Today I figured I would write something on Miyamoto Musashi, one of my favorite historical persons.
He didn’t really train any “Okinawan” martial arts, like Karate or Kobudo, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584–1645), also known as Shinmen Takezo, Miyamoto Bennosuke (or by his Buddhist name Niten Doraku) was a legendary Japanese swordsman and samurai famed for his duels (in which he apparently never lost) and distinctive style of fighting (he sometimes used two swords at once).
Musashi (as he is often simply known) became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in his numerous duels, and this experience that he gained (fighting to the death since a very young age) gave him knowledge very few had.
The best part?
He like sharing it!
In fact, he wrote quite a lot of stuff about his thoughts on strategy, philosophy, techniques and so on. That is, when he didn’t make sculptures, draw paintings or kill people.
In fact, Musashi was so cool that before I reveal my true topic of this post, I will give you an account of his (Musashi’s) first duel ever.
In 1596, when Musashi was 13 years old, a warrior named Arima Kihei posted a public challenge in Hirafuku village. Musashi wrote his name on the challenge, accepting it. later, a messenger came to Dorin’s temple, where Musashi was staying, to inform Musashi that his duel had been accepted by Kihei.
Dorin (Musashi’s uncle) was shocked by this, and tried to beg off the duel in Musashi’s name, based on his nephew’s age. Kihei was adamant that the only way his honor could be cleared was if Musashi apologized to him when the duel was scheduled.
So when the time set for the duel arrived, Dorin, the uncle, began apologizing for Musashi, who merely charged at Kihei with a six-foot quarterstaff, shouting a challenge to Kihei.
Kihei attacked with a wakizashi (the short samurai sword), but Musashi threw Kihei on the floor, and while Kihei tried to get up, Musashi struck Arima between the eyes and then beat him to death with the staff.
- Hyoho Senshi Denki (“Anecdotes about the Deceased Master”).
Musashi is said to have fought over 60 duels, “mano a mano”, and was, like I said, never defeated. And this is a conservative estimate! He also participated in some greater battles along with other samurai and successfully made his way through them alive, but these are not counted in those 60.
So, while we’re still at it, why not one more?
Here is Musashi’s most famous duel:
In April 13, 1612, Musashi (aged about 30) fought his most famous duel, with Sasaki Kojiro, who wielded a nodachi (a large two-handed Japanese sword). Musashi purposely came late to the appointment, on the small remote island of Funajima, north of Kokura.
This was typical of Musashi. He often came late, changed place, or used other strategies to maximize his chances of winning.
3 hours late, Musashi arrived at the scene.
The duel was a short one.
Musashi swiftly jumped down to the sand from his small row boat, rushed forward, dodged his opponents downward strike and killed him by cracking his scull open, with a bokken (wooden sword) that he had carved from an oar while traveling to the island on his row boat.
Why is this duel so famous? Well, Musashi’s late arrival here is 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. It was strategy.
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, therefore arriving late. After he dodged the blow, Sasaki was blinded by the sun, as Musashi had anticipated.
Clever! If it’s true…
Anyway, back to the topic.
As you can see Musashi was a man with unique experiences, which makes his writings very interesting, to say the least. One of my favorites is the “Dokkodo”
The Dokkodo was a work written by Musashi a week before he died (in 1645). It is a rather short work, consisting of twenty-one precepts, or rules, expressing a strict, honest, and ascetic view of life.
It was largely composed on the occasion of Musashi giving away his possessions in preparation for death, which he felt was drawing near, and it was dedicated to his favorite disciple (yup, he had students), Terao Magonojo.
Luckily it wasn’t destroyed in some bombing or anything (like most Okinawan historical writings on martial arts) so here it is.
“The Dokkodo” – by Miyamoto Musashi
- Accept everything just the way it is.
- Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
- Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
- Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
- Be detached from desire your whole life long.
- Do not regret what you have done.
- Never be jealous.
- Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
- Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
- Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
- In all things, have no preferences.
- Be indifferent to where you live.
- Do not pursue the taste of good food.
- Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
- Do not act following customary beliefs.
- Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
- Do not fear death.
- Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
- Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
- You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.
- Never stray from the Way.
Here’s a pic of the original:
I just realized that I could write one post for every one of these 21 precepts! In fact, they are brilliant.
It doesn’t really do Musashi justice to just throw them out in a bunch, like above.
So, my advice is, read them again, think one minute on every one of them (21 minutes in total) and that will be 21 minutes well spent. For example, look at #13 (Do not pursue the taste of good food).
Do you really think he means food? Food, like in the stuff you literally eat?
I think he means “food”.
Something to ponder…
And oh, I almost forgot. What does “Dokkodo” mean?
Well, it means something along the lines of “The Path of Loneliness”
But… isn’t it strange to name your 21 principles of life “The Path of Loneliness”? Wouldn’t “The Path of Training Hard Every Day, and Beating People Up” be more fitting? Or “The Way of How You Become A Divine Sword Master Like Me” ?
I guess in the end he realized that’s what the warrior life is like (having been one his whole life).
It’s a lonely one.