We have all read in Kancho’s books that a man called Miyamoto Musashi is a Samurai he most respects. Musashi was more than the best swordsman of all times he would have to have been, to earn the respect of a Master like Mas. Oyama. He was a master of Kendo, a poet, an artist, a song-writer, a talented smith and a philosopher. It is not surprising that Kancho often talks about Musashi, putting him on a pedestal as an example for his students to follow in the foot-steps of.
Musashi belonged to the Samurai class the origins of which is in the Kondei (Stalwart Youth) system established in the year 792, whereby the Japanese spear-wielding foot soldiers became permanently training armored and mounted offers recruited from among the sons of high families.
Later, the great provincial armies were gradually disbanded under Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Iyeyasu. In that era of peace, there were many out-of-work Samurai. They were called “Ronin” or “Wave-man”. There were still Samurai retainers to the Tokugawas and provincial lords, but their numbers were few.
Musashi was a Ronin. Samurai were formerly considered to be the elite but had no means of livelihood unless they owned land and castles. Many Ronin put up their swords and became artisans but those who, like Musashi, wanted to follow the Samurai path, searched for enlightenment through dangerous duels.
It may be difficult to understand how one could find enlightenment through such a violent and dangerous means, but Musashi certainly seems to have.
His real name was Shinmen Musashi No Kami Fujiwara No Genshin. He was born in Mimasaka Province in 1584. His ancestors, the noble family of Fujiwara were a branch of the powerful Harima clan of Kyushu.
He grew up under the care of an uncle who was a priest. Strong-willed and physically big for his age, Musashi was only thirteen when he won his first duel. His next contest was when he was sixteen, after which he left home to embark on a warrior pilgrimage. He had more than sixty contests before the age of twenty nine, all of which he won. Musashi also went to war six times and survived. Wandering all over Japan, he refused warmth and comfort, never dressed his hair, never took a wife, never followed a profession except for his study of strategy. Apparently, he also never entered a bathtub for fear of being caught without a weapon.
After sixty successful contests, he seemed invincible and decided to settle down to a life without duels. He was so famous that he could have opened a school and enjoyed the life of a wealthy man, yet he chose to pursue the way of his studies.
According to his own writing, it took him until the age of fifty-one to understand strategy, after which he retired to a life of seclusion in a cave called “Reigendo”. Here he wrote “A Book of Five Rings” or “Go Rin No Sho”. He died in 1645, just a few weeks after the completion of this work.
“Go Rin No Sho” is made up of “The Ground Book”, “The Water Book”, “The Fire Book”, “The Wind Book” and “The Book of the Void”. It does not deal only with fighting an opponent, but also with the way to understand one’s self and to become a better person. If talks not only of the importance of weapons, timing and the like, but also of the necessity of awareness, diligence and honesty. As a small example, here are the nine rules of the Ground Book:
1. Do not think dishonestly.
2. The way is in training.
3. Become acquainted with every art.
4. Know the Ways of all professions.
5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6. Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything.
7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
8. Pay attention even to trifles.
9. Do nothing which is of no use.
As we can see, Miyamoto Musashi was no ordinary Samurai. Then again, it is difficult to imagine any man gaining so much of Kancho’s respect and being ordinary.