Muso Gonnusuke could have probably lived in any era and still reached the heights of fame and notoriety he did, in and around 1600 in Japan. This exciting, young, talented Bo (Staff) master was a name to be feared by most Budo-Ka (Martial Arts exports) around this time.
Muso armed with teaching licenses from the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu and the Kashima-Shin Ryu, became a Mushashugyo (a warrior who trained in many dojo to try out his skill). This basically meant he went from dojo to dojo (school to school) and challenged the head masters of the different styles. During this period, Muso was undefeated and it is said he wore a bright kimono with the kanji, number one under the sun, on his back. This was no mean feat as most of the teachers he challenged were sword masters, Muso defeated all, with just his Bo.
Like Muhammad Ali, Muso brought a lot of attention to himself, but this wasn't a problem, as Muso could, like Ali would, back up all the bragging with exceptional skill and an almost transcendence of mere physical fighting abilities.
Also around this time another legendary warrior was making his mark in Japan. A young undefeated Swordsman by the name of Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi as a young boy, had killed his first opponent at the age of 13, with a Bokken (wooden sword), no less!
These two men were similar, but different. Muso went from school to school challenging teachers to better his skills and make a name for himself. Musashi was a Ronin (master less Samurai) who kept a relatively low profile, fighting for Daimyos (War Lords) and accepting challenges by those who fancied themselves against him. Muso of course fit the latter category and it was fitting that these two were destined to meet.
Now there have been numerous telling of their encounters, some were fanciful, some depicting long duels and Musashi winning by trapping Muso's Rokoshaku Bo (six foot staff) between his two sword blades (Musashi is also famous for developing Ni-To Ryu or two-swords school). But the encounter told by the 25th headmaster of the Shindo Muso Ryu, Shimizu Takaji is probably a truer version and is the story I will reiterate here: Muso having traveled to the same area (quite by chance) as Musashi heard that the famous sword master was living near-by. Feeling confident and very cocky, Muso obtained an address and prepared to pay Musashi a visit. He took with him his Rukosahaku Bo (six foot staff). Musashi apparently was in his garden pruning his trees when Muso arrived.
Introducing himself in a loud voice, he told Musashi that he had seen his (Musashi's) father's technique and was quite impressed. Now, he would like a demonstration of Musashi's technique. This was simply a formal ploy to instigate a challenge, for by saying he had seen Musashi's father's technique, he meant he had defeated him and now wished to challenge Musashi.
Musashi having been in this position many times and still being undefeated, was having none of this nonsense being thrown at him. He simply replied: "If you have seen my father's technique then you have seen mine." And carried on trimming his trees. Muso infuriated by Musashi's lack of acknowledgement, stepped up to the swordsman and breathing furiously into his face said: "I wish to see it first hand."
Musashi who had just cut a small sharp stick off the tree, turned and thrust it Muso's throat and at the same time held the small knife pointed directly at Muso's heart. Muso was in too close to be able to combat the non-telegraphic technique and knew instantly he had been defeated! "Lesson number one," Musashi said "Maiai (combative engagement distance)". Muso said nothing, he simply stepped back, out of range, bowed and left. Musashi apparently, went back to pruning his trees.
Muso had lost! But for some reason the sword saint Musashi, had not killed him? Muso was devastated, but resolved to learn from this lesson and become even better than he was before.
Muso travelled down to Kyu Shu and finally settled in Fukuoka. It is believed he trained extensively with the Yama Bushi – the Warrior Monks – in the mountains for many years, before decided to meditate at Mt. Homan.
After meditating there for just over a month, he had a dream, a vision, of a young boy who imparted to him, the secret of fighting with a stick 4 Shaku 2 Sun (about four feet). This meant that the stick was long enough to be able to control the Maiai of a swordsman, but was much more manoeuvrable than the six foot Bo.
Muso over a short period of time put together a system based on the cutting action of a sword, the sweeping action of a halberd and the thrusting action of a spear. This new art he named Jo-Jutsu or stick art.
Armed with his new weapon, Muso again made it known that he wished to engage Musashi in a duel.
The defeat had eaten away at him and now it was time to test his new theory, or, die trying. Now the famous battle was about to unfold, but like the stories of the first encounter, most of them have been blown out of all proportion and lots of embellishment has been made about this event. What is commonly recalled is that this fight happened on a beach. Musashi at this encounter had his two swords and was armed and ready for a full on battle. Muso was also prepared. Armed with his new weapon along with his do or die mindset, they met on the sandy beach's arena.
Muso apparently again closed the distance (quickly) and Musashi thinking he was again making the cardinal sin of getting in too close, was confident and relaxed in his guard. Muso was quick to exploit this and in a fast brutal exchange disarmed Musashi and threw him to the ground. Muso, now in a position of total control, and very capable of killing the legendary swordsman withdrew! Acknowledging that Musashi had let him live after their first encounter, Muso reciprocated by letting Musashi live after this match. History was again made, as now Musashi had experienced his one and only defeat during his lifetime (in duels/challenges/fights) at the hands and stick of Muso Gonnusuke, now truly number one under the sun.
These two became professional friends and Musashi seeing the brilliance of this young Bu-Jutsu (Martial Arts) master, introduced him to a number of prominent sword and weapon teachers, in and around the district.
Muso went on to develop the Shindo Muso.Ryu Jo-Jutsu system of combat, and today is referred in martial arts circles as a true mejin (master) and innovator, of the classical martial ways (Budo) of Japan.