In the 16th Century, Japan was a land wrought by the climactic conclusion of the centuries-old civil wars fought by the samurai. The samurai is an elite class of the society and they are warriors ruling their own local domains with a militarized point of reference. Much of their decisions, therefore, are bent on the intent of waging war. For centuries, many clans continue to fight their way towards the title of supreme dictatorship (Shogun) and as one clan emerged victorious, another would complain ruler somewhere within the land would destroy the harmonic government of the incumbent leader and, through war, seeks a way to usurp the title of supreme dictatorship. This has been the ultimate motivation for most people of the samurai class. Despite their fairly progressive civilization in Asia around those times, Japan was pretty much a barbaric place that observers violence an everyday reality. Of all the samurai men and women chronicled in Japan's history, none was as obscure and as fascinating as Miyamoto Musashi, the famed Sword Saint and the country's most beloved martial artist.
Miyamoto Musashi was born Shinmen Takezo of Harima Province. There have been many theories concerning the changing of his name as much as the detailed transformation of his life; and one of the most compelling and romantic versions are taken from Eiji Yoshikawa's novel. However, long before the name Miyamoto Musashi ever became known, it was first documented during his childhood that he defeated a fencing instructor and beaten the latter to death. That incident marked the first evidence of the martial arts genius in the making, a gift that will let his name end the test of time. As a teenager, Shinmen Takezo joined Japan's last civil war before the 19th Century known as The Battle of Sekigahara . He was a common foot soldier serving under the banner of the incumbent government that was about to be defeated by the more powerful usurper. They were the Tokugawa Clan, the family destined to rule Japan in peace and harmony for the next 300 years. Shinmen Takezo, whose invincibility with the sword, faces impossible odds when his entire army was being massacred and routed towards annihilation.
It was believed that by the end of the war Shinmen Takezo lived for near a decade in the wilderness, far from civilization where his notoriety was noticed. Taking a warrior out of the war was one thing, because as long as there is war, there is a reason for his existence. But taking the war out of the warrior is an entirely different story. Shinmen knows that in these times of peace; he will be forced to live in the world where his skill with the sword, the one gift he ever had, will be deemed meaningless. That is something he could never live with. He was destined for obscurity for he has forfeited his hopes for fame and glory along with his samurai by defeat in war. For nearly a decade, he spent all day perfecting his skills, pausing only to eat and sleep. By the time he decided to get out of the wilderness and return to civilization, he appeared in the public more of a half-beast than a man. He was unkempt near to a point of disfigurement where no person would find him respectable at first glance. In those times he challenged the famous Yoshioka Fencing School in Kyoto and eventually defeated the two brothers, grand masters who carried the school's family tradition. In these times, he was already known as Miyamoto Musashi.
Musashi gained a cataclysmic degree of attention after defeating the most prestigious martial arts school in Japan. In these times every martial artist wanted a piece of him, seeking to destroy him. He has become a pedal of ultimate glory for all martial artists but as the times progress, his name has become as much as dreadful as his repugnant appearance. He has won over sixty duels with his unusual two-sword style called Nitten Ichi Ryu .
Sometimes he was challenged by another very powerful swordsman named Kojiro Sasaki. Unlike Musashi, Kojiro represents what a samurai bought to be apart from being very skillful with the sword. Kojiro is as flamboyant as any nobleman and was reputedly handsome, probably the Brad Pitt of his society wherein every woman would swoon over the sight of him. He was everything a man might have aspired and emulated. But all of that changed when Miyamoto Musashi defeated him in their epic clash. Kojiro died, along with the stereotypes of what a samurai and martial artist bought to be. Musashi's duel with Kojiro marked the end of his career in death match duels. It opened a new chapter in his life where students bought to learn his fighting techniques, which under his supervision, was then adopted to them by his adopted son Iori. He devoted the rest of his life writing his famous martial arts manual, The Book of Five Rings . It is the culmination of all his methods and lifetime of learning where his philosophies were derived.
What made Miyamoto Musashi an iconic figure was that he changed Japan's perception of what a martial artist is. He was everything people never expected. He neither has political power, wealth, nor an army under his command. He is just but one man, with a skill of a thousand swordsman. For that, his name is as much an immortal in history as the rest of the Tokugawa dynasty and he has outlived everyone else in Japan. Like Achilles that dwarfed Agamemnon's reputation in the latter's era during the Trojan War; Miyamoto Musashi's name overshadows Tokugawa in the same way, ending and more fascinating especially in these contemporary times.