Miyamoto Musashi: A Life in Arms

By William de Lange

 

First to translate two of the oldest accounts of Musashi's career, the Bushū denraiki and the Bukōden, the author here presents a full biography of this most famous yet most enigmatic of swordsmen, Miyamoto Musashi.

Drawing on a wealth of additional and often neglected original sources, the author reveals how events deeply buried in Musashi's past set him on the hard path to prove himself a "swordsman without equal"—a path that began with the brutal slaying of Arima Kihei, led to the fall of the illustrious Yoshioka clan, and culminated in his dramatic encounter with Sasaki Kojirō on Ganryū island.

A Life in Arms traces Musashi's constant search for his own distinct style of swordsmanship; how he built on what he learned from his father and his uncles, how he perfected it on his musha shugyo, and how his Enmei-ryu evolved into the Niten Ichi-ryu, his unique art of fighting with two swords. Finally, it traces the remarkable gestation of The Book of Five Rings, his great legacy to posterity of a unique martial philosophy.

In the course of this highly readable account many of the convenient myths that have arisen around Musashi are debunked, while the more controversial aspects of the warrior's life that have been left hidden, perhaps deliberately, are uncovered: his deeply troubled relationship with his father, his whereabouts during the battle of Sekigahara, his role in the siege of Osaka castle, and the birth and death of an illegitimate child, an event that deeply influenced his art.

A Life in Arms shows how Musashi's path through life was shaped by strong personal traits: his reckless valor in the face of danger, his sensitive intelligence in the fields of art and architecture, his generosity toward peers and pupils, and his defiant stubbornness in old age. The complex yet human portrait that arises is a far cry from the accepted one-dimensional caricature of this medieval swordsman.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things

that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines.

Sail away from the safe harbor.

Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.”

 — Mark Twain

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