Thursday, September 27, 2018

Benkei - Art

This is how a total badass dies.

If you ever go to Japan you will see this guy everywhere. The image of a defiant warrior, killed by many impaling arrows, staring defiantly. It is called "The Standing Death of Benkei." Let me explain.

Saito Musashibo Benkei was a man that lived in feudal era of Japan. He was born in 1155 AD. The son of a noble samurai and a blacksmith, Benkei was 6' 7" and had incredible strength. So he became a warrior.

Benkei was ill tempered, unruly and somewhat savage, so no feudal lord would take him. After getting kicked out of a Buddhist monastery for fighting, Benkei decided to guard a bridge and force every samurai trying to pass to fight him, go the long way or give up their sword. He ended up with 999 by the time he met his match.

By the way, Benkei also had a badass mustache.

One day an epic hero by the name of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a young samurai and feudal lord who was a champion of the common people and enemy of the current reigning evil government, dueled Benkei for the bridge. Yoshitsune, trained by tengu (Luke Skywalker is based on him), beat Benkei by knocking him unconscious with a metal fan.

Impressed and humbled, Benkei offered to serve the young lord until death. From then on the two were inseparable, and there are many kabuki and noh theater plays based on their adventures.

Although loved by the common folk as a champion of good and justice, Yoshitsune, like most benevolent Japanese epic heroes of legend, was doomed. While inside a castle planning his attack on the reigning evil government, he was betrayed by his allies, who switched allegiance and sent a massive army to capture Yoshitsune.

Knowing that defeat was inevitable, the young lord's friends, family, allies and army deserted him. Since retreat was dishonorably and capture was even more disgraceful (and would also lead to hours of gruesome torture) all Yoshitsune could do was commit honorable suicide. He was betrayed and all alone. There was nobody left to defend him.


Except Benkei.

While his lord went through the appropriate rituals for a proper suicide, the last friend and warrior he had went out to perform one final mission: delay the enemy until the end. The reason was simple. Back then being captured by the enemy didn't just mean defeat, failure and dishonor. It also meant torture. Days and days of serious torture. Worse than being chained to a toilet, eating shit pudding and watching episodes of "Hee Haw." 

This is what a non sequitur looks like. 

A single bridge led to the castle where Yoshitsune was, and Benkei placed himself on the bridge in the center. The army sent to capture his lord arrived and prepared for a siege. Surely, they thought to themselves, this must be a trick. Where was the rest of the army?

Benkei challenged the other army to single combat. From the perspective of Bushido, this was extremely bad for the enemy army. All alone, he had just performed something so full of honor and badass that it would mean a tremendous loss of face to just attack. They had to respond appropriately to the challenge. So they did.

One by one, and then two by two and three by three's, the enemy army sent samurai warriors out to fight Benkei on the bridge and he killed them all. This was no surprise. Benkei was a monster, since the average Japanese man at the time was about 5' tall.

"O.G."

Another relevant factor was that in Japanese martial arts, a quick, strong downward strike to the enemy's forehead, resulting in a mortal frontal lobotomy, was how a sword fight usually ended (aside from a tsuki to the throat). Since Benkei was using a 6'+ long weapon, and the average samurai katana was 3' long, you can guess exactly what the fuck happened to Benkei' brave, but doomed, opposition. They didn't have a chance because they didn't have the reach.

This went on for quite some time until the enemy army paused, staring at this awesome, fearless warrior that could not be killed. Realizing his own general was about to be dishonored by being defeated by one single man, an officer in the army dishonorably ordered all of the archers to shoot Benkei to death. So they did.

In Japanese kenjitsu there is a stance known as the "Fuck you, you can't hurt me" stance. You basically spread your arms, weapon in one hand, and stare. That's what Benkei did. Hundreds of arrows impaled his body and killed him instantly.

For a long time, the enemy army stood in formation, afraid. This was because the arrows that killed Benkei also propped him up, making him look like he was still alive. His corpse stood there, glaring, swaying in the wind, saturated with gore and surrounded by many, many dead warriors. Who would want to approach that?

"No offence to your exquisite archery skills, but FUCK YOUR ARROWS." 

Eventually they did and the general and the army found Yoshitsune, quite dead. Their mission was successful. They had followed orders. But the damaged was done.

From the perspective of Bushido and the code of honor at the time, what the enemy army had done was incredibly bad. The officer who ordered the arrows was ordered to commit suicide for his disgrace. The general was also dishonored, was stripped of his title, and retired to a monastery. The entire army was mocked until their death. Some even committed suicide at Benkei's grave, or on the bridge where they had once opposed him. A single man had defeated them all. Why?

Even more Benkei for your buck.

Because Benkei won. From the perspective of Bushido, he had indeed carried out his last mission: to delay the enemy so his lord could die with honor. Dying to achieve this only made him look more badass. Yoshitsune's enemies all looked like cowards.

Hundreds of years later, Benkei is honored in throughout Japan. There are paintings of him, illustrations of him, tattoos and even statues and shrines. Even to this day, a person who has dedicated themselves body and soul to a cause, whether this is becoming a doctor, an actor, founding a company or achieving a black belt in the martial arts, will bow and burn incense to a Benkei in order to show their true dedication and humble spirit.

As for the general who led the army that killed Benkei, and the officer that ordered the arrows? They are dishonored. Forgotten. Nobody remembers their names.

In Japanese culture, literature, history and art this means,
"BRING IT THE FUCK ON."