Miyamoto Musashi Thread In GNG [Archive] - Glock Talk


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10-01-2005, 14:09

Naturally, being GNG, much of it is absurdities- however, as I link this, I am hopeful that I have stimulated some good conversation on the subject.


10-03-2005, 15:47

I was wondering if you could shed some light on Musashi's duel with Sasaki Kojiro. All I know is what I saw on the Musashi Taiga Drama that played about a year ago here in Hawaii.

Anyway, the depiction I saw had Musashi acknowledging that he could not defeat Kojiro without also getting himself killed, at least with Kojiro having the longer sword. So although the duel had been set, Musashi ran off to an island to buy time and find a solution. On the island, he found a wooden oar and carved it into a sword with sufficient length. At the dueld the two attacked with simultaneous blows, Kojiro's blow only cut Musashi's head band, and Musashi's blow fatally struck Kojiro on the head.

Does your research indicate the reason why Musashi used a wooden sword against Kojiro? I read your posts on GNG, and was just wondering if the above-stated version has any credibility.


10-03-2005, 16:41
Hi Eddy;

Judging by the last paragraph of your post, I'm sure you already know the caveat I am going to give, but I'll post it anyway for the benefit of everyone else reading:

Much of the story of Musashi's life is apocryphal. In fact, so much of his life has been blown up, retold, rewritten, and conjectured, that the obscurities about him are staggering.

There are several iterations of the fight between him and Sasaki Kojiro; nobody can really claim to know conclusively which, if any, of them is the most accurate. Thus, my opinion is based on my speculation.

What we can actually discern, based on other knowledge of Musashi's life, is that for the latter half of it, he mostly carried a bokken (wooden sword) instead of a live steel blade. This change probably (but by no means certainly) occurred when he duelled with Sasaki Kojiro.

Sasaki Kojiro was known only for two things: 1) Carrying a long sword (the acutal length is hard to determine) and 2) Being exceptionally skillful with one cut- a cut he dubbed "The Sparrow Tail", so named because it mimicked a sparrow's tail when in flight.

I would surmise that the length of Kojiro's sword wasn't what troubled Musashi- that it was the speed of Kojiro's cut.

The choice of an oar to make a bokken was likely for a very simple reason- it was well-made from a good hardwood, and was roughly the correct shape and thickness to whittle down into a sword. It is EXTREMELY unlikely that he used it for its length, since the longer an object is, the more unwieldy it becomes.

The island was not where Musashi hid, it was where the duel was scheduled to take place. Some accounts have him using one of oars from the boat he took to the island as the material for the bokken- but then, why would he show up to an island where someone wants to kill him, only to sit down for hours (perhaps days) to whittle out a wooden sword? Nope, he certainly made it ahead of time and brought it with him.

So, why use the bokken? Very simply, Kojiro was only good with one cut- a cut which took advantage of the excessive length of his sword. Beyond that one (admittedly VERY fast) cut, the sword was unwieldy. I imagine the Musashi had the bokken in mind for one purpose: put it between himself and Kojiro's one good cut. If Kojiro cut the bokken, then his one good cut was used up, and Musashi could kill him with a knife, or whatever.

The account of the two trying to out-reach each other with longer weapons doesn't really pan out well. The reason is simple: Go get a 6 foot staff and a watermelon. Set the watermelon at your own head height. Hold the bo at one end (like it's a 6-foot-long sword), and try to use the other end to smash the watermelon. You'll miss or bounce off more than you'll hit, and it'll take a lucky hit to smash it. It'll also be slow as hell.

Now, here is my own speculation: I speculate that when Kojiro struck and Musashi parried with the bokken, that it didn't break. This would explain why Musashi later took up the wooden sword as his personal preference- a steel blade would almost certainly have broken under the same circumstances. I also suspect that Musashi broke Kojiro's sword (probably using the bokken).

So, in summary, here's how I see the events as having unfolded:

Musashi obtained an oar and made it into a bokken. He rowed out to the island to meet Kojiro. The two squared off. Kojiro and Musashi struck simultaneously. Kojiro's blade was parried by the bokken, which didn't break. Musashi broke Kojiro's sword, probably by forcing the point of the blade to the ground and striking the blade with the bokken, and killed Kojiro with a blow to the head.

Musashi probably told people how it went, and the story was retold, and retold, etc., and grew.

I hope I've answered all of your questions! Please feel free to post if you have more.

10-03-2005, 17:03
Thank you RES. Your posts are very informative and appreciated.

Like other Sansei or Yonsei, I have a passing interest in Musashi, but the different accounts of his life can leave one confused or skeptical.

Your no-nonsense, common sense approach to the subject matter appears to be credible given Musashi's similar approach. I'm sure it is no coincidence.

Thanks again.

10-03-2005, 18:29
Thank you for your kind words!

10-06-2005, 14:04
I am going to copy and paste the portions of the other thread relevant to Musashi into this thread, in order to save a repository on the subject.

It will be several posts in length, as I am going to try to put posts together into integral conversations to make them easier to read later on.

10-06-2005, 14:07
Originally posted by Zenhachirou
Miyamoto never "stopped using a blade."

That's just a myth that he picked up after bashing in one guy's head with a wooden sword. And actually it was a boat oar.

A blunt object can be just as deadly as an edged one when used properly, especially if they're the same size.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
For the record:

The writings and teaching of Miyamoto Musashi, among others, have influenced me greatly. Being that I am probably the only person in this thread who has actually studied Musashi's teachings in any serious detail (by which I mean, has done more than read "A Book Of Five Rings" a few times), let me dispell a few erroneous statements:

1) Musashi was an ardent advocate of "know many weapons". In his school (named "The School Of Two Swords"), he taught not only swordsmanship, but spearfighting, archery, and shooting as well. To believe that Musashi would advocate "doing everything with a .22" is absurd.

2) Zenhachirou, some historians have tried- very strenuously, I might add- to dispell any belief that Musashi gave up the blade. The fact is, though, that the story about him giving up the blade as his personal weapon, and carrying a bokken made from an oar, is not apocryphal. He did continue to own live blades, but rarely carried them- he kept them for teaching purposes.

It was, in fact, Musashi's preference for wood (because in the hands of an accomplished swordsman, a hardwood bokken can easily be used to break a steel blade) that allowed him to best Muso Gonnosuke in a duel, and prompted Gonnosuke to formally create a new weapon- the jo, or four-foot staff. Gonnosuke used it in a rematch against Musashi, and won- the only duel Musashi ever lost.

3) For those who are interested, William Scott Wilson- whose translations of "A Book Of Five Rings", "The Life-Giving Sword" (Yagyu Munenori), and other classic samurai works, will soon be publishing an exhaustive biography of Musashi. His work is first-rate.

Originally posted by richardh247
Can you recommend some further reading on this?

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
As far as writings by other historians, I can recommend W.S. Wilson (whom I mentioned in my previous post) very highly.

Additionally, if you can find a copy (I have one, which is more than twenty years old), probably the best encyclopedic work on the Japanese martial arts, and particularly the samurai arts, is "The Martial Arts" by Michel Random. If not this book, any of his other books are equally good reads.

Wilson's books and translations are fairly easy to find- you can buy them at Barnes and Noble.

10-06-2005, 14:10
Originally posted by Sixgun_Symphony
You know that all of the different swords are derived from different fighting styles. Fighting styles were derived from tactical needs. A case in point is that the Romans fought as infantry in close formation with large shields, the gladius (shortsword) was perfect for their fighting style. A roman legionnaire was simply too close to his enemy and too close to his comrades for room to swing a large sword. The emphasis would be on the thrust.

I read somewhere that the Samurai started out as a mounted archer. The sword has a curve to it, and it is rather long. It seems to have been designed for a horseman.

Anyone with other information here on the development of their weapons/tactics?

Originally posted by Matt VDW
In order for a fighter using a stick to break an opponent's sword, he would have to hit the sword on the side of the blade, wouldn't he? And wouldn't most solid hits made with the edge of the sword chop through the stick?

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
Sixgun: Almost. The better one-liner would be to say that they started out as mounted swordsmen- somewhat more like dragoons than cavalry.

The explanation for the curvature has been a source of debate for a VERRRY long time. If one were to believe that it had solely to do with the mounted nature of (some) samurai combat, then what we would have seen- as has been seen through history with any mounted troops who have had long enough to evolve- would have been an evolution toward straight blades.

One of the problems associated with discerning the intentions behind the design of Japanese weapons is this: Most Westerners are used to the concept of "chopping" or "hacking" with the blade (such as Matt VDW's post). In point of fact, this isn't the method of cutting with a Japanese blade at all. Think of the sword as being somewhat like a draw knife, but with one handle (if you're not familiar with this tool, ask a woodworker).

So, why the curve? The simplest (and probably most correct) answer, is to facilitate drawing the blade quickly. A straight blade would have to be short in order to be drawn quickly from its scabbard- whereas a curved blade can be longer, and still drawn easily without undue body contortions. This also fits in with the eventual evolution of the Japanese sword arts- iai(do or jutsu), which (in broad terms) is the name for methods of quickly drawing and cutting with the sword in a single stroke.

Just as different needs give birth to different types of weapons, the Japanese swords fall into several different categories. One of these, the batto (literally, "horse sword"- akin to a cavalry saber), was probably the shortest-lived of these sword classifications. It was a longer- and heavier-than-average sword, intended for heavy use as a weapon for horse-back combat. It fell into disuse, because it was found to be too awkward for use when dismounted- and because, frankly, there are better weapons for horse-back combat, such as spears. Certain methods of swordsmanship are nonetheless still, to this day, called "battojutsu", although this designation is somewhat specious.

This lack of practicality of the batto illustrates another problem for Westerners when considering the development of Japanese blades- if one were to compare Japanese swords to their modern-day tactical equivalents, one would have to compare them to modern handguns, rather than modern longguns. The Japanese swords served the purpose of a weapon carried on one's person, to use when "bigger and badder" weapons (spears, bows and arrows, guns, naginata, etc.) were impractical, or had been lost or broken in the midst of combat. Thus, a "bigger and badder" katana in those days, would be like a "bigger and badder" pistol today- think of it in the same terms as carrying a long-barrelled magnum revolver today for self-defense: impractical, to say the least.

Likewise, to think of them in military terms, swords were also a status symbol, much the same as an officer's sidearm is still a status symbol in many modern militaries.

Originally posted by Matt VDW
So is it impossible for a katana to cut through a jo?

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
No, it's possible. It's also possible to break the sword with the staff. Which of the two occurs, depends entirely on how the engagement plays out.

Originally posted by Matt VDW
The idea that Musashi deliberately handicapped himself with an inferior weapon to make fighting more challenging is wrong -- right?

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
Correct- he didn't "deliberately handicap himself"- he chose a bokken because it suited him, not to "make things more interesting".

10-06-2005, 14:13
Originally posted by DAN'LL
If I had to go to battle where death of one of the combatants was most probable, I would avoid the likes of you, and the desendents of your friend Musashi.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
Thank you for the compliment, Dan'll.

Speaking of his descendants, you might find it interesting that there is still a school in Japan devoted to teaching his sword method, with some twenty or thirty dedicated practicioners (and a considerable number of admirers). The method has had several names over the last 360 years, and it is now called Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu- the best translation of this name, for Westerners, is "School of the Tactic Of Two Heavens As One", with "Two Heavens" (Niten) being the original, secretive term Muashi used to describe the use of two swords (one in each hand). It should be noted that later in his life, Musashi adopted the term "Nitto" ("two swords") in place of Niten, and "nitto" is the name he used in writing A Book Of Five Rings. Descendant generations have flip-flopped back and forth between using these two terms, and have finally settled (hopefully) on "Niten".

10-06-2005, 14:17
Originally posted by frank4570
...and he didn't bathe so he wouldn't be away from his sword.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
This is actually apocryphal; Musashi did bathe, daily.

In fact, we even know the manner of his bathing- he bathed every morning at dawn, outdoors, in cold water. This practice was common amongst both Buddhist priests and samurai of the day.

Originally posted by farranger
There are maybe 10 guys in the world alive today with his kind of skill; at least that's my guess. And it's only a wild guess, it might only be one or two or three or NONe.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
Well, it's probably closer to a hundred, and you're reading a post written by one of them right at this very moment ;)

Originally posted by Vilsk
If you are a fancier of Miyamoto Musashi, that leads one to ask what you are doing on an internet BBS as his 9th Maxim is "Do nothing which is of no use."

Originally posted by Glock9mmFan
Message boards are entertaining. Therefore, they are of use to good mental health. No entertainment makes you a saaaaaad panda.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
"Useful" was a subjective term for Musashi- for example, he was very fond of games, his favorite being "Go" (a board game). When he wasn't challenging or accepting challenges for duels, he challenged and accepted challenges for Go.

10-06-2005, 15:52
Originally posted by james481
A gun fight is a much different place than a duel in the 17th century. There just isn't a place for honor in a gun fight. You take every advantage you can, and you play as unfairly as you can. So, you can master a .22 and be effective with it, but why not master a .45 and be that much more so?

I would also assert that while I respect martial artists a great deal, I think gun fighting is the "modern" martial art. So everyone here who practices with weapons and and are proficient in using them is a martial artist.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
This would be a fantastic post, if it weren't sprinkled throughout with "common knowledge" about the martial arts.

"There just isn't place for honor" in a 17th Century duel, either- the actual occurrences in those combats are often disturbing, sometimes even to those who are accustomed to bloodiness. The samurai did, in fact, "take every opportunity".

One example of this, is the underwear worn by the samurai- fundoshi, an 8-foot-long wrapping around the genitals, which found its beginnings as a means to protect the genitals from being torn off by an opponent who might succeed in getting his hands into one's clothing.

As far as the "modern martial art" of gunfighting- I would agree. It would, however, be foolish to think that gunfighting varies significantly from any other combative discipline.

You wouldn't happen to be also known as "James Bowie", would you? ;) Your statements look exactly like statements "he" makes from time to time.

10-06-2005, 15:54
Originally posted by scottauld
Like I'm gonna take life lessons from a dude who ended up his life living in a cave.

Originally posted by Roundeyesamurai
Musashi lived the last couple of years of his life in solitude in order to write.

You see, when he wrote A Book Of Five Rings, he became the first person in Japanese history to write a book about the martial arts in common language. All previous texts had been written in the extremely flowery, very complicated language used by the nobility. The idea of writing an instructional text in common language was, to the nobility, an affront to their station in life. The nobility sought to control all art, all literature, and all creative expression and published thinking, seeing such activities as exclusively "their" domain.

Frankly, it's no wonder he went into seclusion to write it.

This is why A Book Of Five Rings has become a classic in the Western world- because it was easy to translate, whereas the translations of other texts sometimes generate considerable debate.

A Book Of Five Rings was a great contribution to the martial arts, as much for its actual text, as for the concept generated by it- it was, to the samurai of the day, an inspiration to put their teachings into text. One could say that without Musashi, the chain of events which ultimately led to the martial arts being opened to the world would not have taken place.

It's not surprising that Musashi wanted to "open the door" to those who weren't of samurai birth: Although the official account of Musashi's life states that he was of Samurai birth, there is considerable evidence to suggest that he wasn't. If this evidence is true, then Musashi did the next-to-impossible- he became a samurai, rather than being born into it (and had to conceal the fact, lest he be executed).

It's a real Cinderella story.