Apr 26, 2010

Miyamoto Musashi - Maybe Not Such A Nice Guy

Miyamoto Musashi - that guy in the picture to the right - is quite rightly known as a good swordsman. That stuff kinda comes with the turf when you're said to have fought 60 duels, and lost not a one.

Of course, most people won't know a lot about him - suffice it to say, he founded a rather influential swordfighting school called 二天一流 - Ni Ten Ichi Ryū - meaning Two Heavens, One School.

He had, however, some darker sides, too. For one, he had a tendency to "fight dirty", getting his opponents off balance by such tactics as showing up hours late to a duel and insulting them. He also was less than meticulous in avoiding unnecessary death and injury in his duels - even though his signature weapons were wooden; ironic, his being identified with the wooden bokken, considering one of his main warnings in his book 五輪書 - Go Rin No Sho, the Book of Five Rings, which presumably inspired the famous RPG Legend of the Five Rings - was against becoming overly reliant on any single weapon).

So, knowing the above, the question is - did Musashi assassinate Sasaki Kojirō?

He certainly had the motivation - Hosokawa Tadaoki, Lord Kokura, was a powerful enemy, who had much to gain by Kojirō's death, and he was also the one who organized the duel between Musashi and Kojirō, though the stories vary between whether it was Musashi or Tadaoki who first took the initiative. There's also the fact that the island upon which the duel was said to take place was later named after Kojirō, rather than Musashi, who was the nominal "hero" of the place.

He also had the inclination - he was an eminently practical man, given to utilitarianism over idealism or romantic notions of honour, who had earlier assassinated another man, Yoshioka Matashichiro, who was 12. However, the latter had happened after, sources claim, Yoshioka had put together as large a force of fighting men as he could get his hands on to assist him during this duel, so if this is to be trusted, then Musashi's attacking form hiding would seem prudent, rather than knavely.

And he had the disregard for human life, killing in duels even when little stood to be gained.

The facts also state that Musashi's clan was involved on the wrong side of the Tokugawa-Toyotomi war - a war in which Kojirō was also very much on the wrong side - but later on was held in very high regard by Tokugawa-aligned lords who were not especially noted for their backbones.

So did he do it? The only answer remains "maybe". He certainly killed the man; the only question was whether by trickery in a duel, or by surprise from the shadows, as a politically-motivated assassination.