Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

How to Advance Without Meaning To

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

A few days ago, I was talking to Akane about the difference between various clans I have been a member of. She claimed that my life had never been so good at any clan before this; I noted that it was nearly as good at Clan Iwinaga, but I had left because it seemed I had no opportunity to advance my career there. Here at Noriaibasha, I said, I still have no real chance to become a leader or captain, but I no longer care; I am content to be a rank-and-file fighter without needing to seek advancement.

“But,” she said, “if you wanted to advance at Clan Noriaibasha, I have no doubt you could.” I agreed this might be true, but it was irrelevant.

Today there was a lunchtime feast, to rally all the troops and others who have been part of the Shiemesu Raisei and Saitekika campaigns. Various nobles and priestesses of the prestigious Tendai order spoke about how we are making great progress. While chatting with Amon, Kento and Makishi, Amon introduced me to one of the Tendai priestesses.

“This is Ichirō, one of our ninjas,” he said. “Ichirō fights in the cities, and he is very skilled. Even when Kento thinks an enemy would be too difficult to kill, Ichirō often speaks up and says, ‘Actually… I know a way I can eliminate that person.'” I tried not to blush, and thanked him for his very kind words.

Later, one of the ikebana masters under Kento’s command, a man named Torai, came to see me. He had a question, one which he said he would normally ask Kento. “But I have looked, and he seems not to be here in the castle right now. So I thought I would ask you, since you are Kento’s right-hand man.”

I simply answered Torai’s question at the time, and did not express the astonishment I felt in my heart. Right-hand man? Kento has said nothing of this… but as I look at the missions he sends me on, and compare them to other missions and duties that Sakito and Satonori are assigned, I begin to see that I am highly valued on Kento’s team.

It seems Akane was quite right. She is wise.

A Chance Meeting With a Face From the Past

Monday, April 30th, 2012

An interesting thing happened to me a few days ago. As I was returning home from Castle Noriaibasha, I was passing by an inn. A wagon had stopped in front of it, and some happy young people were disembarking from it and collecting their luggage from the back. Other people had just come out of the inn. I don’t know if the travelers were their relatives, or close friends, but they were all obviously very happy to see each other.

They were hugging each other hello, smiling and laughing. Their good cheer was infectious; I felt my own mouth turn up into a huge smile, and I was glad of it.

Then Yutaka, the head of Clan Tenya, came strolling by.

I nodded in silent greeting to him, and he to me. I was happy enough that my smile did not falter. And shortly afterward, I realized that I was very glad that Yutaka had seen me in such a happy state. I want to be sure he does not have the option of wondering if I am forlorn or miserable since leaving Clan Tenya. I want to be sure he knows I have no regrets whatsoever about my departure, and that everything about my life is better now.

This desire is petty, I know. Caring even one bit about what Yutaka thinks is an attachment, of the kind that monks sensibly counsel us all to avoid. Nonetheless, I am human, not a Bodhisattva or saint. I know what I felt, and I will not deny it.

The Uprising In Sakai

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

There was a large peasant uprising in Sakai today — just one part of the ongoing unrest that has gripped all of Izumi Province recently. And as one of the larger and more powerful clans of the province, Clan Noriaibasha was one of the targets of the peasants’ ire.

I arrived to find them gathered in front of the castle, shouting demands and chanting slogans. To be seen entering or leaving the castle would be unwise. Of course, since I am a ninja, I was able to slip past them undetected.

But my heart is heavy at having to do so. I have never been a rich man. I was born and raised in Iga Province, where nearly everyone is a peasant of one sort or another. We are simple folk there, and my heart has always been with the peasants, even as my own fortunes in the world have risen.

In another time, earlier in my life, I would have stood with those peasants, shouting that the rich and powerful must support the poor and weak, not trample them underfoot and use their might to steal what little the people still have left. I still believe those things… but this morning was simply not a time that I could spend making political and philosophical statements. I had to meet with Sakito not long after arriving at the castle. I have duties to my clan-mates, and to Akane.

By the time I went out for lunch, the people had dispersed. I wish I had done something to support them.

The Passing of Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Once, I went to interview with Clan Toyotomi. They are one of the largest clans of Kansai — perhaps even of all Nippon. As I wrote at the time, the Toyotomi forces are a mighty army. They are renowned for the skill of their warriors and the subtlety of their tea masters.

But they have not always been so. Within my lifetime, the clan has grown to its present stature from a tiny cadre of just a few people. Much of the clan’s success has been due to the wisdom of its leader, the daimyōA feudal warlord; the leader of a clan and/or army with a significant area of land under its control. Usually also has aims to expand his holdings; many daimyō are trying to become rulers of whole regions, or even of all of Japan. Pronounced “dime-yo”.A feudal warlord; the leader of a clan and/or army with a significant area of land under its control. Usually also has aims to expand his holdings; many daimyō are trying to become rulers of whole regions, or even of all of Japan. Hideyoshi.

Please, make no mistake. I am no great lover of Hideyoshi’s philosophies or style. When he captures a territory, he gives the peasants very few options in how they will conduct their affairs; they will do things the Toyotomi way or not at all. His ikebanaThe Zen art of flower arrangement.The Zen art of flower arrangement. masters and gardeners are trained to ruthlessly prune every branch and bud in their care, so all his holdings appear sparse and wintry. And yet somehow, the people in his lands all claim this is wonderful and so much better than any other way of life could ever be.

But I cannot deny his military genius, or his almost instinctive grasp of righteousness. Time and again, Toyotomi Hideyoshi would enter a battle with a strategy that all onlookers declared to be the height of madness… then, he would not only achieve victory but make it look effortless. And afterward, everyone would proclaim that of course Hideyoshi’s victory had always been certain.

Hideyoshi built Clan Toyotomi into a mighty power, one that set the pace for nearly all other forces in Kansai. The armies of Oda Nobunaga are larger in size, but they have been fading in relevance for years now. Even the mighty Tokugawa clan must consider Toyotomi’s actions very carefully when planning their strategies.

And now, Hideyoshi has passed from this world. No longer will his leadership and righteousness direct Clan Toyotomi. Just a few months ago, he handed over the rulership to his successor. Now, the illness that has afflicted him for so long has claimed his life. Even the Emperor himself has publicly noted — and mourned — Hideyoshi’s death.

A giant has departed. Kansai will never be the same, even though Clan Toyotomi goes on. Hideyoshi’s like will not be seen again for quite some time.

Thoughts on Tokugawa’s Kabō Campaign

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Recently, Clan Tokugawa opened a new front in its war: A direct attack on the Kao-no-Hon 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.. This is not the first time they’ve tried to invade Hikone; there was their Būn attack last year, and their Nami initiative. But Būn was a disharmonious and ill-considered plan that aroused even the Emperorthe US government, specifically the Federal Trade Commission, who hit them with some heavy penaltiesthe US government, specifically the Federal Trade Commission, who hit them with some heavy penalties — see http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/03/google.shtm’s displeasure, and Nami more of a curiosity than anything else. I’m sure Lord Satōyama, who rules the Kao-no-Hon, was laughing at both of those failures.

I do not think he is laughing now. The new Kabō Campaign promises to cause major trouble for the Kao-no-Hon gumi. Practically everyone in Kansai is talking about it; at least everyone who cares about the eternal war.

I am wondering… should I join this fray? I already ensure that these messages of mine are sent to Yumehaba; perhaps there might be some way to also send dispatches to the front lines of this new battle in Hikone? But I fear there is no way I could include the explanatory text that is so useful to so many people. Without those explanations, I think most people would be too confused by the life of a ninja.

All That We Have to Fear…

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Sometimes, the enemies you’re most scared of turn out to be those in your own mind. In my mind, I had imagined that the rōninA masterless samurai, effectively an independent sword-for-hire. A samurai could become a rōnin if his lord died, or if his lord became displeased with him and effectively fired him. During the Sengoku Jidai, things were very loose, and some samurai voluntarily left their lords and went in search of other opportunities, becoming rōnin temporarily until they could find new lords. Some peasants even declared themselves to be samurai, and then went in search of lords to take them in — for them, being a rōnin was a step in their personal advancement plans.

The word rōnin literally means “wave-man”: the image is of a man who wanders endlessly, without direction, like a wave on the ocean. At the end of Pulp Fiction, when Jules Winnfield says his plan is to “walk the earth… like Caine from Kung Fu”, he’s effectively saying he’s going to become a modern rōnin after leaving Marsellus Wallace’s service.A masterless samurai; a wandering warrior whose sword was for hire. from Hikone would be a terrifyingly dangerous foe, skilled on rooftops and deadly with the kusarigamaA common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a hook or weight on the end of it.A common ninja weapon: a one-handed scythe/sickle with a length of chain attached to the handle. The chain has either a grappling hook or a weight attached to the end.

The scythe/sickle part alone is a kama, and is a common farming tool. With the chain attached, it’s pretty obviously a weapon, and would be treated as such by any authorities one might encounter.
. But I would not let fear keep me from my duty.

I went to Ichimen, hoisted myself up to the rooftops, and started searching for him. Atop the Nanashi-ji Temple, there is a high vantage point. From there, I could see many parts of the city. A little west of the temple — right near the intersection of Shiryō-no-Hako, Kuraberu-no-Hako, and Migaku — there’s a marketplace full of food stands, with an inn on one side. And there he was, buying some yakitori for a snack.

Stealthily, I crept to the roof of the inn. It would be in bad form to attack him in the marketplace, frightening all those civilians. Instead, I threw a kunaiA blade-like implement with a ring at the pommel. In ninja tales and movies, the kunai is often used as a throwing weapon, although the original was a digging tool more akin to a trowel or chisel.
A blade-like implement with a ring on the pommel. In modern ninja tales and movies, the kunai is generally used as a throwing blade.
into the wood of the table he was sitting at, making it easy for him to track the angle back to my position atop the roof. As he looked toward me, I stood up with my kusarigama at the ready, then pointed it at him. A challenge.

He threw his meal aside and came to meet me.

I gave him space to clamber up the side of the inn, waiting with my 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. in a salute position. If I was to die this day, I had no wish to have my last moments be anything less than honorable.

Shinobianother word for a ninjaanother word for a ninja!” he cried, “You have met your doom!” And he flourished his kusarigama in a threatening manner, then dropped into stance… And I saw that his center was not focused. I sprang to attack, and he deflected me, but not well.

He counter-attacked, and I blocked it easily. And I realized that I was better than him, and he was starting to see it, too.

After that, it was simply a matter of time. He gave a brave account of himself, but in the end, he could not stop me from sinking my kama blade into his chest. As he slumped onto the roof of the inn, I whispered in his ear, “I am sorry, my brother. You fought well.”

In the future, I must remember never to let fear become my master. That way lies destruction.

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.

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.

How Can Weapon Skill Not Be Useful?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I am writing new scrolls to post in Yagyū town, to let the armies of Nihon know that I am available for hire. The last time I wrote such a scroll, I was skilled in the way of the 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., and particularly the popular Aka Hōseki Jōgesen ryūA school, tradition, or style in martial arts.A school, tradition, or style in martial arts..

Now, I find that I have not touched a sansetsukon in nearly a year. I am faced with a minor dilemma:

Do I study hard, and try to quickly recover my skills? Many of the messages I have received from heralds recently have stated that they are seeking Jōgesen fighters.

But those same messages also say that the groups seeking such fighters are small clans — just the sort that I no longer wish to join. If I spend my time practicing with the sansetsukon, I may simply make myself attractive to the groups that I don’t want to deal with.

The idea that a skill might prove to be a drawback, rather than being useful, does not sit well with me.