Weird History The Insanely Violent Life Of The Greatest Samurai Of All Time  

Christopher Myers
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There are many famous samurai and many great stories of samurai doing some seriously badass things. A careful examination of the facts suggests the award for the greatest samurai of all time probably goes to Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), if for no other reason than that he was an undefeated samurai. These true Miyamoto Musashi stories illustrate, beyond a doubt, that he was hardcore af. Consider yourself trigger warned: badass Musashi Miyamoto facts to follow (in Japan, he's Musashi Miyamoto, in the English-speaking world, he's called Miyamoto Musashi; potato potahtoh). 

Musashi never commanded armies, though he did fight in a few battles. His claim to fame was his dueling record, which was perfect. The legendary swordsman went around Japan for years challenging, and defeating, every opponent he came across. When he was satisfied he had pwned every skilled swordsman in Japan, he decided to write the book on being a badass: The Book of Five Rings. Musashi's legend lives on through his writings, the tales of his life, and the school of kenjutsu (swordsmanship) he founded.

He Beheaded A 12-Year-Old Challenger And Sliced His Way Through A Retinue Of Warriors To Avoid Assassination

He Beheaded A 12-Year-Old Chal... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Insanely Violent Life Of The Greatest Samurai Of All Time
Photo:  Toho Studios

When you roll into town as a nobody and take down two masters of a famous sword school, as Musashi did upon arriving in Kyoto in 1604, you ruffle some feathers. After Musashi defeated the esteemed Yoshioka brothers, who ran a venerable sword fighting school, the rest of the clan was fuming. They hatched a plot that involved the new head of the clan, a 12-year-old named Matashichiro, challenging Musashi to a duel, at which the clan would ambush - and kill - Musashi.

When Musashi was challenged to a night duel, he knew something was up. He showed up early the night of the duel and hid in the bushes. Sure enough, Matashichiro arrived with a retinue of fully armed men. Musashi wasn't about to sneak away, though.

In true badass form, Musashi ran out of the bush screaming and decapitating Matashichiro. Surrounded and outnumbered, he doubled-fisted his swords and got to cutting. Despite the odds, Musashi fought his way out of the scrum. It's believed this moment is when Musashi first discovered his two-sword technique.

In The Book of Five Rings, Musashi writes

"The principle is 'strategy by means of the long sword'. If he attains the virtue of the long sword, one man can beat ten men. Just as one man can beat ten, so a hundred men can beat a thousand, and a thousand men can beat ten thousand. In my strategy, one man is the same as ten thousand, so this strategy is the complete warrior's craft."

He Was Undefeated In 60 Duels

He Was Undefeated In 60 Duels is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Insanely Violent Life Of The Greatest Samurai Of All Time
Photo: Yoshitaki Tsunejiro/Public Domain

Duels in early 17th century Japan were no joke; they were often to the death. Miyamoto Musashi spent a large part of his life traveling across Japan engaging in duels, killing plenty of master duelists along the way. Through this campaign of continual combat, Musashi perfected his skills, and rose to become the greatest swordsman in Japanese history.

Not only did Musashi risk his life during duels, he also fought in several battles. He writes in The Book of Five Rings,

"Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.

In my strategy, the training for killing enemies is by way of many contests, fighting for survival, discovering the meaning of life and death, learning the Way of the sword, judging the strength of attacks and understanding the Way of the 'edge and ridge' of the sword."

He Killed A Master Swordsman With A Wooden Sword Carved From An Oar

He Killed A Master Swordsman W... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Insanely Violent Life Of The Greatest Samurai Of All Time
Photo: Ashihiro Harukawa/Public Domain

In Musashi's most famous duel, he faced off against Sasaki Kojiro, the Demon of the West. Kojiro was the ideal samurai in many ways. He was highly respected and classically trained in the Chujō-ryū school, and was the creator and head of the Ganryū school of sword fighting. Kojiro used the longer-than-usual no-dachi two-handed sword in his technique to give himself superior range.

The duel was set for the morning of April 13, 1612, on the island of Funashima (now called Ganryū after Kojiro's famous fighting style). When the time came, however, Musashi was nowhere to be found. Kojiro and the officials sent to observe the fight were left waiting for hours. When Musashi finally showed up, intentionally late, he was disheveled and holding a bokken (a wooden sword) he made from an oar he found on the boat ride to the duel. Making opponents wait was a psychological trick integral to Musashi's battle plan. 

Kojiro became furious at this display of disrespect. He is said to have cast aside his sheath in anger, to which Musashi responded, "If you have no more use for your sheath, you are already dead." Musashi carved his bokken to be a few inches longer than Kojiro's no-dachi, negating Kojiro's main advantage. Musashi defeated Kojiro, killing him.

He Won His First Duel At Age 13, Beating His Opponent So Badly He Died Vomiting Blood

He Won His First Duel At Age 1... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Insanely Violent Life Of The Greatest Samurai Of All Time
Photo: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi/Public Domain

While Musashi was living at a Zen temple with his uncle, wandering samurai Arima Kihei came seeking challengers. Kihei, of the Shinto-Ryu school of kenjutsu, went from town to town issuing open challenges to anyone who would duel him. When the 13-year-old Musashi challenged him, he didn't take the boy seriously. 

The next day, at the time of the duel, Musashi bum-rushed Kihei, knocking him to the ground. Musashi then beat his opponent to a bloody pulp with a wooden sword known as a bokuto. Kihei died vomiting blood.