Miyamoto Musashi quotes are, sadly a modern internet plague. Every wannabe keyboard warrior wanting to sound "deep", or "badass" posts their Miyamoto Musashi quotes and images to the various Facebook Groups adoring samurai culture (without understanding the first thing about it) so they can salve their ego in a flurry of likes and loves.
Meanwhile modern day martial arts schools that have nothing to do with Musashi, his martial arts or his teachings post "inspirational Miyamoto Musashi quotes to attract the latest Little Ninja's parents to sign up their kids.
Meanwhile, business coaches and marketing experts plaster Musashi quotes everywhere to justify the latest Boardroom Warrior Wisdom nonsense.
What unties all these people is that, generally speaking, Musashi NEVER said what they are claiming.
In this article I am going to give you the context behind these fake Musashi quotes, expose exactly where the most common fraudulent quotes come from, and finally give you some actual Musashi quotes and resources on where you can find legitimate information on Musashi.
Musashi was incredibly famous in his own lifetime and the Edo period equivalent of a celebrity. As we have gossip mags, and media about famous personalities, comic books, movie adaptations and serialized novels embellishing adventures today...similar entertainment was around during the Edo period and after in the form of early woodblock print art, kabuki theatre and books.
Interestingly, in Japan there were strict laws on disparaging historical figures, including Musashi. As such authors would often misspell his name and create fantastical tales that everyone knew at the time to be “for entertainment purposes”. As such we have many fantastic stories about Musashi defeating giant bat demons, or Tengu (mountain crow-like goblins that are ruptured to be incredible martial artists) and six headed serpents and the like.
During the fictionalization and romanticism of the Samurai in the 1900's and the rush to create a "Bushido" that never was, Musashi and the stories about him became the poster for this new vision of the classical samurai. The one man army, stoic, loyal, unflinching in the face of death, compelled to a higher calling in seeking perfection in the way of the sword.
Later authors such as Eiji Yoshikawa produced lengthy volumes fictionalizing the life of Musashi and turning him into a wandering hero in Japanese literature which spawned the many interpretations of him in plays, movies, comic books and anime we have today.
Today, brand "Musashi" is a major business, tourist hotspots abound in Japan celebrating Musashi (despite the fact we know he wasn't bore in the town that celebrates this very claim!). But facts should never matter in the quest profit, and so Musashi, his life and legacy, his very words are twisted out of context, so that martial arts frauds can cloak themselves in the legitimacy of his way, and "business coaches" can appeal to toxic masculinity and insecure men who want to strategic business samurai. And when Musashi's words don't fit that narrative, why not invent Miyamoto Musashi quotes that will and just sign the man's name to it.
Perhaps Musashi himself had foresight of such abuses?
It is important to understand that neither Go Rin no Sho, nor any of Musashi Sensei’s writings were written for public consumption. Musashi's texts are not a how-to manual but more of a crib notes reminder series for his specific students from which they can extract the greater teachings taught in the school itself. These are teachings that have been taught in the dojo through oral instruction and hours of physical training.
In fact, it is important to keep this in mind with all of Musashi's texts. They were written for specific people, to convey specific ideas to them, based on the fact that they had been training with Musashi sometime.
Musashi's teachings, put forth in the Go Rin no Sho and as practiced in Hyōhō Niten Ichi Ryū can be understood only through the rigorous training of the body. It is this training, not book reading, that organises the body, physically and neurologically to perform the techniques of the ryū. This too is something Musashi talks about - in fact close to 80% of the text finishes a specific bullet point with (and here are some ACTUAL Miyamoto Musashi quotes) -
A good example of this specific instruction, removed from context and used to as popular psychology and Facebook validation, are the oft touted "Nine Rules of Life of Musashi".
These are not rules for life. This nine point list appears in the Go Rin No Sho, Scroll 1, Section 8, under the title “About Cadence in Strategy”. Musashi writes, specifically that these 9 points are for those “who care to learn my principles of combat strategy, follow these rules in observing the Way:” (1)
Musashi was not a life coach. These 9 rules are specifically for his students, those studying Hyōhō Niten Ichi Ryū, his art, and are issued with a knowledge of the ryū in mind. They are not, nor were they ever intended to be for public consumption.
I personally prefer the Bennett translation which is a bit more brusque, and I feel conveys a more accurate sense of tone for these Miyamoto Musashi quotes:
Musashi further emphasizes that this is expressly for the students of his school, “Train in the Way of combat strategy keeping these basic principles in mind. Particularly in this Way, inability to comprehensively see the most fundamental matters will make it difficult to excel”. (2)
Sadly, often those parroting this advice make it empty, little more than generic platitudes as they fail to follow the first 2 precepts, train in the way - specifically Musashi’s Mu, Hyōhō Niten Ichi Ryū. Without this first base, understanding taught through the practice of Musashi’s art, it is very hard to apply the rest of the principles in a meaningful way as intended. As such they are often misinterpreted and used as slick marketing by people who do not understand their import, and thus fail to realize points 5,6,7 and 9. :-)
So, let's debunk some of the worst examples of Fake Miyaomoto Musashi Quotes...
“"Like a sword, a word can wound or kill, but as long as one does not touch the blade, the sword is no more than a smooth piece of metal. Someone who knows the qualities of a sword does not play with it and someone who knows the nature of words does not play with them."
Musashi never said this.
This quote comes from Kenji Tokitsu.
He wrote it in a rather flowery introduction when discussing why many martial arts authors wrote stuff down. This same introduction is featured in two of Kenji's published books about Musashi; Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings and The Complete Book of Five Rings.
But make no mistake, this is a modern line, taken completely out of context and quoted by people who haven't got the first clue about Musashi or his writings, but love to put up "deep" quotation images.
“there is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within”.
Musashi never said this.
The truth is that strength lies in the interior of the warrior; in his heart, his mind, and his spirit.
Musashi never said this.
Neither of these are Miyamoto Musashi quotes. At all. This is pure nonsense from the mind of a noted martial arts fraud named Stephen F. Kaufman, a well established huckster, who knows so little about the subject he peddles in his books and through his “martial arts” classes that he incorrectly lists his fake titles. “Hanshi Stephen F. Kaufman”, if it was legitimate, would have the ‘Hanshi’ after his name, not before it, if he understood just the very basics of Japanese. He’d also know not to refer to himself as Hanshi. At all. Ever. Further, the man calls his dojo, “Dojo no Hebi - School of the Snake”. This is laughably incorrect. Dojo no Hebi correctly translated would be Snake of the School….which is actually probably appropriate.
Kaufman’s Five Rings was initially titled the “definitive translation”. This had to be changed to “interpretation” rather quickly after Mr. Kaufman was exposed as having no knowledge of the Japanese language at all, let alone the ability to translate Japanese texts during a disastrous Q&A on the E-Budo forum. His self appointed Hanshi titles, fake grades and complete absence of knowledge of Japanese sword arts was also exposed during this time.
Suffice it to say, a deluded man read a few English translations of Musashi’s work and imagined he knew better than academics that can precisely translate Japanese and those studying Musashi’s art and proceeded to make up nonsense and drivel that bears NO resemblance to anything Musashi said or thought. There are NO authentic Miyamoto Musashi quotes in this man's writings.
These Miyamoto Musashi quotes were entirely made up by a sad unskilled, untrained fantasist, a modern martial arts Walter Mitty who believes himself to be a warrior and spiritual successor to Musashi, and doesn’t even have the littlest knowledge or insight to know he knows nothing.
"Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie".
Musashi never said this.
Musashi did not say this. This comes from a less than accurate “interpretation” of Musashi’s life and work by D. E. Tarver who repeats several fictions and myths about Musashi (hiding under bodies for 3 days at the battle of Sekigahara etc). He includes this line, “Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie” in the final paragraph of the Fire Scroll introduction. No such Miyamoto Musashi quotes appear in the Japanese, nor in any of the credible English translations.
He repeats the same phrase again in the introduction to the Wind Scroll. Again, no such phrase appears in the Japanese, nor in any of the credible English translations.
So, you might be wondering if any of the Miyamoto Musashi quotes you're read are something he actually wrote or said.
Firstly, remember that NONE of Musashi Sensei’s writings were written for public consumption. They were written for specific people, to convey specific ideas to them, based on the fact that they had been training with Musashi sometime.
With this in mind, I understand there is an interest outside of those studying the ryū to read Musashi Sensei’s thoughts on strategy and want to verify if these Miyamoto Musashi quotes they have seen are authentic. As such here is a breakdown of what I recommend:
1. The best Japanese Language Version is -
Prof. Uozumi Takashi; "Teihon: Gorin-no-sho". Tokyo: Shin Jinbutsu Ōraisha, 2005. (ISBN-10: 4404032382 / ISBN-13: 978-4404032386) This is the most complete and accurate available.
Alex Bennet has produced a very good translation of this in English and also includes several previously untranslated Musashi documents.
2. The best English Language Version is -
Bennett, Alexander. "Complete Musashi: The Book of Five Rings and Other Works: The Definitive Translations of the Complete Writings of Miyamoto Musashi" (ISBN-10: 4805314761 / ISBN-13: 978-4805314760). This is my current favorite translation.
3. Groff, David K. "The Five Rings: Miyamoto Musashi's Art of Strategy". Chartwell Books; New, Illustrated edition, 2016. (ISBN-10: 0785834001 / ISBN-13: 978-0785834007)
- this is very good, and Groff has training in Niten Ichi Ryu (not our line), but his translation is from a less accurate Japanese Edition than Bennett's.
I'd stick with these ones for sources of authentic Miymaoto Musashi Quotes.