Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – June 13, 1645) also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke or, by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku was a Japanese swordsman and rōnin, a masterless samurai. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings, a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today. Miyamoto Musashi is widely considered to be a Kensei.
He has a different way of sword than other samurai, very wise. He created the and perfected a two-sword kenjutsu technique called niten’ichi “Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu” (A Kongen Buddhist Sutra refers to the two heavens as the two guardians of Buddha). In this technique, the swordsman uses both a large sword, and a “companion sword” at the same time, such as a katana with a wakizashi. Although he had mastership in this style of two swords, he most commonly used a katana in duels.
The two-handed movements of temple drummers may have inspired him, although it could be that the technique was forged through Musashi’s combat experience. Jutte techniques were taught to him by his father — the jutte was often used in battle paired with a sword; the juttewould parry and neutralize the weapon of the enemy while the sword struck or the practitioner grappled with the enemy. In his time a long sword in the left hand was referred to as gyaku nito. Today Musashi’s style of swordsmanship is known as Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū.
Musashi spent many years studying Buddhism and swordsmanship. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor, and calligrapher. Records also show that he had architectural skills. Also, he seems to have had a rather straightforward approach to combat, with no additional frills or aesthetic considerations. This was probably due to his real-life combat experience; although in his later life, Musashi followed the more artistic side of bushidō. He made various Zen brush paintings, calligraphy, and sculpted wood and metal. Even in The Book of Five Rings he emphasizes that samurai should understand other professions as well. It should be understood that Musashi’s writings were very ambiguous, and translating them into English makes them even more so; that is why so many different translations of the Go Rin No Sho can be found. To gain further insight into Musashi’s principles and personality, one could read his other works, such as Dokkodo and Hyoho Shiji ni Kajo.
Way of strategy
Throughout the book, Go Rin No Sho, the idea which Musashi pushes is that the “way of the strategist” (Heihō) is similar to how a carpenter and his tools are mutually inclusive, e.g. — a carpenter can do nothing without his tools, and vice versa. This too, he compares to skill, and tactical ability in the field of battle.
Initially, Musashi notes that throughout China and Japan, there are many “sword fencers” who walk around claiming they are strategists, but are, in fact, not — this may be because Musashi had defeated some such strategists, such as Arima Kihei.
The idea is that by reading his writings, one can become a true strategist from ability and tactical skill that Musashi had learned in his lifetime. He argues that strategy and virtue are something which can be earned by knowing the ways of life, the professions that are around, to perhaps learn the skills and knowledge of people and the skills of their particular professions.
However, Musashi seems to state that the value of strategy seems to be homogeneous. He notes that:
The attendants of the Kashima Kantori shrines of the province Hitachi received instruction from the gods, and made schools based on this teaching, travelling from province to province instructing men. This is the recent meaning of strategy.
As well as noting that strategy is destined to die;
Of course, men who study in this way think they are training the body and spirit, but it is an obstacle to the true way, and its bad influence remains forever. Thus the true way of strategy is becoming decadent and dying out.
As a form, strategy was said to be one of “Ten Abilities and Seven Arts” that a warrior should have, but Musashi disagrees that one person can gain strategy by being confined to one particular style, which seems particularly fitting as he admits “I practice many arts and abilities — all things with no teacher” — this perhaps being one of the reasons he was so highly regarded a swordsman.
Musashi’s metaphor for strategy is that of the bulb and the flower, similar to Western philosophy of “the chicken or the egg“, the “bulb” being the student, the “flower” being the technique. He also notes that most places seem to be mostly concerned with their technique and its beauty. Musashi writes, “In this kind of way of strategy, both those teaching and those learning the way are concerned with coloring and showing off their technique, trying to hasten the bloom of the flower” (as opposed to the actual harmony between strategy and skill.)
With those who are concerned with becoming masters of strategy, Musashi points out that as a carpenter becomes better with his tools and is able to craft things with more expert measure, so too can a warrior, or strategist become more skilled in his technique. However, just as a carpenter needs to be able to use his tools according to plans, so too must a strategist be able to adapt his style or technique to the required strategy of the battle he is currently engaged in.
This description also draws parallels between the weapons of a trooper (or soldier) and the tools of a carpenter; the idea of “the right tool for the right job” seems to be implied a lot throughout the book Go Rin No Sho. Musashi also puts into motion the idea that when a carpenter is skilled enough in aspects of his job, and creates them with expert measure, then he can become a foreman.
Although it is not expressly mentioned, it may be seen that Musashi indicated that when you have learned the areas in which your craft requires, be it carpentry, farming, fine art or battle, and are able to apply them to any given situation, then you will be experienced enough to show others the wisdom of your ways, be it as a foreman of craftsmen, or as a general of an army.
From further reading into the book, the idea of “weapons within strategy,” as well as Musashi referring to the power of the writer, may seem that the strategy which Musashi refers to does not exclusively reside within the domain of weaponry and duels, but within the realm of war and battles with many men:
Just as one man can beat ten, so a hundred men can beat a thousand, and a thousand can beat ten thousand. In my strategy, one man is the same as ten thousand, so this strategy is the complete warrior’s craft.
Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu
Within the book, Musashi mentions that the use of two swords within strategy is mutually beneficial between those who utilize this skill. The idea of using two hands for a sword is an idea which Musashi disagrees with, in that there is not fluidity in movement when using two hands — “If you hold a sword with both hands, it is difficult to wield it freely to left and right, so my method is to carry the sword in one hand“; he as well disagrees with the idea of using a sword with two hands on a horse, and/or riding on unstable terrain, such as muddy swamps, rice fields, or within crowds of people.
In order to learn the strategy of Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu, Musashi employs that by training with two long swords, one in each hand, you will be able to overcome the cumbersome nature of using a sword in both hands. Although difficult, Musashi agrees that there are times in which the long sword must be used with two hands, but if your skill is good enough, you should not need it. The idea of using two long swords is that you are starting with something to which you are unaccustomed, and that you will find difficult, but will adapt to after much use.
After using two long swords proficiently enough, Musashi then states that your mastery of a long sword, and a “companion sword”, most likely a wakizashi, will be much increased — “When you become used to wielding the long sword, you will gain the power of the Way and wield the sword well.“.
In short, it could be seen that from the excerpts from Go Rin No Sho, the real strategy behind Ni-Ten No Ichi Ryu, is that there is no real iron-clad method, path, or type of weaponry that is specific to the style of Ni-Ten No Ichi Ryu:
You can win with a long weapon, and yet you can also win with a short weapon. In short, the Way of the Ichi school is the spirit of winning, whatever the weapon and whatever its size.
The strategy of the long sword is different than other strategies, in that it is much more straightforward. In the strategy of the longsword, it seems that Musashi’s ideal was, that by mastering gripping the sword, it could become a platform used for moving onto the mastery of Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu, as well as being able to use two broadswords, or more masterfully use a companion sword.
Musashi often use the term “two fingers” to describe the way to hold the long sword. But this does not mean he actually taught the grip with only two fingers. In “The Water Book” he notes:
Grip the long sword with a rather floating feeling in your thumb and forefinger, with the middle finger neither tight nor slack, and with the last two fingers tight. It is bad to have play in your hands.
However, just because the grip is to be light, it does not mean that the attack or slash from the sword will be weak. As with any other technique in the Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu, he notes:
If you try to wield the long sword quickly, you will mistake the way. To wield the long sword well, you must wield it calmly. If you try to wield it quickly, like a folding fan or a short sword, you will err by using “short sword chopping”. You cannot cut down a man with a long sword using this method.
As with most disciplines in martial arts, Musashi notes that the movement of the sword after the cut is made must not be superfluous; instead of quickly returning to a stance or position, one should allow the sword to come to the end of its path from the force used. In this manner, the technique will become freely flowing, as opposed to abrupt.
Musashi also discouraged the use of only one sword for fighting, and the use of over-large swords like nodachi because they were cumbersome and unwieldy.
- Hyodokyo (The Mirror of the Way of Strategy)
- Hyoho Sanjugo Kajo (Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy)
- Hyoho Shijuni Kajo (Forty-two Instructions on Strategy)
- Dokkōdō (The Way to be Followed Alone)
- Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings; a reference to the Five Rings of Zen Buddhism)
Musashi Books you can find in Book store: