Friday, January 18, 2013

The Path of a True Warrior <- -> The Lone Samurai:

The Life Of Miyamoto Musashi.

“It is difficult to imagine another character from either history or literature who has captured the imagination of a people. Miyamoto Musashi did not change the politics or shape events in Japanese history. Nor did he write a work that would affect a genre of literature or poems that would become classics. Yet there is something at the heart of his story that has commanded the attention of the Japanese people and others who have heard it. The story as told in any one iteration – any play, movie, novel  or comic book is never definitive enough. The story of Musashi, even in its paucity of facts, is much too large to fit once and for all in any single package.”Shrike on a withered branch Musashi.

At the age of thirteen Miyamoto Musashi won his first duel, by the age of thirty he had fought around sixty more, and had lost none, most ending in the death or serious injury of his opponent. After the age of thirty although he still fought - he chose to no longer kill or harm his opponents, he merely blocked, thwarted and demonstrated the weaknesses in their style of swordplay, until they gave up and understood that he was the better swordsman. This alone would be enough to create a legend of his life if it were all and yet, as the quote above states, there’s much, much more. Musashi was not only one of the greatest swordsman of his time, he was also a poet, an extraordinarily skilled painter, sculptor, metallurgist, garden designer and philosopher and in a time when a career as a Samurai* meant being indentured to a master, Musashi followed his own path, committing his life to the way of the warrior.

Musashi was active during a period called the Kyoto Renaissance (1550 – 1650) after suffering a disastrous 150 years of internal conflict, with ancient temples, artwork and libraries lost for all time. Japan was brought back to unification and with it a path to peace and following that  peace came economic prosperity and a renewed blossoming of the arts in almost every arena. This flourishing reached across all facets of Japanese culture, raising to greater heights everything from castle architecture and classical poetry through to the martial arts, with new schools hanging up their shingles all over Japan; this was also the period when the Tea Ceremony reached its zenith. All of this fed into the mind of  Miyamoto and was to resurface years later in his book 五輪書 Go Rin no Sho (The Book of Five Rings), this was written as five chapters and represented his views, the chapters were:

The Book of Earth chapter serves as an introduction, and metaphorically discusses martial arts, leadership, and training as building a house.

The Book of Water chapter describes Musashi's style, Ni-ten ichi-ryu, or "Two Heavens, One Style". It describes some basic technique and fundamental principles.

The Book of Fire chapter refers to the heat of battle, and discusses matters such as different types of timing.

The Book of Wind chapter is something of a pun, since the Japanese character can mean both "wind" and "style" (e.g., of martial arts). It discusses what Musashi considers to be the failings of various contemporary schools of swordfighting.

The Book of the Void chapter is a short epilogue, describing, in more esoteric terms, Musashi's probably Zen-influenced thoughts on conscioMiyamoto Musashi, self-portrait and the correct mind-set.

It says in the opening quote that he never influenced politics or shaped events in Japanese history nor did he write a work that would affect a genre of literature or poems that would become classics. To that statement I would add one word – directly. Indirectly his influence can be seen through in an infinite number of ways, through writers as diverse as Yukio Mishima, Takehiko InoueSean Michael Wilson and  Junichiro Tanizaki. Through the films about or related to samurai, he has even had a song written about him by Bruce Dickinson of the British metal band Iron Maiden (Sun & Steel). All this shows that this 17th century fighter & artist still holds an interest and a relevance for us today.

The Majority of the information and all of the inspiration for this post came from William Scott Wilson’s book The Lone Samurai: The Life of of Miyamoto Musashi. This book is considered to be the authoritative and most reliable text on Musashi, since most of the previously known information is drawn on legends, half truths or fictional accounts.

William Scott Wilson became involved in the life and work of Miyamoto Musashi, when asked to do a translation of The Book of Five Rings, this was to be a bilingual edition and after its completion he was asked to write a short volume on the authors life. In the end this took an awful lot longer and a great deal more research than was first expected, because although stories about this fighter’s life are legion, and range from the Kokura Hibun, a monument inscribed with the story of Musashi’s life, through the Nitenki, a compilation of stories (1755) and numerous records scattered through many clan archives plus the many fictional accounts, sorting through this store of data wasn’t a straight forward  procedure. In the process of wading through the discrepancies in time and place and sifting between the various versions due to personal alliances etc., this book took shape. Making the Lone Samurai, not only William Scott Wilson’s personal quest, but our best resource to who Miyamoto Musashi; Swordsman, philosopher, Artist was.


lone Samurai

“The Cherry blossoms, symbol of the warrior in Japan, had already fallen, and the new light green leaves were everywhere” he died on the 19th of May 1645. He was sixty two years old and was buried in accordance with his wishes, dressed in armour and helmet, provided with six martial accoutrements and placed in the coffin. He was buried in Handa-gun, 5-cho, Tenaga Yuge Village, with the Abbot Shunzan of the Taishoji Temple as officiating priest. When the abbot had finished his address to the departing spirit, a single crack of thunder rang from the clear sky. You can find Miyamoto Musashi’s grave marker still there today.

Shambhala Publications

Miyamoto Musashi(wiki)

The Book of five Rings(wiki)

Samurai archives

Miyamoto in Fiction

Epic Samurai artwork & Musashi Quotes

William Scott Wilson (b. 1944 in Nashville, Tennessee) is known as a translator of Japanese literature, mostly those relating to the martial tradition. He is recognized by The American Literary Translator's Association (ALTA) as the foremost translator of classic Samurai texts &  is also described as the world's foremost expert on the warrior's philosophy of Bushido. He served as a Consular Specialist for the Consulate General of Japan in Seattle (1980)--Heading the trade section and advising the Consul on political and economic matters. Wilson received Japan’s Foreign Minister’s Commendation from the Consulate General of Japan in Miami, Masakazu Toshikage on November 15, 2005.

He completed his first translation, Hagakure, while living in a farmhouse in Japan....His first original work, The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi, was published in 2004. He has done extensive research on Japanese philosophy and Bushido, the way of the samurai."

According to Florida International University Professor Michael Weissberg, "William Scott Wilson is possibly the most important scholar in the area of Japanese Edo period texts in the last century". Wilson's books have brought historical Chinese and Japanese thought, philosophy, and tactics to the West in a collection of works that make him unparalleled. To be able to say that you have in effect co-authored with the likes of Takuan Soho, Yagyu Muninori, Lao Tzu, and Miyamoto Musashi, enables you to heretofore unseen bragging rights, yet this gentle and humble scholar refers to himself as "only a translator". (Wiki)

W.S.W- Homepage

Interview by Sonshi

Ghost Dog – The way of the Samurai.


Unknown said...

Good to see another non-fiction review, and a very interesting one :) Nice to see that he gave up killing people once he got too good at it...

me. said...

Thanks for this post, will this perhaps lead to a reading of Eiji Yoshikawa's epic Musashi?.

Brian Joseph said...

I am glad that you mentioned the Iron Maiden song as I first heard about Musashi when reading about the song.

Of course the ideas that Musashi came to the point where he was able to, and did, stop injuring and killing his rivals adds to his mystique and admirable traits.

I totally agree that indirectly this man was influential in so many ways!

Mel u said...

Fascinating review. Thanks for letting us know of this.

Bellezza said...

Imagine being a poet and a warrior~ (Amongst all the other things you spoke of in this post.) It amazes me how the gentle and the strong can coexist within the same person. Aren't we a myriad of things?

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Tony, Thanks & it's a great read, as to giving up killing, well he kind of taunted them into submission.

Hello Me. probably will at some point, but the book is quite immersive so may give Musashi a holiday for a while.

Hi Brian, didn't know about it myself, but makes sense as Bruce Dickinson, is into swords & fencing.

Hello Mel, Glad you liked, thanks.

Ciao Bellezza,"Imagine being a poet and a warrior", watch do you mean imagine, I am one :-)
Well on my bike maybe, as to the myriad of things, it's back to facets & persona's.

stujallen said...

great choice ,I think this is one I ll note down as I like to try more classic bits in translation from round the world ,all the best stu

sakura said...

Miyamoto Musashi is such a fascinating character isn't he? I've been reading Vagabond, Takehiko Inoue's manga based on Eiji Yoshikawa's novel, Musashi, and it's thought provoking indeed.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi stu, it's great to read some nonfiction on an area your interested in, just to give you some perspective.

Hi Sakura, aim to read that at some point, as the history of this man was very interesting.