The Iaido Journal  Apr 2010
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Book Review - The Real Musashi:
Origins of a Legend

copyright 2010 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

The Real Musashi: Origins of a legend
The Bushu Denraiki
Translated and annotated by William de Lange 2009

Floating World Editions 2010

isbn 978-1-891640-56-8

This is a translation of the Bushu Denraiki, written by the fifth generation student of Niten Ichiryu, Tachibana Minehira, (later Tanji Hokin) in 1727.

In 1690 Tachibana Minehira became a retainer of Kuroda Tsunamasa, fourth daimyo of the Kuroda han in Fukuoka, and after 1707 lost this position, eventually taking the name Hokin. Hokin traced his lineage from Musashi by the following:

1-Musashi Miyamoto
2-Terao Magonojo Nobumasa
3-Shibato Sanzaemon Yoshinori
4-Yoshida Taroemon Sanetsuru (fencing instructor to the Kuroda)
5-Tachibana Sendayu Minehira (Hokin Tanji 1671-1746)
6-Tachibana Taneakira (Yahei Masunaga)

Hokin became 5th head of his line in 1703 and eventually passed it to his nephew Tachibana Taneakira. 

This book, the Bushu Denraiki, is the recollection of discussions Hokin had with his teachers, Yoshida Sanetsuru and Shibato Yoshinori. It is, according to William de Lange, the earliest record of Musashi's life aside from Musashi's own writings and his memorial stone.

I recommend that any student of Musashi read this book. It is a useful reference and can give students of the Niten Ichiryu a few insights into the school. In order to read it most profitably, especially for Niten students, I suggest reading the translation only, and then going back to read the translation plus the annotations from de Lange for the historical context.

I am a student of Niten Ichiryu and am much more interested in the school than in the larger history of Japan. (My own practice of Niten Ichiryu comes through a different line of instructors from Terao Motomenotsuke Nobuyuki, brother of Terao Nobumasa.) As such, from my own admittedly skewed viewpoint, much of the additional writing from de Lange is superfluous to the translation. Having said that, the author does provide valuable information on how later biographies of Musashi corroborate or contradict Hokin's writings. An example of a somewhat marginal bit of explanation from de Lange is his discussion of the 47 ronin (the Genroku Ako Incident, p. 69) This tale of revenge (teki-uchi) is rather tenuously connected to Musashi by his act of burei-uchi (striking down for insolence) as mentioned by Hokin. I do not mean to imply that this extraneous material is common in this book, it is not, but de Lange does tend to wander a bit afield in his writings as seen especially in his three volume set on famous Japanese swordsmen. This book is more restrained.

"The Real Musashi" shares a small, self-imposed problem with other recent translations of writings by and about Musashi, and that is to ignore the availability of modern students of the Niten Ichiryu when talking about the techniques of Musashi's school.

On page 24 de Lange describes Migiwaki no kamae as: "a stance in which one awaits the opponent's attack with the sword held at the height of the right armpit, the tip of the blade pointing downward, and its sharp side turned outward. It is the last of Musashi's five kamae..."

Figure 1 represents my reading of this stance from the description.

Fig 1, review The Real Musashi

The idea that the right tip is down comes, I suspect, from the usual migiwaki single sword stance as shown in figure 2.

Fig 2, review The Real Musashi

In fact the migiwaki stance in the Niten Ichiryu as described in the Go Rin no Sho is commonly accepted by current students as a two-sword stance (as are the other four kamae) and is seen in figure 3. The student does not wait with the long sword at armpit height, but meets the opponent by thrusting to armpit height as he closes.

Fig 3, review The Real Musashi Migi Waki Kamae

The description of katsu totsu on page 53 is similarly difficult to imagine from the description as translated from Musashi's writing. "katsu as one raises one's sword to stab and totsu as one strikes down". The following video (click here), demonstrates a potential interpretation of this katsu-totsu movement, with single sword and with two swords, as it relates to the concept of kissaki gaeshi (turning the tip) as performed in my line of Niten Ichiryu. I don't claim that this is what Musashi practiced, we are 350 years away from the man, but it fits with what some current students of Niten practice. One can also see how Musashi's young student, using this fundamental practice of the school, could have driven the thief back into the fence where he finally caught and killed him. (Read the book for the story).

On page 76 Hokin mentions that Musashi developed three sets of basic techniques that amounted to three different styles, and mentions one called Musashi-ryu is still in existence.

De Lange suggests that, rather than developing three separate styles at the same time, Musashi may have had three different styles over his lifetime. He backs this up with another book, the "Heiho senshi denki" of Niwa Nobuhide (a later biography) where the author states that Musashi founded his school at 25 but only established the true Way, with the five kamae we know today, at 50. It may be true that Musashi developed several styles, I have heard of the Musashi-ryu and the Enmei-ryu as well as the Niten Ichiryu, but a simpler explanation can be made if one looks at the currently practiced Niten Ichiryu where there is a set of 12 techniques for the long sword, another set of 7 for the short sword and finally, a set of five kata for the long and short sword together. These final five kata are called Chudan, Jodan, Gedan, Hidariwaki and Migiwaki, after the five kamae mentioned in the Go Rin no Sho. Three sets, virtually three different styles.

I have no special knowledge of the truth here, I wouldn't presume to speak to what Musashi actually taught in 1640 but the methods of those who practice the Niten Ichiryu today would provide at least one more possibility when one is trying to interpret the writings of Musashi and his students.

These are small quibbles and do not detract from the chance for students in the west to read what appears to be a good translation of the Bushu Denraiki.


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