The Insanely Violent Life Of The Greatest Samurai Of All Time

History is rich with accounts of famous samurai, as well as samurai accomplishing incredible feats with their warrior mastery. One of the greatest samurai of all time, however, would most likely be Musashi Miyamoto (1584 –1645), if for no other reason than that he was never defeated. These true Musashi Miyamoto stories illustrate, beyond a doubt, that he epitomized the lifestyle of an unparalleled samurai.

Musashi – known as Miyamoto Musashi to English speakers – never commanded armies, though he did fight in several battles. His claim to fame was his perfect dueling record. The legendary swordsman traveled Japan for years challenging and defeating every opponent he encountered. After dueling all of Japan's most-skilled swordsmen, he wrote a book on the discipline of swordsmanship: A Book of Five Rings. Musashi's legend lives on through his writings, the tales of his life, and the school of kenjutsu – or swordsmanship – he founded.

  • He Beheaded A 12-Year-Old Challenger
    Photo: Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto / Toho

    He Beheaded A 12-Year-Old Challenger

    After Musashi defeated the esteemed Yoshioka brothers, who ran a venerable kenjutsu school, the rest of the clan was infuriated. 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 Musashi.

    When Musashi was challenged to a night duel, he immediately became suspicious. He arrived early on the night of the duel and hid in the bushes. Sure enough, Matashichiro arrived with a retinue of battle-ready soldiers. Musashi ran out of the bush screaming, slashing off Matashichiro's head with his sword. Surrounded and outnumbered, he unsheathed a second weapon and began his defense. Despite the odds, Musashi fought his way out of the scrum. This moment is alleged to be the origin of Musashi's two-sword technique.

    In A Book of Five Rings, Musashi wrote:

    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
    Photo: Yoshitaki Tsunejiro / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    He Was Undefeated In 60 Duels

    Duels in early 17th-century Japan were often fatal. Miyamoto Musashi spent a large portion of his life traveling across Japan engaging in duels, slaughtering many 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 his various duels, he also served in several battles. He wrote in A 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 Defeated A Master Swordsman With A Wooden Sword Carved From An Oar
    Photo: Ashihiro Harukawa / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

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

    In Musashi's most famous duel, he faced off against Sasaki Kojiro, also known as 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 he 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 arrived, intentionally late, he was disheveled and holding a bokken (a wooden sword) he had fashioned from an oar he found on the boat ride to the duel. Making opponents wait was a psychological tactic integral to Musashi's battle strategy. 

    Kojiro was furious about 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 had carved his bokken to be several inches longer than Kojiro's no-dachi, negating Kojiro's primary advantage and enabling Musashi's victory.

  • He Won His First Duel When He Was 13
    Photo: Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    He Won His First Duel When He Was 13

    While Musashi was a young man living at a Zen temple with his uncle, wandering samurai Arima Kihei came seeking challengers. Kihei, of the Shinto-Ryu school of kenjutsu, traveled 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 knocked his opponent to the ground and beat him with his wooden sword – known as a bokuto – until Kihei perished in a pool of his own blood.