The undefeated Japanese duelist, Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1584-1645), triumphed in more than sixty duels during his lifetime, many of which ended in the deaths of his opponents. His first duel (and kill) occurred in 1596, when a wandering samurai named Arima Kihei entered the region of Hirafuku, where a thirteen-year-old Musashi was living with his uncle. Kihei posted a notice that he would duel with whomever was brave enough to meet his challenge. Musashi, though only a boy with a stick, answered the challenge and faced the wandering samurai in combat. Despite all odds, the young Miyamoto Musashi knocked Arima Kihei off his feet and bludgeoned the surprised samurai to death with his stick. Musashi continued his lethal duels until 1612, when he faced the masterful nodachi swordsman, Sasaki Kojiro. After Miyamoto Musashi slew Kojiro with a long wooden sword (bokuto) that was shaped from a large oar, the great duelist immediately regretted killing such a skilled warrior. He continued dueling, but he never again dueled to the death.
Between Miyamoto Musashi’s debut as a duelist in 1596 and his refusal to participate in lethal duels in 1612, Musashi unsurprisingly fought in a lot of duels. One of the more famous (or infamous) of his fights occurred in 1604, when Musashi traveled to Kyoto to challenge the elite Yoshioka school of martial arts. The head of the Yoshioka family, Yoshioka Seijuro, agreed to meet the youthful duelist in combat. After arriving frustratingly late to the duel, it only took Musashi one devastating blow with his wooden sword to irreparably damage his opponent’s shoulder and arm. Injured in body and spirit, Seijuro resigned from his position as head of the Yoshioka family and became a monk. With Seijuro gone, the leadership of the Yoshioka family and school fell to Denshichiro. To regain the lost honor of his family, Yoshioka Denshichiro challenged Miyamoto Musashi to a duel to the death. Despite Denshichiro being a master of the staff, Musashi (who arrived late, once again) is said to have killed the man in a single blow to the head.
With Seijuro living as a monk, and Denshiciro dead at the hands of Musashi, the next heir of the Yoshioka family was Matasichiro, a boy of only twelve years. Like his predecessor, Denshichiro, Matasichiro also felt obligated to regain his family’s honor and consequentially challenged Musashi to a duel. This time, however, the Yoshioka family was furious and did not plan to fight fair. Remembering that Miyamoto Musashi had been arriving late to the duels, the Yoshioka family began to plan an ambush for the young duelist. With treachery on his mind, Matasichiro arranged for the duel to be held at night, in a private location, and when the time for the duel neared, the boy marched to the place of the fight with a small army in tow.
Miyamoto Musashi, however, rarely did the same thing twice, when it came to combat. Even though he had arrived at the other two duels strategically late, this time the duelist snuck to the location of the duel early. As a result, Musashi was already observing the area when the Yoshioka forces arrived and began setting up for their ambush.
With the intentions of the Yoshioka laid clear before his eyes, the duelist leapt from the shadows and charged at Matasichiro. Dodging through startled mercenaries, Miyamoto Musashi found, and killed, the twelve-year-old leader of the Yoshioka family. After Matasichiro was dead, the victorious duelist fought his way out of the mob of Yoshioka soldiers and fled to Nara, where he would be safe to return to his life as a traveling swordsman.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Read our full biography on the action-packed life of Miyamoto Musashi, HERE.
- The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Lord Majesty Productions, 2005.