Badasses in History: Miyamoto Musashi
There are very few truths in this world. “Good” and “evil” are almost never that simple. “Money-back guarantees” are usually scams, and, let’s face it, “both fun and educational!” is just a hair away from being a bigger lie than Santa Clause. Sorry about that. I should have said spoiler alert.
Anyway, my point is that there are very few universal statements. My favorite however is this: Samurais are awesome.
Find me an exception. I dare you. Tell me you have never seen a samurai movie and left wishing to every power you believe in (and some you don’t, just to cover your bases) that you could be even a fraction as badass as a samurai is without even trying.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Miyamoto Musashi.
Musashi was many things, but what he was, above all else, is the greatest swordsman the world has ever seen. That shit you saw in Kill Bill? He was better. The three hundred Spartans? He could have killed them blindfolded. Every trope applied to Samurai applied to this man, but more so. We tell children scary stories about Godzilla, vampires, and manbearpig. They tell their kids about Miyamoto Musashi.
But I should start at the beginning.
We don’t actually know a lot about Musashi’s youth. The best historians can say is that he was born in 1584 in the Mimasaka Province of Japan. His father was an accomplished martial artist and swordsman and his grandfather was the vassal of a feudal lord by the name of Shinmen.
Beyond that, we don’t know much.
What we do know however, is that Musashi was one precocious motherfucker. How so you ask? Well, he killed a man at age 13. In a duel.
“But Josh!” you say. “Surely it was a training accident against another student at his dojo or some shit! No way it was for serial.”
Actually I’m “super serial.” At age 13, when many of us were having Bar Mitzvah’s and worrying about acne, popularity, and pop quizzes, Musashi was fucking killed people. In fact, his opponent, Arima Kihei, was a grown man…and already a samurai.
He was also kind of a douche. Thing is, he had come to Musashi’s hometown and posted a notice that he wanted to duel someone…anyone. Just because. Dude, what an a-hole.
Musashi, being a badass, decided “screw this guy, I’ll fuck up his shit worse than Samuel L. Jackson in any movie ever.” So, teen Musashi went and wrote his name on the notice, and adding (according to reliable sources) several “Yo Mamma” jokes, just to be sure Kihei wouldn’t chicken out.
At this point, Kihei went and told Miyamoto’s uncle about it, pissed that some punk-kid had challenged him. Musashi’s uncle was equally surprised, especially because Musashi didn’t actually have much swordsmanship training under his belt (or gi or obi or whatever samurai call belts).
I’ll take a moment to laugh my ass off and hand the story over to William Scott Wilson, author of The Lone Samurai.
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 began apologizing for Musashi, who merely charged at Kihei with a six-foot quarterstaff, shouting a challenge to Kihei. Kihei attacked with a wakizashi, 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.
To recap, in a fight of “Samurai vs. kid-who-barely-has-pubes-yet”, Musashi wins… by just running at the samurai with a giant staff. Against a guy with a sword. If nothing else, kid has mad balls.
In any case, Musashi did what any samurai would do in every samurai movie, he uttered some badass one-liner, took the guy’s sword, then wandered off into the sunset.
Four years and many duels later (of which he lost not a single one), Musashi found himself at the Battle of Sekigahara, which Wikipedia will fast inform you as being a seriously important battle in Japanese history, the equivalent of Gettysburg in the American Civil War or the Battle of Austerlitz in the Napoleonic Wars. Or that one episode of Batman where he has to take on the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face all at once.
Anyway, seventeen-year-old Musashi reputedly killed an enormous number of opponents, escaping the battle without a single wound. Yeah. Seventeen-year-old vs. army? Musashi: 1, Army: 0.
Suck on that, whiny Spartans. A google search tells me that after the battle Musashi drew his sword and slashed it in mid-air, delivering a death-blow to a 450-years later Chuck Norris. Sure, after all I’ve heard, why not?
So, you ask again, how can one dude be this badass? Surely that’s all?
Hush, grasshopper. Bask in the glory that is Musashi.
In the following years, Musashi spent much of his time dueling (again, he never lost. Not once.), defeating nearly all of his opponents—usually masters of various swordsmanship schools—with a single blow.
It was also during this time that he developed what he would explain in his masterpiece, Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings), as his signature sword-style: Niten Ichi Ryu, which can either mean “two swords, one soul” or “School of two swords."
I’ve decided however, that the clear, and accurate, translation is “two swords, much killing.” Unlike most samurai (fucking pansies!), who fought with only one sword, Musashi was able to simultaneously attack and defend thanks to his two-sword style.
To put this in perspective, let me explain how most duels worked at the time. Essentially, both combatants would draw their (lame) single sword and proceed to try and fuck each other up, both parrying (blocking, for those of you who don’t speak swordsman-ese) each other and making the whole thing go on for a long time. Like a commercial during your favorite show, it just wouldn’t end.
Musashi, however, could just block with his shorter sword, then tell the opponent a knock-knock joke before cutting the fool to pieces with his other blade.
It was under these circumstances that Musashi easily defeated Yoshioka Seijuro, head of the famous Yoshioka swordsmanship school. Yoshioka’s students, understandably bothered at seeing their Mister Miyagi cut down with all the effort it might take to eat a piece of pizza, all immediately charged Musashi.
There was only one of him, right?
Yeah, they didn’t stand a chance.
After slaughtering the rest of them—and raiding the liquor cabinet—Musashi went on to claim the lives of many, many other posers. Yet even this wasn’t what makes Musashi so god-damn badass.
That honor goes to his duel with legendary swordsman Sasaki Kojiro, known at the time as “The Demon of the Western Provinces.” Clearly, this was not a man most of us would be willing to fuck with. But Mushashi was no ordinary man.
Both men had never been defeated in a duel, but there were some big differences. Musashi was known for being drunk, dirty, disheveled, and really, really rude. Kojiro on the other hand came from a powerful samurai family and was well-regarded by the Japanese elite.
The blade is four feet long. That is taller than a midget. I say that with no disrespect to little people. It is also taller than many children. I am frightened merely by its picture.
Basically, it is a katana on steroids, but sharper and deadlier. I feel safe saying that there really is no deadlier non-firearm weapon out there.
Hell, even if I had a gun I wouldn’t feel that safe going up against one of those things.
But I digress. As mentioned earlier, Musashi challenged Kojiro to a duel. In his challenge, he specified that the duel be held at the island of Ganryu at sunrise. Quentin Tarantino, this is your bread and butter. Michael Bay, please shut up and learn something from this.
On one hand, we have an incredibly skilled, famous noble samurai. On the other, we have a homeless man with a really really sharp sword, who is equally skilled, but also known to be a total dick, and never really gets around to showering.
It’s like Dennis Rodman vs. Michael Jordan. They’re both good, but one dude has a lot more going for him.
In any case, as was his custom, Musashi showed up late—so as to mindfuck his opponent and make them angry or nervous. This time however, he threw in a free extra.
He didn’t come with a sword.
Instead, he showed up with…
Wait for it.
A wooden practice sword that he had carved out of a boat oar.
Yeah. This was worse than an insult. This was Musashi saying that Kojiro was unfit to have even his blood grace Musashi’s blade, the equivalent of…
I’m not even sure I can think of something insulting enough without resorting to racial slurs or profound queries as to whether a person’s mother maintains virtue and decorum at all times.
But despite appearances, Musashi had this all planned out. You see, the great advantage of the Niten Ichi Ryu sword style was an incredibly long reach, as well as simultaneous attack-and-defense capability. So when he was making the wooden blade, Musashi made sure it was a few inches longer than a typical nodachi.
Thus, when Kojiro charged in, Musashi immediately used his blade's longer reach to bring his sword down on Kojiro’s head, smashing his skull and killing him instantly.
And that was it.
Musashi went on to win more than 60 duels in his life. But as he grew older he got tired of winning so much and never encountering a challenge. As such, he retired to isolation in the mountains of Japan, spending years writing about the true meaning of being a warrior.
The result was the book we know today as “The Book of Five Rings” or Go Rin No Sho, which is still studied even today by businessmen and military strategists.
Also, it’s fucking awesome. Among its many gems—I’m not lying when I say it is extremely profound—is a technique so awesome that I feel as if I had looked upon the face of God himself.
Or seen Scarlett Johansson naked. Yeah, I’ll go with that.
Oh, right. The technique. It’s called “Stabbing the Face": When you are even with an opponent, it is essential to keep thinking of stabbing him in the face with the tip of your sword in the intervals between the opponent's sword blows and your own sword blows. When you have the intention of stabbing your opponent in the face, he will try to get both his face and body out of the way. In the midst of battle, as soon as an opponent tries to get out of the way, you have already won. Therefore it is imperative not to forget the technique of "stabbing the face." This should be cultivated in the course of practicing martial arts.