The Legend Lives

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The Way

“You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.” 

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

Musashi’s physical strength and prowess waned in the year 1642 when he suffered attacks of neuralgia, a painful condition affecting the function of nerves.  He chose to live his remaining years as a hermit in the cave Reigandō, where he took up the brush to write The Book of Five Rings.  In the second month of 1645, he rested from his labour, his life-work complete.  His time on this earth was drawing to a close.  Musashi died on June 13, 1645 and was buried with his armour, a final act of loyalty to his Daimyo.

The Hyoho Senshi Denki (anecdotes of the deceased master) described his passing:

At the moment of his death, he had himself raised up. He had his belt tightened and his wakizashi put in it. He seated himself with one knee vertically raised, holding the sword with his left hand and a cane in his right hand. He died in this posture, at the age of sixty-two. The principal vassals of Lord Hosokawa and the other officers gathered, and they painstakingly carried out the ceremony. Then they set up a tomb on Mount Iwato on the order of the lord.”

Miyamoto Musashi passed through this world during a time of turbulence and upheaval.  He chose a difficult path, a perilous journey.  His words continue to resonate in our complex world.  May we have the courage to continue with the same unwavering determination.

“Do not regret what you have done.”

“Never stray from the Way.”

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

The Way of Strategy

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When I reached thirty I looked back on my past.  The previous victories were not due to my having mastered strategy.  Perhaps it was natural ability, or the order of heaven, or that other schools’ strategy was inferior.  After that I studied morning and evening searching for the principle, and came to realise the Way of strategy when I was fifty.”

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

The Way

Musashi is known to have introduced and perfected a two-sword kenjutsu technique known as Niten’ichi Ryu which means two swords as one.  His non de plume used on some of his artwork was “Niten” which signifies “Two Heavens.”  Some believe that this may refer to his strategy of holding a sword in each hand.

Musashi believed that when you attained the Way, you would achieve understanding in all things.  “You will see the Way in everything,” he wrote.  Indeed, he created masterpieces that illustrated his love of the natural world.  He painted cormorants, herons, birds, and flowers.  He was at the same ease with a calligraphy brush as he was with a sculptor’s or metal worker’s tool. Although none have been found, there is historical evidence that he wrote poems and songs.

When Musashi was in his early sixties, he took up residence in Reigan Cave, Kyushi, where he wrote “Gorin no Sho,” A Book of Five Rings.   Each volume connects the different elements of battle to the physical elements in life as described by Buddhism, Shinto and other Eastern religions – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void.  It is a testament to his dedication and passion for the Way.

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world”
Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

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

 

Kenjutsu – The Way of the Sword

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A Leaf

“It is difficult to realize the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.”
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings: Miyamoto Musashi

Musashi, son of a samurai, was orphaned by seven.  Known as Ben No Suke during his childhood, Musashi was taken in by an uncle on his mother’s side, a priest by occupation.   It was a time of turmoil and violence. Hideyoshi’s aggressive campaign of unification was well under way.  Musashi grew into a strapping young man, large for his age.  He was resolute, courageous, and energetic.  Kenjutsu was a natural fit with his temperament and physical strength.

Kenjutsu, the Way of the sword, was synonymous with the nobility of Japan.  The samurai class, founded in the eight century, trained in military arts, which was traditionally regarded as the pre-eminent form of study.  The Way of the sword, inspired by the teachings of Zen and steeped in the feeling of Shinto, is the moral teaching of the samurai.  The study of Zen, with its focus on truth and simplicity, complimented the austere role of a samurai.  The aspiration of Zen is fundamentally personal.  Enlightenment recognizes and embraces the nature of ordinary life.   The end point is also the beginning.

“The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them”
Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

 

The Three Shoguns

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“No man is invincible, and therefore no man can fully understand that which would make him invincible”
Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

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Musashi  lived under the rule of three charismatic Shoguns.  Nobunaga Oda was the first to rise to power in 1573, and would be known for successfully unifying, by ruthless means, almost the whole of Japan.  Betrayed by one of his generals, his death in 1582 allowed a commoner, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, to assume power and continue the work of uniting the country.  Although all traces of insurrection were put down quickly and without mercy, Hideyoshi failed to bring about unification. That destiny was granted to the legendary Tokugawa Ieyasu.  In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated Hideyoshi’s son at the famous battle of Seki ga Hara and became Shogun over a united Japan. The age Tokugawa lasted until 1868, and ushered in great changes in the social history of Japan.

There is a poem known throughout Japan that illustrates the diverse natures of three Shogun’s leadership styles.  The question is asked –

What would you do if the bird does not sing?

Nobunaga said, “Kill it if it does not sing.”

Hideyoshi said, “Make it want to sing.”

Tokugawa said, “Wait until it sings”

I asked a Japanese friend if this poem existed.  He said, yes and then added, “But you must understand that the “wait” is active, not passive.   It is being ready for the precise moment to seize the opportunity.”

“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”
 Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

The Samurai

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Flower of Japan

“You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”
Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

Musashi was an extraordinary man who lived during an extraordinary period in history.  Twelve century Japan saw the end of the traditional rule of the emperors.  By the time of Musashi’s birth in 1584, Japan had experienced more than four hundred years of internal strife. Civil wars waged between the provincial lords, warrior monks and bandits.  The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw the rise of Daimyos, powerful territorial lords who built huge stone castles to defend their lands.  The Daimyos relied on the Samurai, a powerful military caste in feudal Japan, to be their trusted retainers.

The Shogun, the military general, was the de facto ruler of Japan.

Musashi belonged to the Samurai class, recognized as the elite of their society.   His ancestors were of the powerful Harima clan in Kyushu, the southern island of Japan.  Records show he was born into a noble, yet humble, family.

The winds of change were in motion.  The time for Japan to unify was at hand.

“There are various Ways.  There is the Way of salvation by the law of Buddha, the Way of Confucius governing the Way of learning, the Way of healing as a doctor, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, tea, archery, and many arts and skills. Each man practises as he feels inclined.”
Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy