Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584– 1645) was a Japanese swordsman and samurai famed for his duels and distinctive style. He became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age.

He was the founder of the Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.

In 1604 Musashi challenged Yoshioka Seijūrō, master of the Yoshioka School, to a duel. Musashi arrived late, greatly irritating Seijūrō. They faced off, and Musashi struck a single blow, crippling Seijūrō’s left arm. He apparently passed on the headship of the school to his equally accomplished brother, Denshichirō, who promptly challenged Musashi for revenge. Musashi arrived late to that duel as well, and defeated his opponent again. This second victory outraged the Yoshioka family, whose head was now the 12-year old Matashichiro.

They assembled a force of archers, musketeers and swordsmen, and challenged Musashi to a duel outside Kyoto. Musashi broke his previous habit of arriving late, and came to the temple hours early. He assaulted the force, killing Matashichiro, and escaped. With the death of Matashichiro, this branch of the Yoshioka School was destroyed.

In 1612, Musashi (about age 30) fought his most famous duel, with Sasaki Kojirō. Musashi came late and unkempt to the appointed place — the island of Funajima. The duel was short. Musashi’s weapon was a wooden sword (normally used for training) that he carved from an oar of the boat that ferried him to the island.

His late arrival was controversial. Sasaki’s outraged supporters thought it was dishonorable and disrespectful, while Musashi’s supporters thought it was a fair way to unnerve his opponent. Another theory is that Musashi timed the hour of his arrival to match the turning of the tide. The tide carried him to the island. After his victory, Musashi immediately jumped back in his boat and his flight from Sasaki’s vengeful allies was helped by the turning of the tide. Another theory states he waited for the sun to get in the right position. After he dodged a blow, Sasaki was blinded by the sun.

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