The history of Miyamoto Musashi

The life of Miyamoto Musashi

The biography of the most celebrated Samurai

Estátua de Miyamoto Musashi Sensei em Kumamoto

Also known as Kensei, the Sword Divinity, Miyamoto Musashi dedicated

his life to reach perfection throughout Swordsmanship. He fought and won more than 60 life-or-death duels and ended his career invincible. He kept in touch with a large variety of arts, including painting, sculpture, calligraphy and poetry, as well as the Zen meditation and Buddhism. He left for future generations not only his fight style but also an immense legacy of masterpieces on painting, sculpture, calligraphy and poetry, as well as the most important Japanese treatise on strategy, the Book of the Five Rings (Gorin no Sho).

Early Life and Childhood

Musashi Sensei, or Shinmen Musashi-no-Kami Fujiwara no Genshin, as he introduces himself in the Preface of The Book of the Five Rings, was born in the Harima County during a very turbulent time in Japan, when the last decisive battles took place at that Samurai Gold Era.

Back to that time in Japan, it was very common that a same individual changed his or her name during different periods of his/her own life (as we usually do with nicknames and spouse/married names versus single/maid names nowadays). During his childhood, Musashi Sensei was called the Shinmen Bennosuke. It is assumed that he received his first instructions on kenjutsu from his own father, Shinmen Hirata Munisai.

As we can read in The Book of the Five Rings, he describes us the details of his first duel when he was with 13 years old only. At his 16, he defeated a very skillful warrior named Tadashima Akiyama.

The battle of Sekigahara and the Kyoto Duels

On 1600 the Battle of Sekigahara took place, defining the destiny of Japan for the following 3 centuries. It was in this battle that Tokugawa Ieyasu ascended to power, assuming the Shogunduties – it was the beginning of the Edo Period (1603-1868). Musashi Sensei spent his youth during this chaotic early Edo Period. Historical credits recount that he fought on the side of a defeated Daimiô and Warlord, Ukita Hideie, along with the defeated army in the Sekigahara Battle. Despite the negative results on the battlefield, he was able to survive and scape from the bounty hunters of that time.

On 1604, at 21 years of age, Musashi Sensei appears in Kyoto and his fame is spread for all over Japan after he defeated three important duels against three members of the illustrious Yoshioka Family, which was responsible, years before, for the instruction of House of shogun Ashikaga. (a kind of “official Swordsman School” for the Shogun himself).

He embraced on three duels. In the first two he defeated the “Kenpo Brothers”, Seijuro and Denshijiro. After having defeated both, Yoshioka followers saw Musashi Sensei not as a simple opponent anymore, but as a true and alive threat. They seek for a revenge and arranged a third duel against Matashichiro, Seijuro’s son, a 13 years old kid. Matashchiro would count with the help and support of all students and followers of Yoshioka School. It is recalled that during this duel, Musashi Sensei fought against 60 opponents at the same time, all of them armed with swords, spears, bows and arrows and even muskets.

Musashi Sensei defeated all his opponents, including Matashichiro and the Yoshioka’s students who crossed his path on that day. This was the end of a once upon time proud Yoshioka House and the start of the Miyamoto Musashi’s legend.

Warrior Peregrination

During the following years, Musashi Sensei kept traveling throughout the whole Japan as a Musha Shugyo – the warrior peregrination searching for duels. He faced many challengers, mainly after his fame spread due to the victories against the Yoshiokas. During this period we must stress the following duels:

The Duel against Sasaki Kojiro

This is the most relevant and important duel fought by Musashi Sensei, which took place on 1612 when he defeated Sasaki Kojiro, the Ganryu School founder and a famous skilled samurai. Kojiro’s skills remark him as one of the most respected samurais of all times.
Afar from Musashi Sensei, who developed his own School based on his particular duel experiences, Kojiro was the follower of a long and extremely respected lineage and tradition. He studied Swordsmanship with the eminent Master Toda Seigen, from the Chujo Ryu School and Kenemaki Jisai, his disciple. Jisai was the master of the well-known and respected Swordmaster Itto Itosai, the founder of the famous Itto Ryu, one of the most important Swordsmanship styles of all times.
Monument of the two great Samurais at the Funajima Island

During the duel time, Kojiro was the Hosokawa Tadaoki instructor, a very important Daimiô (a Feudal Lord). Musashi Sensei obtained permission to duel against Kojiro throughout Nagaoka Sado, an old friend of his family who was a long time advisor to Lord Hosokawa.
The duel took place at the Funajima Island. Musashi Sensei’s strategy for this duel was to deliberately delay the fight at the maximum point possible and keep the challenger in a long wait. Two hours after of the appointed time, he appeared in the shore and stroke directly his opponent in one single movement. Musashi Sensei also knew that Kojiro used an extralong sword and used to take advantage of the long distance while using his weapon. In order to cancel this length advantage, Musashi Sensei sculpted a longer wooden bokken in a broken paddle during his travel to the island.
The fight was very quick and intense. Both stroke each other simultaneously. Musashi Sensei hit Kojiro front forehead with a very keen and precise movement. It is recalled that Kojiro strike reached the headscarf Musashi Sensei was using, causing a small incision in his fronthead. After Kojiro’s fall, he tried a second and final strike while on the floor, aiming to hit Musashi Sensei’s legs, who leaped to avoid this final strike, hitting Kojiro on the hips, with an instant fatal knock out that costed Kojiro’s life.
This is the description, according to witnesses recalls, of what must had happened during the most famous and celebrated duel of Samurai history and recollections.

During that time, Musashi Sensei was near his 30s. The duel against Kojiro had a huge effect over Musashi Sensei’s mind. According with Musashi Sensei’s own recollections on the Book of the Five Rings (Gorin No Sho), he reflected about all his victories reached so far, but was not able to find out why he defeated so many duels. Was that due to his physical strength? Or was that due to the weakness of his opponents? Or, maybe, was that due a God’s will?

Looking forward from the start point of these questions, Musashi Sensei spent the rest of his life – more than the two remaining thirds of his journey in Earth, in search for answers. So, he dedicated himself to leave for the following generations his legacy throughout his techniques that he baptized as Niten Ichi Ryu.

From this time he got in contact with other artistic forms, such as painting, sculpture, poetry and even architecture and urbanism.

Mature Life

On 1621, Musashi Sensei held a legendary duel, but it was not because of his challenger,
Musashi Sensei Autoportrait showing the two sword position
but mainly because this was the first official record of a two sword duel that became his trademark at Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu. Miyaki Gunbei was his opponent, who tried to strike Musashi Sensei several times in a roll, being blocked in each one of the failed tentative. Gunbei desperately stroke a direct stab, blocked by the short sword carried on the left hand by Musashi Sensei, simultaneously to a direct attack over Gunbei’s front face with the long sword carried by Musashi Sensei’s right hand. Gunbei recognized that he lost the duel and ask deep apologies to Musashi Sensei, bowing to him and asking to become his disciple.

Musashi Sensei did not marry, but adopted two kids, Mikinosuke and Iori. Both became vassals of important Feudal Lords.

Musashi Sensei was not a simple ronin. He was considered a Master of the Way and a person with great sensibility and wisdom, an advisor to be always listened and a Leader to be followed. He was often invited to stay on Castles and had in his inner circle the trust of respected personalities, as Takuan Soho Monk (an advisor for the Tokugawa Shogun), Honami Koetsu (a very important celebrity of the artistic movement called “Kyoto Renascence”) and the feudal Lords Ogasawara Tadazana and Hosokawa Tadatoshi. Together with Hosokawa Lord, Musashi Sensei embraced in a very long and deep friendship.

Musashi Sensei recalls on the Book of Five Rings that at his 50s he finally reached the full comprehension of the strategy. The level of understanding reached on the Way was so deep that, according with his words, he was able to “see” the Way in everything and on every detail of his life, from the time he waked up until he back to bed to sleep. Some of his paintings, sculptures and calligraphies masterpieces reached us nowadays. He reached the perfection on the Swordsmanship techniques and, thereafter, he was able to reach the same level of perfection in all of these Ways.

The last years of the Grand Master

The legacy Musashi Sensei left to the following generations was mainly focused on the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, resulting from his life experience on combats and his deep life perception developed over decades of practicing and observation. In our School we follow the forms and positions (the katas) in the exact manner Musashi Sensei created long time ago.
The Reigando Sanctuary
Musashi Sensei spent the last years of his life in Kumamoto, as a guest of his fellow friend Hosokawa Tadatoshi. Thanks to a Lord Hosokawa request, Musashi Sensei registered his techniques and his thinking in a short article called “35 sections on the Art of Kenjutsu”. While in Kumamoto he taught the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu to his disciples and dedicated to study Buddhism, meditation and artistic development.

At the end of his life Musashi Sensei lived as an eremite in the Reigando Sanctuary, where he dedicated to meditation and the constant practice of his style. He wrote the Book of Five Rings, leaving all the teachings to his disciple Terao Magonojo.

Musashi Sensei died on May 19, 1645. He was buried (at his request) using a complete War Dress (yoroi armor) in the Yuji village, near to Iwato Mount. It is recalled that during his funeral services a hard lightning bolt stroke at the sky, as Gods were welcoming the Powerful Warrior.


- The Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi

- The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musahi, by William Scott Wilson (2013)

- Musashi: An epic novel of the Samurai Era, by Eiji Yoshikawa (2012)

-The Vagabond Mangá, by Takhiko Inoue (2008)