Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era

Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era

Hardcover, 998 pages
Published 1935 by Kodansha International
ISBN-10: 9781568364278 (ISBN-13: 978-1568364278)

Date Read: September 9, 2017
How strongly I recommend it: 10/10
Find it at Good Reads or Amazon.

The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. Originally published in serially in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 1935.


However, as the chance to use swords in actual combat diminished, martial skills were gradually becoming martial arts, and these increasingly came to emphasize the importance of i nner self-control and the character building qualities of swordsmanship rather than its untested military efficacy. A whole mystique of the sword grew up, which was more akin to philosophy than to warfare.

She was more sensitive to her mother’s moods than to anything else in the world.

The more he ran, the closer he came to sheer animal ecstasy.

You see, Buddhism teaches that women are evil. Fiends. Messengers of hell.

“I told you. I’ve just become a new man. I stayed in that musty hole for three years. I read books. I thought. I screamed and cried. Then suddenly the light dawned. I understood what it means to be human.

One, whose customary bluster became more strident the more he drank declaimed, “Does anyone in th is country beside the Young Master truly understand the techniques of the Kyohachi Style? If there is—his—I want to meet him… Oops!”

He had great hopes for the future, and he had let this slut, with her powdered face and her lascivious sex, pull him down to her level.

I am a samurai, and I intend to remain a samurai. Even if I starve in the process.

These sons of famous people usually have high opinion of themselves; moreover they’re prone to try and twist things to their own advantage.

This was an age that fanned the hopes of the young, urged them to cherish a dream, prodded them to improve their status in life. An age, indeed, in which even someone like Matahachi might have visions of rising from nothing to become  the master of a castle.

“We’re your witnesses!” cried the merchants, who by this time were verging on apoplexy.

When self-doubt threatened to overwhelm him, it was Musashi’s habit to make straight for the mountains, in whose seclusion he could live to himself. 

So intense was the strain, his heart seemed to rise up and explode from his mouth.  

He and the mountain were now one, but the mountain, as if astonished to have this creature clawing into it, snarled and spit out regular avalanches of gravel and sand. 

The instant he realized he had reached the top, his strained willpower snapped like a bowstring. … Here at the border of heaven and earth, Musashi felt an indescribable joy swelling out to fill his whole being.

He sheathed his bellicose spirit, like a cat retracting its claws.

Confessing was like letting the pus out of a festering wound.

… panting as though they were about to spit up their hearts.

.. poem by Tsai Wen: 

    When I am busy, the mountain looks at me. 

    When I am at leisure, I look at the mountain. 

    Though it seems the same, it is not the same. 

    For busy-ness is inferior to leisure.  

He had no doubts about the rectitude of the ascetic life he led, but now he could see how his self-denial might make him narrow, small-minded and stubborn.

… started off at a run.

The way I’ve chosen is one of discipline. It requires me to overcome my sentiments, lead a stoic life, immerse myself in hardship. If I don’t, the light I seek will escape me.

… , slackening his pace.

To Musashi’s way of thinking, there was one way of life for ordinary people, another for the warrior. There was no turning back from the path he had chosen.

I intend to live on for a hundred or a thousand. Years—in the hearts of my countrymen, in the spirit of Japanese swordsmanship.

The longer Musashi remained silent, the more viciously the tongues wagged.

When Kojiro reached the limit of his forbearance, he called loudly, “You, there!”

Painfully conscious of his own mistakes and failures….  

The truth is simple. The only real bravery, the only genuine self-confidence, comes from training and self-discipline.

… devoting himself to ascetic practices, punishing his body to perfect his soul.

Coffee and running: To cut people down, to triumph over them, to display the limits of one’s strength, seemed increasingly vain. He wanted to conquer himself, to make life itself submit to him, to use people to live rather to die.

He covered the remaining mile to the cabin as though lightening was nipping at his heals.

To be real human beings, he told them, they must work for the sake of posterity.

Instead of wanting to be like this or that, make yourself into a silent, immovable giant. That’s what the mountain is. Don’t waste your time trying to impress people. If you become the sort of man people can respect, they’ll respect you, without your doing anything.

For once in his life Musashi was swamped by covetousness.

Takuaan, too, seemed to have the sharper corners rounded off and to have become more deeply endowed with the wisdom of Zen.

Indulging my chronic wanderlust, I am setting out on another aimless journey. 

He’d be concerned with how his work measured up to his ideals.

An easy existence imposed restrictions; he could not submit to them.

Often the sea seemed melancholy and alien; today it was dazzling, and the waves, though gentle, appeared to be bursting with hope.

At the same time, he was being swept up on a wave of that frivolous sentiment called popularity.

The rice he ate—grown by other people. He lived on the bounties of labor not his own. How could he repay people for all they had done for him?

Ganryu mistook it for his opponents head, and a smile flitted briefly across his face. The next instant his skull broke like gravel under the blow of Musashi's sword.