Miyamoto Musashi grew up during a period of great social change in Japan, the late 1500's and early 1600's. For centuries, feudal Japanese warlords had battled over wealth, power, and land. Just before the birth of Musashi, the rise of the Shogun and the Shogunate united the country for the first time in centuries, suppressing the internal conflicts. The Shogun and his successors imposed strict bureaucratic rules throughout Japan. With the drawing down of armed conflicts, many samurai, as leaders and soldiers of the feudal warlords became ronin ('wave men') as the armies were disbanded. The name was an apt one - tossed about on the waves of fate, these masterless samurai roamed the country with nothing but their two swords (daisho) stuck in their belts.
Musashi, born a samurai in 1584, was the most famous of these ronin. It has been estimated that Musashi had duelled over 60 swordsmen before reaching his 30th year, with his first bout at age 13. While there are no accurate historical records, very few Japanese would deny that his life had been epic. Many folk stories are told of his prowess with the blade and it is said that he had never lost in any of his duels. Musashi is also credited with founding the Niten Ichiryu style which advocated using two swords. Apart from his martial abilities, Musashi was also known as a prolific painter of Sumi-e paintings using brush and ink.
Not much is known about Musashi between his 30th and 50th years. However, it is likely that the first thoughts on his philosophy, which he later called Heiho and recorded in the Book of Five Rings was formulated during this time. Several years after this 50th year, Musashi penned the principles of his Heiho as they related to swordsmanship, in a document now called Heiho Sanjugo Kajo (The 35 articles of Heiho). Two years later, Musashi wrote a lengthy letter to his student Terao Magonojo, detailing the method of attaining his Heiho. This textbook of swordsmanship is now known as Gorin No Sho (the Book of Five Rings). Musashi died soon after completing his masterwork, in 1645 at the age of 60.
Musashi's Winning Strategy
1. Do not harbour sinister designs
2. Diligiently pursue the Path of Two-Swords-as-One
3. Cultivate a wide range of interests in the arts
4. Be knowledgeable in a variety of occupations
5. Be discreet regarding one's commercial dealings
6. Nuture the ability to perceive the truth in all matters
7. Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye
8. Do not be negligent, even in trifling matters
9. Do not engage in useless activity