Musashi Madness


Miyamoto Musashi and his strategy has occasionally come up in my discussions with fellow fencers. What interests me about him, is not so much his skill in the fight, but his strategy beforehand.In 1604, Musashi challenged Yoshioka Seijuro, the head of the Yoshioka school. Musashi used the strategy of arriving late, which unnerved and infuriated his opponent. Musashi won the duel, striking Seijuro on the left shoulder with a wooden sword so well that Seijuro was crippled for life.

Upon Seijuro’s defeat, his brother Yoshioka Denshichirō, challenged Musashi. Again Musashi arrived late and again he won. Thirst for revenge, the Yoshioka clan challenged Musashi to a duel with the youngest brother, Yoshioka Matashichiro, who was 12 years old. To augment Matashichiro’s lack of experience, they sent a force of archers, musketeers and swordsmen.

Musashi did not arrive late this time. Instead he arrived early, long before the Yoshioka clan and hid himself in an ambush position. He waited until the Yoshioka group believed he wasn’t coming and began their way home. When Matashichiro passed by with his retinue, Musashi jumped out and slew the child. He then quickly made his escape whilst under attack from Matashichiro’s retainers.

One of Musashi’s more famous duels, was with Sasaki Kojiro. Kojiro was known for his skilled use of the Nodachi (long sword) and attended the duel with many supporters. On the boat to the appointed venue (Funajima island), Musashi carved a wooden sword out of an oar, reportedly longer than Kojiro’s Nodachi. Arriving late, Musashi promptly killed Kojiro, and then immediately returned to boat and left. IMO, Kojiro would of been used to having a range advantage over other swords. Musashi negated this by using a longer sword. In addition to using his old trick of arriving late, he was unkempt, further infuriating Kojiro’s side. There are even rumours on the interwebs that Musashi timed his arrival and departure with the tides, aiding his journey to and from the island (and possibly away from Kojiro’s supporters seeking revenge).

There are many differing accounts of Musashi’s exploits, but IMO, Musashi’s intellect for strategy, as well as his natural fighting ability aided him to be one of the best swordsmen in history. However, he does mention in his book, ‘A Book of Five Rings’, that he did not truly master strategy until he was 50, long after the duels detailed above. I’ll end this with an interesting quote from his book, and then some Samurai drum and base videos.

The field of martial arts is particulary rife with flamboyant showmanship, with commercial popularization and profiteering on the part of both those who teach the science and those who study it. The result of this must be, as someone said, that ‘amateuristic martial arts are a source of serious wounds.

– Cleary translation.

Some things never change.

~ by Magnus on 9 January, 2008.

2 Responses to “Musashi Madness”

  1. Do you have any recommendations for good sources containing these sorts of stories about Musashi’s duels?

  2. The books most recommended are ‘The Lone Samurai’ and ‘Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings’.

    The book translations of ‘The Book of Five Rings’ will often have some information about Musashi’s exploits. However, from the ones I’ve seen, they all seem to have their own version of events.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: