10 True Facts About The Samurai Master, Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi is a legendary figure in Japanese history.

Miyamoto Musashi is a legendary figure of Japanese history. As a master swordsman, wanderer, writer, artist, and philosopher, his impact remains in the modern world. What made Musashi so special was the fact that he never limited himself to a single discipline or practice. He was something like a Japanese Renaissance Man whose skills knew no bounds.

But with such a fabulous legend, including an impressive bibliography and an even more impressive duel record, it’s easy to fall into rumors and hearsay about the man’s life. Have you ever wondered what’s true about Miyamoto Musashi’s life story? Here are 10 true facts about the vagabond samurai master Miyamoto Musashi.

10. He Won Over 60 Duels

According to history, Musashi began fighting in duels at the young age of 13 years. He continued to surmount opponents throughout his adolescence and into his adult life as he traveled through Japan. While the exact number of victories he claimed is difficult to quantify, most historians place Musashi’s successful duels over 60.

At the time, and onward into recorded history, Musashi’s record has never come close to being matched. Some say his natural abilities were too much for his opponents. Others believe his name and legend was enough to shake even the most accomplished opponent to his knees.

9. He Served In Wars

The majority of Musashi’s fighting took place in one-on-one sword fights, but he also served for military forces on occasion. For example, he fought in the principle battle of the war between Toyotomi and the Tokugawa.

The battle took place in the year 1614 at Osaka Castle. There is some debate over Musashi’s loyalty to either side, which further expands the myths of his wandering, lawless nature. His next most significant military service would come years later in 1627 during the battles of the Shimabara Rebellion. Though he never endeavored to commit to a life of military service, he certainly offered his skills when needed.

8. Musashi Was More Than A Fighter

While it’s easy to look at Musashi’s reputation as a swordsman and reduce him to a mere fighter, his artistic and philosophical output shows that he was much more than muscle. Musashi believed that greatness could be obtained through any practice. He valued a well-rounded set of skills. In this way, progression in one arena served as fuel and motivation for every other arena.

Over the course of his life, Musashi painted, wrote books, created sculptures, and devised military strategy. To him, excellence was evident in a masterful painting as it was in a sword fight.

7. A Book Of Five Rings

While Musashi wrote many profound texts throughout his life, A Book of Five Rings lives on as his most notable work. The book is hard to classify. While to some it reads as a straightforward text on martial arts, A Book of Five Rings carries fluid philosophical themes throughout its pages.

As the book progresses, Musashi reinforces the idea of favoring simplicity over excess, an ethos evident in every other aspect of the man’s life. Because of the book’s widespread applications, it’s as practical for a poetry professor as it is for a martial arts instructor.

6. A Man Of Many Professions

Musashi spent a great portion of his life traveling. As a dynamic personality and hard worker, his travels presented him with many work opportunities. For these reasons, Musashi was never starved for a profession.

In his earlier years, he worked the fields as a farmer. However, in most of his roles he served on retainer for various lords, or daimyos, who sought protection for their palaces, grounds, and people. With such a mastery of martial arts and duels, Musashi became a commodity to each and every lord that he served.

5. He Founded Niten Ichi-Ryū

As a significant contribution to the world of martial arts, Miyamoto Musashi founded a distinct sword-fighting style known as Niten Ichi-ryū. The style was particularly unique at the time, as it was one of the first disciplines to make use of the short sword and the long sword together. The name of the style translates to “two swords as one” or “two heavens as one.”

The style received almost instant acclaim and notoriety. Not only was the approach to sword fighting new, but it also carried the charge of Musashi’s comprehensive life philosophies behind it. As noted in his writings, Niten Ichi-ryū aimed to unify concepts previously overlooked and tangled up in all the worst aspects of tradition.

4. Musashi Excelled As A Visual Artist

As demonstrated throughout his travels and writings, Musashi was never satisfied with staying stagnant. He continued to push himself in every practice he took on. He even coined the motto “Do nothing which is of no use” which he lived out in action over the course of his years.

His talent and practice as a visual artist prove as an even further testament to his dedication and work ethic. In woodblock prints and calligraphy, Musashi expressed his more artistic side and received wide acclaim for his works, many of which can still be found in galleries today.

3. He Was Known For Arriving Late To Duels

Musashi was rarely on time when it came to duels. In fact, it was quite reasonable to expect him to be late. On one such occasion, in a duel with Sasaki Kojiro, Musashi used his tardiness to his advantage. Because the duel was scheduled to take place on the island of Funajima, Musashi had to make his way across the water to meet his opponent.

People speculate that he arrived late so he could take advantage of the changing of the tides. Others speculate that Musashi’s late arrival was part of a more measured plan to produce psychological distress in Kojiro. Either way, he was victorious and continued to arrive late to many of his most significant duels.

2. He Adopted Children

Though Musashi’s role as a father is a lesser-known aspect of his legacy, it was an important part of his adult life. He adopted his first son, Miyamoto Mikinosuke, after a long journey across the Settsu road. Musashi desired a mentee and saw that Mikinosuke was a great fit. They traveled together for many years.

Musashi also adopted another son. In 1623, Musashi adopted Miyamoto Iori at the age of 11. Similar to Mikinosuke, Musashi committed to a path of mentorship and lifelong teachings both in martial arts and other artistic practices.

1. His Legacy Lives On In Films, Television, Books, And Music

Even though Musashi lived long ago, his influence is still quite prominent in modern pop culture. Whether in films, music, or television, Musashi’s legend serves as fertile ground for captivating entertainment. The Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune portrayed Mushashi in Hiroshi Inagaki’s notable samurai trilogy from the 1950s.

Musashi also served as the inspiration for British Drum & Bass producer Photek’s 1997 masterpiece “Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu.” The anime series Shura No Toki adapted Musashi as a character. There are several more instances of Musashi’s impact on popular culture, which only serves as a testament to the man’s life.