The Wind Scroll and Japanese Stories

This week I will finish writing about Miyamoto Musashi’s Wind Scroll, one of the five scrolls of the work known as the Book Of Five Rings; and share a story or two from my new book, “Legends of Japan,” which I was lucky to pick up at my local second- hand store.

I am excited to finish up the Wind Scroll as this means I can move on to the final scroll, the Scroll of Emptiness, for my next post from this series. This final section of the Wind Scroll is also interesting: it deals with the “esoteric and exoteric” as dealt with in other martial art schools (at the time of the writing, 1643, in Japan):

“In the context of matters of martial arts, what is to be called exoteric, what is to be called esoteric? Depending on the art, there are esoteric transmissions of the ultimate realization that are passed on as inner oral traditions, but when it comes to the principle of dueling with opponents, it is not a matter of fighting exoterically and killing esoterically. My way of teaching martial arts is to have beginners learn and practice those of the techniques that are easily mastered, first teaching them the principles that they will readily understand. As for those things that their minds have a hard time reaching, I observe the understanding of each individual, subsequently teaching them deeper principles gradually, step by step. Even so, since I generally make them learn such things as have actual relevance to addressing these matters, there is no such thing as a distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric. So it is in the world, when you go into the depths of the mountains, if you want to go farther, you will again come out of the mountains. In any art or science, there is that for which secrecy or reserve is appropriate, and that which may well be spoken of openly. But when it comes to the principles of war, what is to be hidden, what is to be revealed? Accordingly, in transmitting my science, I do not care for written pledges or articles of penalties. Observing the intellectual power of students, teaching them  a straight path, having them abandon the bad aspects of the “five ways” or “six ways” of martial arts, so that they naturally enter into the real science of warriors, causing their minds to be free from doubt- this is the way I teach martial arts. Thorough training and practice are necessary…

In my individual school, there is no such thing as a distinction between initiatory and inner lore about the long sword. There is no such thing as the ultimate guard. It is only a matter of understanding its effective qualities on your heart and mind; this is what is essential to martial art.”

Now, for a Legend from Japan.  Stories in the book pictured above are re-told by Hiroshi Naito, most of them are from the Konjaku Monogatari, a collection of stories (ancient and modern) which was written during the Heian period (794- 1185).

Wrestling a Serpent

A long time ago, in the province of Tango, now the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture, there lived a sumo wrestler of great strength, named Tsuneyo.

Near his house, there was an old marsh. It was not a big marsh, but it was so fathomlessly deep that its bed had never once dried up, even in a long spell of dry weather. Its surface was as smooth as a mirror, and its water very stagnant.

One summer evening, Tsuneyo came out to the edge of this marsh for a stroll. When standing by a big tree, he saw floating weeds before him sway, though there was not even a puff of wind. All of a sudden, the water swelled, and the next moment the head of a huge serpent appeared. An ordinary person would certainly have been paralyzed with terror at such a sight, but Tuneyo was so stout- hearted that he calmly gazed at it. The serpent also stared at him, shooting out its red tongue and waving it up and down. For a while, they continued this staring match. Then, the serpent turned its head and began to swim across the marsh toward the other side. It was indeed a very horrible sight to see the monstrous serpent swim off, zig- zagging its body, which was as thick as the trunk of a big tree. Since the marsh was not very wide, the tail of the serpent remained on the near side even though its head had reached the other.

Suddenly the creature flung its tail out of the water and extended it toward the wrestler. The next instant, the monster began to wind its tail around the wrestler’s left leg.

“Gosh, this will be fun!” Tsuneyo muttered, deliberately letting the serpent do what it pleased. The serpent coiled its tail around his leg, from ankle up to knee, and then began to pull him with great force.

“Well, she is going to drag me into the marsh!” he said to himself. He stood firm on the ground by stretching his legs and the serpent continued to pull him. In rivalry with the monster, Tsuneyo stood stauncher than ever before. The serpent with more strength drew the wrestler inch by inch, but the next moment the wrestler pulled back the distance he had lost.

Thus they desperately continued to pull each other for half an hour, when the wrestler’s clog straps suddenly snapped. Well, that was the worst possible thing that could have happened!

The wrestler, with his steady posture giving way, was quickly drawn about two or three feet toward the edge of the marsh. But he lost no time taking off the broken clogs to get a steadier footing. His feet gradually rooted into the soil as much as six inches. Another half an hour passed.

When the serpent tried to draw the wrestler with her utmost strength, her tail suddenly snapped off like a straw rope. At that, the wrestler fell on his buttocks with the force of his effort, because he had thrown all the strength of his body into his legs.

“Oh, what a strong monster she is!” he exclaimed. After a while, his pupils came to gather around him. “What happened, sir?” they asked.

“Nothing. I’ve just had a contest of strength with a huge serpent. You should have seen it, boys,” Tsuneyo laughingly replied.

“Sir, your left leg…” one of them cried, pointing to Tsuneyo’s leg. Tsuneyo looked down and found his leg clearly marked with a spiral line. It was the trace of the serpent’s coiled tail. There were even some bloodstains on the skin. But the wrestler was as calm as if he knew nothing about what had happened to him.

“The tail of the monster must be around here. You all look for it,” he ordered. The pupils searched all over the place and found it in the bushes close by. Its length was well over six feet and its opening was as wide as one foot. It was bluish black and greasy, and presented a foreboding appearance. All the pupils were astonished at the size of the tail.

One day, local citizens who had heard the story asked Tsuneyo how strong the serpent was. Thereupon he had his left leg wound round by a thick rope and let a group of ten men pull it hard. The people asked whether the pullers’ strength corresponded to that of the serpent. The wrestler, however, said more men were needed. The people therefore added new hands five by five, and finally the total number of the rope- pullers amounted to sixty. Now the wrestler said flatly that the serpent’s strength was as great as that. But, since he had won the contest, his strength was apparently greater than that of the monster. The people thought that Tsuneyo’s power must have equalled the strength of at least one hundred men.”

What do you think?

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