Musashi prints, martial arts, and celebrity
Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese martial artist of the 17th century. In fact, he’s probably THE most famous martial artist of Japan. He wrote The Book of Five Rings — a treatise on his own sword fighting style and the art of Budo (the warrior way) in general — and it is still read and studied by people today. That’s just one of the reasons why we chose to seek out images of this hero to put on our Musashi posters, canvas, and other artworks!
Musashi’s Book of Five Rings
I first read the Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin no Sho) when I was just beginning on my own martial arts odyssey. I have to admit, I probably didn’t appreciate it at the time. I’d barely done any kenjutsu (sword techniques) myself, and I read the book in a daze on a 15 hour flight to go train in Japan. It probably didn’t sink in. But after 20 years of martial arts training, I can see why his work remains popular.
He broke up his teachings into sub-volumes named after the five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void. These five come from the Japanese interpretation of Buddhism and are seen across many different schools of fighting. (It contrasts with the Chinese grouping of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.)
In his teachings he emphasises the practical over the esoteric, and although his work can be considered spiritual, it can also be thought of as a simple roadmap to combat success. The fact that his teachings can be viewed in many different lights no doubt points to its enduring success. In fact, it enjoyed a brief period of being the “go-to” book for businessmen and entrepreneurs who sought strategies for winning!
A Woodblock Print Superstar
The painters and woodblock print artists of the 19th Century adored him too. Although he was born maybe 200 years or more before these Ukiyo-e masters made him the subject of their works, he was still a looming presence. In fact, it’s even more layered than that, because many of the woodblock prints of him are actually of famous contemporary actors who have been cast to play him on stage!
Ukiyo-e prints were often almost like our modern gossip magazines. They captured celebrities and local beauties, as well as a slice of life from the ordinary folk. There probably weren’t as many wandering swordsmen by this time in Japan. Late Edo-period (1600 – 1868) had been under the rule of the Shogunate for centuries, and society was much more ordered by then. So they found their Musashis where they could!
One Art, Many Arts
What isn’t as well known is that Musashi was a painter too. In feudal Japan, the Way of the Warrior (often known as Bushido) would include balancing the “hard” skills of the battlefield with “soft” skills like calligraphy, poetry, or painting. The idea of balance was important in most areas of life, according to the philosophical and spiritual practices of the times, and Musashi is said to find that the raw principles of martial arts could be applied across any artistic endeavour.
Martial arts students will recognise this statement. Often we are encouraged by our sensei (teacher) to use the confidence, discipline to practice, and ethics they learn in the dojo (training hall) out in the real world.
If you’d like a Musashi print as inspiration in your home or dojo, you’ll find a growing selection below of high-quality poster, canvas, and other products — and unlike certain other online companies, we pay our taxes! 😉