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The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi [Hardcover]

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Item description for The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi by William Scott Wilson...

The Lone Samurai is a landmark biography of Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary Japanese figure known throughout the world as a master swordsman, spiritual seeker, and author of The Book of Five Rings. With a compassionate yet critical eye, William Scott Wilson delves into the workings of Musashi's mind as the iconoclastic samurai wrestled with philosophical and spiritual ideas that are as relevant today as they were in his times. Musashi found peace and spiritual reward in seeking to perfect his chosen Way, and came to realize that perfecting a single Way, no matter the path, could lead to fulfillment. The Lone Samurai is far more than a vivid account of a fascinating slice of feudal Japan. It is the story of one man's quest for answers, perfection, and access to the Way.
By age thirteen, Miyamoto Musashi had killed his opponent in what would become the first of many celebrated swordfights. By thirty, he had fought more than sixty matches, losing none. He would live another thirty years but kill no one else. He continued to engage in swordfights but now began to show his skill simply by thwarting his opponents' every attack until they acknowledged Musashi's all-encompassing ability. At the same time, the master swordsman began to expand his horizons, exploring Zen Buddhism and its related arts, particularly ink painting, in a search for a truer Way.
Musashi was a legend in his own time. As a swordsman, he preferred the wooden sword and in later years almost never fought with a real weapon. He outfoxed his opponents or turned their own strength against them. At the height of his powers, he began to evolve artistically and spiritually, becoming one of the country's most highly regarded ink painters and calligraphers, while deepening his practice of Zen Buddhism. He funneled his hard-earned insights about the warrior arts into his spiritual goals. Ever the solitary wanderer, Musashi shunned power, riches, and the comforts of a home or fixed position with a feudal lord in favor of a constant search for truth, perfection, and a better Way. Eventually, he came to the realization that perfection in one art, whether peaceful or robust, could offer entry to a deeper, spiritual understanding. His philosophy, along with his warrior strategies, is distilled in his renowned work, The Book of Five Rings, written near the end of his life.
Musashi remains a source of fascination for the Japanese, as well as for those of us in the West who have more recently discovered the ideals of the samurai and Zen Buddhism. The Lone Samurai is the first biography ever to appear in English of this richly layered, complex seventeenth-century swordsman and seeker, whose legacy has lived far beyond his own time and place.
---------------------------------------------------------------- INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM SCOTT WILSON ABOUT BUSHIDO
Q.: What is Bushido?
A.: Bushido might be explained in part by the etymology of the Chinese characters used for the word. Bu comes from two radicals meanings "stop" and "spear." So even though the word now means "martial" or "military affair," it has the sense of stopping aggression. Shi can mean "samurai," but also means "gentleman" or "scholar." Looking at the character, you can see a man with broad shoulders but with his feet squarely on the ground. Do, with the radicals of head and motion, originally depicted a thoughtful way of action. It now means a path, street or way. With this in mind, we can understand Bushido as a Way of life, both ethical and martial, with self-discipline as a fundamental tenet. Self-discipline requires the warrior at once to consider his place in society and the ethics involved, and to forge himself in the martial arts. Both should eventually lead him to understand that his fundamental opponents are his own ignorance and passions.
Q.: How did the code develop and how did it influence Japanese society?
A.: The warrior class began to develop as a recognizable entity around the 11th and 12th centuries. The leaders of this class were often descended from the nobility, and so were men of education and breeding. I would say that the code developed when the leaders of the warrior class began to reflect on their position in society and what it meant to be a warrior. They first began to write these thoughts down as yuigon, last words to their descendents, or as kabegaki, literally "wall writings," maxims posted to all their samurai. Samurai itself is an interesting word, coming from the classical saburau, "to serve." So when we understand that a samurai is "one who serves," we see that the implications go much farther than simply being a soldier or fighter.
Also, it is important to understand that Confucian scholars had always reflected on what it meant to be true gentleman, and they concluded that such a man would be capable of both the martial and literary. The Japanese inherited this system of thought early on, so certain ideals were already implicitly accepted.
The warrior class ruled the country for about 650 years, and their influence-political, philosophical and even artistic-had a long time to percolate throughout Japanese society.
Q.: The Samurai were very much renaissance men - they were interested in the arts, tea ceremony, religion, as well as the martial arts. What role did these interests play in the development of Bushido? How did the martial arts fit in?
A.: This question goes back to the Confucian ideal of balance that Japanese inherited, probably from the 7th century or so. The word used by both to express this concept, for the "gentleman" by the Chinese and the warrior by Japanese, is (hin), pronounced uruwashii in Japanese, meaning both "balanced" and "beautiful." The character itself is a combination of "literature" (bun) and "martial" (bu). The study of arts like Tea ceremony, calligraphy, the study of poetry or literature, and of course the martial arts of swordsmanship or archery, broadened a man's perspective and understanding of the world and, as mentioned above, provided him with a vehicle for self-discipline. The martial arts naturally were included in the duties of a samurai, but this did not make them any less instructive in becoming a full human being.
Q.: What was sword fighting like? Was the swordplay different for different samurai?
A.: There were literally hundreds of schools of samurai swordsmanship by the 1800's and, as previously mentioned, each school emphasized differing styles and approaches. Some would have the student to jump and leap, others to keep his feel solidly on the ground; some would emphasize different ways of holding the sword, others one method only. One school stated that technical swordsmanship took second place to sitting meditation. Historically speaking, there were periods when much of the swordfighting was done on horseback, and others when it was done mostly on foot. Also, as the shape and length of the sword varied through different epochs, so did styles of fighting. Then I suppose that a fight between men who were resolved to die would be quite different from a fight between men who were not interested in getting hurt.
Q.: How is the code reflected in Japanese society today?
A.: When I first came to live in Japan in the 60's, I was impressed how totally dedicated and loyal people were to the companies where they were employed. When I eventually understood the words samurai and saburau, it started to make sense. While these men (women would usually not stay long with a company, giving up work for marriage) did not carry swords of course, they seemed to embody that old samurai sense of service, duty, loyalty and even pride. This may sound strange in our own "me first" culture, but it impressed me that the company had sort of taken the place of a feudal lord, and that the stipend of the samurai had become the salary of the white-collar worker.M
That is on the societal level. On an individual level, I have often felt that Japanese have a strong resolution, perhaps from this cultural background of Bushido, to go through problems rather than around them. Persistence and patience developed from self-discipline?

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Item Specifications...

Pages   288
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.4" Width: 5.4" Height: 1"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Aug 15, 2004
Publisher   Kodansha International
ISBN  477002942X  
ISBN13  9784770029423  

Availability  0 units.

More About William Scott Wilson

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! William Scott Wilson is the foremost translator into English of traditional Japanese texts on samurai culture. He received BA degrees from Dartmouth College and the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies, and an MA in Japanese literary studies from the University of Washington. His best-selling books include The Book of Five Rings, The Unfettered Mind, and The Lone Samurai, a biography of Miyamoto Musashi.

William Scott Wilson currently resides in Miami, in the state of Florida. William Scott Wilson was born in 1944.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Ethnic & National > Japanese
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
3Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Asia > China > General
5Books > Subjects > History > Asia > General
6Books > Subjects > History > Asia > Japan
7Books > Subjects > History > Military > General
8Books > Subjects > Sports > Individual Sports > Martial Arts > Martial Arts

Reviews - What do customers think about The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi?

Great Integration of the Man and his Art  Apr 29, 2008
Anyone who is familiar with Musashi's reputation as a master swordsman and the many stories about his skill and bravery will enjoy this book and want to add it to their collection. This excellent and well researched (as much as is possible about events in c. 1600AD) presents biographical information in an interesting timeline that includes all of Musashi's major duels, battles and teaching engagements while including additional material on his artistic and writing accomplishments. Musashi evidently was a true renaissance man during the renaissance time, albeit some 12,000 miles away from Europe. The author also presents considerable information and explanation of Musashi's writings that summarized his life's learning on martial strategy, technique and philosophy.
Art and spiritual balance warrior image  Jan 13, 2007
Being a novice student of both the martial arts and Japanese culture and history (though I have a good collection of Japanese swords--fueling much of my interest in both the above subjects), I found Wilson's book both readable and enlightnening. I have read "The Book of Five Rings" three or four times, but after reading "The Lone Samurai" it is much more meaningful to me.

The best contribution of Wilson's book is his emphasis on Musashi the artist. I did not know previously that Musashi is also known not only as a great swordsman (and strategist), but is one of Japan's greatest artists in the india ink painting style. It is easy to see Wilson's point about the similarity between the total commitment of a deadly sword strike and the brush stroke of non-erasable ink. (This comparison also explains and qualifies one of Musashi's most famous and apparently mistranslated quotes from "The Book of Five Rings": "The way of the warrior and the way of the pen are the same." It should read, "the way of the warrior and the way of the BRUSH," which is more accurate if not quite so profound and philosophical-sounding.)

I was also very interested to learn for the first time that of Musashi's famous "over sixty duels" in fact most of them were not to the death. This, and the extensive discussion of Musashi's art, make him seem much less the grim fanatic that sometimes dominates Musashi's image.

Don't be fooled, therefore, by the inappropriately lurid style of the book's cover art! This is not another sensational/specialized publication for the macho martial artist and samurai wannabees. (I delayed buying this book for years because I was so put off by the misleading cover.) "The Lone Samurai" is actually and elegant and respectful study, written in a way that balances thorough scholarship with affection and readability.

My only criticism (other than the book's cover) is what other reviewers have noted already: Wilson could have included a chapter, or expanded parts of the existing book to include more context about the history and culture of Japan, especially during Musashi's time. However, this did not keep me from being able to follow the basic "plot" of the book.

Also, this is not really a "288-page" book. Wilson has tried hard (and fairly) to flesh out the limited factual material available with interesting comparative sources, but be advised that the actual biography is less than 165 pages, including analysis of Musashi's "Principles."
NEVER read anything about musashi  Jan 2, 2007
He is too lifted... like a god... who says it's all true what he has done, ok ok... he must have done a lot... but i guess he wasn't the only one around there... he even got beaten too.. is that written in there...

Always mushashi this and that... i don't mean disrespect here...

But write me another book please about other samurais that time... without upholding the facemask of the japanese !!!

Like, what do we know about jinsuke shigenobu... minamoto no yoshimitsu... and lots and lots of others...

you won't fool me by telling he did it al by himself...
One of the only books I have ever read cover to cover.  Nov 12, 2006
The best part of this book is the fact that the author does not pretend to KNOW everything. He lays out his opinion, which I usually agreed with, but also will lay out what other people have interpreted things as. He has laid this out in a matter that makes the
works and writing of Musashi so easy to understand and relate to. The Book of Five Rings is a piece of work that is meant to make us think and practice the strategies over and over again. This book gives an easy way for the beginner to the expert to relate to and open ideas about Musashi's writing and ideas
A great life.  Nov 3, 2006
What an interesting life this guy led. Read it, and do likewise. If you dare :-)

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