THE LONE SAMURAI by William Scott Wilson
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The Life of Miyamoto Musashi
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From the translator of his famed treatise on swordsmanship, The Book of Five Rings, the first English-language biography of a legendary Japanese fighter, teacher, artist, and author.

Miyamoto Musashi (1584–1645) first attracted notice at age 13, when he required only a staff to defeat a wandering swordsman whose arrogance offended him. His reputation grew as he vanquished a number of famous samurai, wielding a wooden sword against his opponents’ steel. Wilson describes several of these duels, emphasizing Musashi’s use of ploys—such as arriving late at the field of combat in ragged clothing. All in all, Musashi fought 60 formal duels and served in six military campaigns. Around the age of 30, he apparently decided that he no longer needed to kill his rivals to establish his mastery; in later matches he often led his opponent around the arena until it became clear that no attack could touch him. Solicited to join the courts of several powerful rulers, Musashi insisted on remaining unattached. He would stay at a sponsor’s home as a guest, offering advice but rejecting formal allegiance. At the same time, he developed his skill as an artist in the difficult suibokuga style, which offers no chance to modify or correct brushstrokes. The author includes several drawings he signed with the name Niten, most showing figures from Zen mythology, often with birds; they are considered masterpieces of suibokuga. Wilson, a veteran translator and a longtime student of Japanese language and literature, shows clearly the influence of Zen on Musashi’s thinking, art, and writing. Appendices document Musashi's role as a Robin Hood–like folk hero in Japanese literature and film. Excellent notes and glossary provide context for the swordsman’s life.

A fascinating glimpse of a central figure in traditional Japanese culture.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 4-7700-2942-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2004