesis. He created a fighting style with two sabers (katana and wakisashi) named nito-ryu, then niten-ryu, which he used in particular during the fight of Ichijoji. If the school disappeared with his death, there are however still Kata with two sabers transmitted by the kenjutsu during the following centuries. The Hyoho Niten Ichi-Ryu however claims today to transmit the technique of Musashi.