The Time of the Ronin

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The Ronin

“The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.”
 Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

The unification of Japan under Tokugawa brought peace to the land.  The great provincial armies were steadily dispersed with the ending of the civil wars.  The transition was devastating to the samurai class.  Although society continued to regard the samurai in high esteem, they were no longer required. They roamed the land, the elite but without employment.    They turned inward, and kept the old ways alive by devotion to their code of chivalry.  They became known as the ronin.

While many ronin retired their swords to be artisans, Musashi joined those who pursued the ideal of the warrior, seeking their destiny through the hazardous paths of kenjutsu.  Tests of skill and courage were commonplace as fencing schools multiplied.

Musashi chose to live apart from society while he pursued, with steadfast tenacity, the Way of the sword. He travelled throughout Japan impervious to the cold winds of winter, and the heat of the summer’s sun. He did not dress his hair, nor take a wife or follow any profession other than the Way.

Musashi became known all over Japan, building a legend that would be immortalized in registers, diaries, on monuments and in folk memory from Tokyo to Kyushi.  He was victorious in more than sixty contests before the age of twenty-nine.

And then the time came to dedicate his life in the search for enlightenment.

“Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man.”
 Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

 

12 thoughts on “The Time of the Ronin

  1. Astonishing! I am wondering what it would have been like to meet him. Did people simply look at him in awe? Was he approachable?

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    • That is a very good question. I read that Musashi adopted two sons so it would seem that he was was approachable. Given that he had an impressive build and stature, it is most likely that people simply looked at him in awe.

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  2. my daughter and I played the playstation game Onimusha – and we helped cleanse ancient Japan of the attacks of the demon clan. Some of these fellows figured prominently.

    It’s fun hearing about them in the real world.

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    • I am so relieved that the the demon clans has been cleansed from ancient Japan. Isn’t it remarkable how our games and stories bear testament to the power of legends and myths.

      “All the great legends are Templates for human behavior. I would define a myth as a story that has survived.” John Boorman

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    • I agree wholeheartedly – it is a way of life that is steeped in cultural values, that are passed from generation to generation. And there is a paradox of peace within martial pursuits. Sun Tzu said, “Ultimate excellence lies not in winning every battle, but in defeating the enemy without ever fighting.” And in this century, Jackie Chan said, “We learn martial arts as helping weakness. You never fight for people to get hurt. You’re always helping people.”

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  3. I am reading this early in the morning and come to the part that says:
    “He did not dress his hair.” lol I felt kinship.
    See, I do read this info. 🙂 And it is so interesting…..seriously!

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    • Thank you so much! Musashi would be impressed, no doubt. I’m with you – Musashi is the stuff of legend.

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  4. How much we need to listen and respect what these unusual people have given to society. “You never fight for people to get hurt.” Marvelous–we should listen with very open ears to those words”.

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    • I agree wholeheartedly. Here’s a quote from our friend G.K. that says it all:

      “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” G.K. Chesterton

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