Archive for August, 2010

My First Day With Noriaibasha

Monday, August 30th, 2010

The day has finally come. I leave Hoshiakari now and go to Castle Noriaibasha, to be inducted into their clan, and given a wakizashiThe shorter of the two gracefully curved swords that a samurai carries. Much like the longer katana in shape and style, except short enough to be a one-handed, secondary blade. The wakizashi is effectively the katana’s “baby brother”.

Note that the ninja-tō, the sword most often carried by ninjas, is not a wakizashi. It’s about the same length, but straight rather than curved — and generally of inferior workmanship, as ninjas couldn’t afford the materials or smiths that samurai had access to.The shorter sword of the two that a samurai carries; the “baby brother” of the longer katana. and my first orders. I know not what else today may hold, but I shall do my best. My heart is full of hope.

Off I go! Wish me luck!

About Haiku

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

In The Tales of the Ninja Coder, I occasionally post haiku. (I also post them a bit more often on my Twitter feed.) Most Americans think of haiku simply as “A poem having 3 lines, with syllable counts 5-7-5”. But classical Japanese haiku have two other important characteristics: a kigo and a kireji. There’s also some debate about just how many syllables an English haiku should really have.

(For the “tl;dr” version, you can skip down to the rules I’ll be using in my haiku.)

Kigo

A kigo is a seasonal reference, such as “cherry blossoms” (which bloom for roughly a week in spring) or “cicada” (which chirp in the summertime) or “apples” (which ripen in autumn). There are entire lists of words that are used as standard seasonal references, in books called saijiki and kiyose that are basically the haiku poet’s equivalent of rhyming dictionaries or thesauruses.

You can simply refer to a season by name in a haiku, as in:

Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow.

Notice how this haiku uses the word “wintry” instead of just plain “winter”; that’s okay. (It’s not the best haiku in the world for other reasons, but we’ll get to those later.) (more…)

The Last Temptation Before the New Era

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Back in July, I met with one of the nobles and one of the fighters of Clan Ōkiten, who are based in Kamishichiken. This clan operates in the same areas as Clan Iwinaga, so my knowledge would be useful… and they also need ninjas with Pagoda Bearer skill.

But they are very busy and hectic, like a small upstart group, and I am not sure I would thrive there.

Today, I suddenly received a message from their herald. It is not simply a request for another appointment or negotiation; they want to actually offer me a position with the clan. I could use my ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”., not the strangely curved wakizashiThe shorter of the two gracefully curved swords that a samurai carries. Much like the longer katana in shape and style, except short enough to be a one-handed, secondary blade. The wakizashi is effectively the katana’s “baby brother”.

Note that the ninja-tō, the sword most often carried by ninjas, is not a wakizashi. It’s about the same length, but straight rather than curved — and generally of inferior workmanship, as ninjas couldn’t afford the materials or smiths that samurai had access to.The shorter sword of the two that a samurai carries; the “baby brother” of the longer katana. that Noriaibasha would require. I would roam the back streets and alleys of the pleasant Kamishichiken district, and never have to travel to Izumi Province…

But I do not think I would thrive. And negotiations with Noriaibasha are so close to being completely concluded.

I have told Ōkiten no.

And, almost like a blessing from Buddha, a few minutes later I received a message from Megumi, the herald of the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi.: I can report to Castle Noriaibasha tomorrow to begin my service there.

Second Thoughts

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

I have accepted a post with the armies of Clan Noriaibasha, where I will be doing urban fighting with the manrikigusariA chain weapon with weights at both ends, which can be used for striking or entangling.A ninja weapon consisting of a length of chain with stuff at one or both ends. Generally has weights at both ends, but occasionally one weight will be replaced by a hook. The weapon can be used for entangling (by wrapping a weight around an enemy’s limb) or for a direct strike with one of the weights. It can also be used to entangle an enemy’s weapon with one end, then strike the enemy’s body with the weight on the other end. They hate that.

When the chain has one end attached to a kama, it’s known as a kusari-gama. (Kusari means “chain”; when it’s the second item in a compound word, it becomes -gusari. Similarly, kama becomes -gama in compounds.)
and kamaTechnically, a kama is simply a farming tool. It’s like a sickle, or a small, one-handed scythe. Since farmers make up a huge segment of feudal Japan’s population, there’s nothing suspicious about carrying one around. And ninjas like to avoid suspicion.

If you take a chain with a weight or hook on its end and attach that to a kama, you’ve got a kusarigama… much more useful as a weapon, but also obviously a ninja weapon, instead of a farming tool.A farming tool, like a sickle or a small, one-handed scythe. Commonly used by ninjas because they arouse no suspicion – farmers are everywhere, after all., and occasional use of the wakizashiThe shorter of the two gracefully curved swords that a samurai carries. Much like the longer katana in shape and style, except short enough to be a one-handed, secondary blade. The wakizashi is effectively the katana’s “baby brother”.

Note that the ninja-tō, the sword most often carried by ninjas, is not a wakizashi. It’s about the same length, but straight rather than curved — and generally of inferior workmanship, as ninjas couldn’t afford the materials or smiths that samurai had access to.The shorter sword of the two that a samurai carries; the “baby brother” of the longer katana.. But there will be no opportunity for me to use the ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”. there.

I am still getting messages from heralds, of course. Many of them. And quite a few are in reference to places where I could use the ninja-tō, and even the Pagoda Bearer fighting style that I am so familiar with. I tell these heralds that I am already spoken for, but I cannot help the regret in my heart…

Am I truly doing the right thing? Noriaibasha is big, and has the maturity of a long-standing clan. I need such an environment. But still, my heart is full of ambivalence, as I wonder whether I might be happier fighting in the Pagoda Bearer ryūA school, tradition, or style in martial arts.A school, tradition, or style in martial arts..

My mind tells my heart to be silent, and stop such such foolishness. I am resolved; I have met with my herald contact of the Shomei-gumi and been properly inducted into their organization. Either on Monday or on Tuesday, I must report to Castle Noriaibasha for my first day as a fighter in their army.

Noriaibasha Has Accepted Me!

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Akane has already journeyed off to the Central Provinces with her mother, there to visit other members of their family. Today, I also depart from Iga to meet them. I will be in the Central Provinces for the weekend, and then Akane and I will return to Iga and Hoshiakari on Monday.

We will doubtless be quite tired, and we will appreciate the creature comforts of our home after the long days in the rusticNo laptop means: It doesn’t even matter if the hotel has wifi. We’ll have NO INTERNET! Aieee!No laptop means: It doesn’t even matter if the hotel has wifi. We’ll have NO INTERNET! Aieee!, uncultured lands.

But a week after that, I will go to Castle Noriaibasha, in the city of Sakai, and be given my first assignments. I will not truly be of their clan; I will actually be a member of the Shomei-gumi“group”Japanese for “group”; can refer to anything from a “five-person group” (a common work-unit in Japanese corporations) up to an entire branch of the Yakuza such as the Yamaguchi-gumi., whose herald found me the assignment with the Noriaibasha. But I will be on long-term assignment with the great clan of Izumi, and there is some chance that I may eventually be inducted into their ranks… if all goes well.

So I must report to the Shomei-gumi during the days between my return to Iga and my first day at Castle Noriaibasha. Aside from that, I have a week to spend at my leisure. Then I will go back to undertaking missions in stealth and violence.

Hoping for a New Clan

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Even while Akane’s mother has been visiting, I have continued to meet with heralds and clans. And it seems my perseverance may have paid off! I have spoken with various fighters and other clan members of Clan Noriaibasha, and they have sent a message via their herald to offer me membership in the clan. However…

As one of the largest of the clans of Izumi Province, their security is paramount. They must have their agents investigate my background, and ensure that I am not a mole or other deep-cover enemy.

Of course, researching the background of a ninja from Iga is often an activity fraught with some peril, so this may take a bit of time. It is still conceivable that something might go wrong, but I pray to KwannonAlso known as Kuan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.Also known as Kuan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. that everything will turn out successfully.

In the meantime, I have gone to an interview with Clan Zajutsukura — yes, the ones who were once the on-again- off-again allies of Clan Tenya. They asked me to show them some sansetsukonA three-sectional staff. Looks vaguely like a nunchaku with an extra section. Famously used as an intimidation technique by one of the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who smiled evilly and then folded it up into a coat-hanger.

Three-sectional staff; weapon that looks like a nunchaku with three sticks instead of two. kataA sequence of moves in martial arts, performed as a practice exercise to train the fighter’s muscle memory and reflexes in preparation for real combat. May be anywhere from a brief, 15-second movement to a full sequence that takes five minutes or more to complete. Usually solitary, but there are some two-person kata.

You may wish to see some videos of standard karate katas.A sequence of fighting moves used as a practice technique in martial arts., and I performed them well enough. (My recent practice seems to have been helpful.) Then they posed me some problems involving broad strategies and Shima-style net-fighting. Where they had only contemplated two ways of attacking the problem, I came up with a third strategy that combined the strengths of both. They were very impressed.

But sadly, they are a small, upstart group, with few warriors and no Zen monks, using ever-shifting tactics to try to pursue multiple campaign strategies at the same time. And their castle is full of the usual games and amusements, but has no privacy or places to concentrate. If I joined them, I would get to use the ninja-tōThe short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. It was roughly the length of a wakizashi.

The ninja-tō was also generally of inferior workmanship compared to the more expensive blades available to samurai. Even if a ninja could acquire a katana, it would be too long and unwieldy to carry on most missions; ninja generally relied on smaller weapons like the shuriken and manrikigusari, and on more deniable weapons like the kama.

“Ninja-ken” is another perfectly acceptable name for this weapon; it’s like the difference between saying “ninja blade” and “ninja sword” in English.The short sword most associated with ninjas. Note that unlike the katana and wakizashi carried by samurai, the ninja-tō was straight rather than curved. Also known as a “ninja-ken”.; and the Jōgesen styleA popular modern school of sansetsukon fighting, well regarded for its powerful techniques and its ease-of-use.A popular modern school of sansetsukon fighting, well regarded for its powerful techniques and its ease-of-use.… but I know that I would not thrive. It would be a repeat of my experiences at Clans Nettobuku and Tenya.

Instead, I will pin my hopes on Noriaibasha. If I join them, it will be like my time at Clan Iwinaga: I will use the kamaTechnically, a kama is simply a farming tool. It’s like a sickle, or a small, one-handed scythe. Since farmers make up a huge segment of feudal Japan’s population, there’s nothing suspicious about carrying one around. And ninjas like to avoid suspicion.

If you take a chain with a weight or hook on its end and attach that to a kama, you’ve got a kusarigama… much more useful as a weapon, but also obviously a ninja weapon, instead of a farming tool.A farming tool, like a sickle or a small, one-handed scythe. Commonly used by ninjas because they arouse no suspicion – farmers are everywhere, after all. and manrikigusariA chain weapon with weights at both ends, which can be used for striking or entangling.A ninja weapon consisting of a length of chain with stuff at one or both ends. Generally has weights at both ends, but occasionally one weight will be replaced by a hook. The weapon can be used for entangling (by wrapping a weight around an enemy’s limb) or for a direct strike with one of the weights. It can also be used to entangle an enemy’s weapon with one end, then strike the enemy’s body with the weight on the other end. They hate that.

When the chain has one end attached to a kama, it’s known as a kusari-gama. (Kusari means “chain”; when it’s the second item in a compound word, it becomes -gusari. Similarly, kama becomes -gama in compounds.)
, and specialize in city fighting. Occasionally, I will have to use the wakizashiThe shorter of the two gracefully curved swords that a samurai carries. Much like the longer katana in shape and style, except short enough to be a one-handed, secondary blade. The wakizashi is effectively the katana’s "baby brother".

Note that the ninja-tō, the sword most often carried by ninjas, is not a wakizashi. It’s about the same length, but straight rather than curved — and generally of inferior workmanship, as ninjas couldn’t afford the materials or smiths that samurai had access to.The shorter sword of the two that a samurai carries; the “baby brother” of the longer katana., and there will be no occasion for me to use the sansetsukon or ninja-tō. I will have to deal with samurai, and work alongside them, and I won’t get to do forest fighting.

But there will be nobles who have experience leading, and Zen monks and Nichiren priests to guide us in the ways of righteousness and harmony. There will be enough treasury to keep the armies well stocked, and the clan will not be finding its way uncertainly, constantly stumbling and trying new things like an upstart group.

I have high hopes.

A Whirlwind of Interviews

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Akane’s mother is visiting from Edo, but this has not slowed down my hunt for a new clan.

Only a few days ago, I was contacted by a herald who told me of a possible position with Clan Noriaibasha, one of the mightier of the clans of Izumi Province. Within a day, she had arranged a meeting with one of their captains, who was impressed with my kata and told the herald that he would like me to visit the army’s barracks next week. I have high hopes for the outcome of this visit.

In the meantime, I will spend much of tomorrow speaking with the warriors of Clan Gakkotsu, who make some interesting helmet-fittings that are thought of highly by many warriors and nobles. They are probably too young a clan for me, but it is not certain, and they are worth investigating.

And today I spoke with the chief warrior of Clan Zajutsukura. Yes, the very same clan that was sometimes an ally of Clan Tenya. The man I spoke with knew me by reputation, and he said that it was not his decision to break off his clan’s alliance with ours. We spoke of the kata I developed for Tenya, and the missions I had performed on behalf of both our clans. We are agreed that I should come to speak with others of his clan, and make a determination of whether I would be well suited to join them.

In the meantime, Akane and I are busy with entertaining her mother during her short stay with us. Akane’s mother is quite fond of the cocktails I mix with sake and shōchū, so we bring her back to her inn every night in a happy mood.

I continue with my Jōgesen studies when I have time. This is not as often as one might wish, but I am making progress.