Master Miyamoto Musashi is surely the most celebrated of the Japanese sword masters. He was probably born in 1584 in the village of Miyamoto-Sanomo in the province of Harima. He received the name Bennosuke. He is the son of the notable samourai Hirata (Shinmen, Miyamoto) Munisai and his mother was named Omasa. She died shortly after his birth. His father remarried to the young Yoshikiko who raised the young infant. His father probably taught him the art of ken-jutsu and the family art of jitte.
Following the divorce of his step-mother, he received his education in Dorin (Dorinbo), who was a priest in the Shoreian temple, and the step-father of Tatsumi Masahisa. They taught him Buddhism as well as reading and writing.
Famous painting of Miyamoto Musashi in a saber pose
In the introduction of his book on the Go-rin-no-sho strategy, Miyamoto Musashi wrote that he fought in his first duel at the age of thirteen against a warrior of the Shinto-ryo school named Arima Kihei, who was killed in the fight.
In 1600, Miyamoto Musashi participated in the Sekigahara battle in the batallion of lord Ukita, which was part of the army of the West. This army was defeated by the army of the future shogun Tokugawa.
In 1604, at the age of 20, he undertook a series of duels with the famous Yoshioka family of Kyoto. He fought and conquered successively the masters of the Yoshioka family including the inheriting masters Seijuro and Denshichiro. Following this success, he fought and defeated all of the Yoshioka clan who were defending the youngest master to reach and defeat the youngest remaining master, Matashichiro, who was then twelve.
Memorial stone marking the place of Musashi‘s victory over the Yoshioka clan in Ichijoji (Kyoto)
Miyamoto Musashi then visited the famous Hozoin temple in Nara to measure himself with the monks who were experts in techniques of the lance. He then went to the Enkoji temple in Hyogo whose principal abbot appreciated martial arts. There he trained Tada Genzaburo who received the certificate of transmission of the Musashi school, named at the time Enmei-ryu.
He continued his musha shugyo (training voyage), traveling throughout Japan. At the time of his trip to Edo, he fought against Shishido Baiken, an expert in kusari-gama (sickle with a chain and weight). In Edo (Tokyo), he fought two students of the Yagyu-ryu school named Oseto and Tsujikase. He then defeated, without killing, the jo-jutsu (stick) expert Muso Gonnosuke who later used this experience to elaborate the Shinto-Muso-ryu school.
In 1611, Musashi went to the Myoshinji temple in Kyoto where he practiced zazen. He met a vassal of the lord Hosokawa Tadaoki who spoke of an adept named Sasaki Kojiro and proposed organizing a duel with him. In 1612, the famous duel occurred on the island of Funajima to the north of Kyoshu. Miyamoto Musashi victoriously killed Sasaki Kojiro.
Painting depicting Miyamoto Musashi in pose with two bokken
Miyamoto Musashi then participated in two Osaka battles in winter and summer in the Tokugawa lesu army. These battles brought the final victory of the Tokugawa clan.
He then remained at the home of lord Ogasawara in Akashi where he taught saber. In 1618 he adopted a child who would take the name Miyamoto Mikinosuke, who would commit suicide by seppuku following the death of his lord in 1626.
In 1623, Miyamoto Musashi went again to Edo where he met a Confucianist sage by the name of Hayashi Razan. With him, Musashi then began taking steps to becoming on of the shogun’s saber masters, but was unsuccessful. He then begins to travel again to northern Japan where he adopted a boy who took the name Miyamoto lori and would enter into the service of lord Ogasawara of Akashi in 1626.
At the age of 50, Miyamoto Musashi returned to Kyushu in Kokura whose lord was now Ogasawara Tadasane, who organized a fight between Musashi and the famous lance master named Takada Matabei. Musashi was victorious.
In 1637, Musashi participated in the battles of Shimabara against the Christian rebels. He directed, with his adopted son lori, lord Ogasawara‘s troops. This would be the last battle in which Musashi participated.
Portrait of Miyamoto Musashi
At 56 years of age, Miyamoto Musashi settled in Kumamoto near lord Hosakawa. Lord Hosokawa Tadatoshi organized a fight in the form of training between Musashi and Ujii Magoshiro, the principal master of the lord. Musashi was victorious.
In 1641, he wrote the “Hyoho sanju-go-kajo” for lord Hosokawa Tadatoshi. During this same time, he devoted himself to the practice of different arts like calligraphy, painting and tea ceremonies.
Painting of a cormorant attributed to Miyamoto Musashi
At 58 Musashi fell sick and suffered from neuralgias. One year later, in 1643, he left to settle in the cave called Rengando (cave of the heart or spirit of the rock) situated on Mt. Iwato near Kumamoto. He began writing his famous Go-rin-no-sho.
Philippe Munn at the entrance of the cave Rengando near Kumamoto, Japan
He dedicated this last work, the Go-rin-no-sho, to his disciple Terao Magonojo-Katsunobu. During his last days, he wrote the 21 articles of Dokkodo. Miyamoto Musashi passed away on the 19th day of the 5th month of 1643.
** The principal reference for this article is Kenji Tokitsu’s: ?Miyamoto Musashi – l’homme et l’oeuvre, mythe ou realite (Paris, France, 1998. ISBN 2-907653-54-7).