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Sasaki Kojirō (佐々木 小次郎? also known as Ganryu Kojiro) 1585 - April 14, 1612) was a prominent Japanese swordsman, born in the Fukui Prefecture, from the Sengoku and early Edo period. He is most remembered for his death while battling Miyamoto Musashi in 1612.
He went by the fighting name of Ganryū (岸柳), which was also the name of the kenjutsu school he had founded (the name translating to "Shore Willow"). It is said that Kojirō studied the Chūjō-ryu style of sword fighting from either Kanemaki Jisai or Toda Seigen. Toda Seigen was a master of the kodachi. If Kojirō had indeed learned Chūjō-ryu from Seigen, he would have been his master's sparring partner. Due to his master's use of the kodachi, Kojirō used a katana against him, therefore eventually excelling in its use. It was after defeating his master's younger brother that he left and founded the Ganryū. The first reliable account of his life states that in 1610, because of the fame of his school and his many successful duels, Kojirō was honored by Lord Hosokawa Tadaoki as the chief weapons master of the Hosokawa fief north of Kyushu.
The Duel Edit
Sasaki Kojirō was a long-time rival of Miyamoto Musashi, and is considered the most challenging opponent Musashi ever faced.
There are a number of accounts of the duel, varying in most details except the essentials like who won.
The age of Kojirō is especially uncertain - the Nitenki says that during his childhood, he :"...received the instruction of Toda Seigen, a master of the school of the short sword, and having been the partner of his master, he excelled him in the wielding of the long sword. After having defeated his master's younger brother he left him to travel in various provinces. There he founded his own school, which was called Ganryu."
This account initially seems trustworthy, until it gives the age of Kojirō at the time of the duel as 18 years old, which since it is known he was two years earlier a head weapons master for a fief, is obviously wrong. A further complication is that Toda Seigen died in the 1590s. This time problem means Kojirō's age could have varied anywhere from his 20s to as late as his 50s. Even worse, a number of scholars contend that indentifying Seigen as Kojirō's teacher is a mistake, and that he was actually trained by a student of Seigen's, Kanemaki Jisai.
Apparently, the young (~29) Musashi heard of Kojirō's fame and asked Lord Hosokawa Tadaoki (through an intermediary, Nagaoka Sado Okinaga, a principal vassal of Hosokawa) to arrange a duel. Hosokawa assented, and set the time and place as 13 April 1612, on the comparatively remote island of Ganryujima or Funashima (the strait between Honshu and Kyushu). The place was probably remote because by this time Kojirō had acquired many students and disciples, and had Kojirō lost, they would have attempted to kill Musashi.
According to the legend (it is disputed how much of the story is based on fact), Musashi arrived more than three hours late, and goaded Kojirō by taunting him. When Kojirō attacked, his blow came as close as to sever Musashi's Chonmage. He came nearer to victory several times until supposedly blinded by the sunset behind Musashi, he was struck on the skull with a bokken (wooden sword) over 90 centimeters long. The long bokken was fashioned by shaving down the spare oar of the boat in which he arrived at the duel with his wakizashi (the wood was very hard). Musashi had been late for the duel on purpose in order to psychologically unnerve his opponent (an often-used tactic of his). When Musashi finally arrived, Kojirō shouted insults at him, but Musashi just smiled. Angered even further, Kojirō leapt into combat, blinded by rage. Leaping into the air, Musashi killed Kojirō with one stroke to the skull from his oversized bokuto. Musashi then hastily retreated to his boat and sailed away.
Among other things, this conventional account (drawn from the Nitenski, Kensetsu, and Yoshida Seiken's account), has some problems. Would Musashi only prepare his bokuto while going to the duel site? Could he even have prepared it in time, working the hard wood with his wakizashi, tiring him as well? Why was the island then renamed after Kojirō, and not Musashi? Other texts completely omit the "late arrival" portion of the story, or change the sequence of actions altogether. Harada Mukashi and a few other scholars believe that Kojiro was actually assassinated by Musashi and his students - the Sasaki clan apparently was a political obstacle to Lord Hosokawa, and defeating Kojirō would be a political setback to his religious and political foes.
The debate still rages today as to whether or not Musashi cheated in order to win that fateful duel or merely used the environment to his advantage. Another theory is that Musashi timed the hour of his arrival to match the turning of the tide. He expected to be pursued by Sasaki's supporters in the event of a victory. The tide carried him to the island then it turned by the time the fight ended. Musashi immediately jumped back in his boat and his flight was thus helped by the tide.
"The Drying Pole"Edit
Template:Mainarticle Kojiro's favored weapon during combat was a straight-edged nodachi with a blade-length of over 90 cm. (3 feet) long. As a comparison, the average blade-length of the regular katana seldom surpasses 70 cm. It was called the "Monohoshi Zao" (Clothes-Drying Pole, often translated into English as "The Drying Pole"). Despite the sword's length and weight, Kojirō's strokes with the weapon were unnaturally quick and precise.
Swallow Cut Edit
His favorite technique was both respected and feared throughout feudal Japan. It was called the "Tsubame Gaeshi" (Turning Swallow Cut), and was so named because it mimicked the motion of a swallow's tail during flight as observed at Kintaibashi Bridge. This cut was reputedly so quick and precise that it could strike down a bird in mid-flight. There are no direct descriptions of the technique, but it was compared to two other techniques current at the time: the Itto-ryu's Kinshi Cho Ohken and the Ganryū Kosetsu To; respectively the two involved fierce and swift cuts downward and then immediately upwards. Hence, the "Turning Swallow Cut" has been reconstructed as a technique involving striking downward from above and then instantly striking again in an upward motion from below. This strike's second phase could be from below toward the rear and then upward at an angle, like an eagle climbing again after swooping down on its prey.
Sasaki Kojirō in fiction Edit
- The epic historical adventure fiction novel Musashi, by famed Japanese author Eiji Yoshikawa, features a separate parallel plotline and various sub-plots highlighting the exploits of Sasaki Kojirō Ganryũ. Eventually the Musashi and Kojirō plotlines intertwine, with the pair's famous duel the climax and final chapter of the novel.
- The male half of Team Rocket in the Pokémon anime (Kojirō) was named after him (in English, he is known as James).
- In the game Brave Fencer Musashi, the title character's sworn rival was named after Kojirō. And in Musashi: Samurai Legend, the main villain was named Gandrake, named after 'Ganryũ'.
- Ukyo Tachibana, a character in SNK's Samurai Shodown series of games, is based on Sasaki Kojirō. Haohmaru, is based on Kojirō's rival Miyamoto Musashi.
- The birth and growth of Sasaki Kojirō is also featured in Vagabond (manga) by Takehiko Inoue, a manga dedicated to the life of Miyamoto Musashi, though in it, Sasaki Kojirō is portrayed as being deaf.
- Sasaki Kojirō is featured in the visual novel game and anime series Fate/stay night as an example of the Assassin-class Servant.
- Onimusha Blade Warriors features both Sasaki Kojirō and Miyamoto Musashi as bonus characters.
- Sasaki has his own unique character model in the video game Samurai Warriors 2, mainly as Musashi's rival swordsmen. He is unplayable however.
- Sasaki Kojirō appears in the manga and anime Kenyuu Densetsu Yaiba as a ghost of himself, and continues appearing as a zombie for the rest of the series.
- Sanada Kazuki, a character in the anime series Hajime no Ippo, employs a piercing double uppercut called the "Tsubame Gaeshi", a reference to Kojirō's special sword technique.
- In the manga and anime Prince of Tennis, one of the character Syusuke Fuji's special counters is called "Tsubame Gaeshi".
- In an in-developement Shonen manga called Kouhai Kojiro, Sasaki Kojiro appears as the central protagonist. He has been reborn in the 21st century as a teenager by a member of the Kouhai Corporation, a guild of destiny dealers, after his death at the hands of Miyamoto Musashi. The reason for this is unknown to him but to his knowledge, the reason is to exact revenge on the Miyamoto clan. It is important to note that the Sasaki Kojiro character is depicted as the Shonen archtype: clumsy and funny but equally courageous and skilled.
- Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings, Kenji Tokitsu (trans. Sherab Chodzin Kohn), Shambhala Press, 2004. ISBN 1-59030-045-9
- Miyamoto Musashi, Eiji Yoshikawa (translated as Musashi by Charles S. Terry ISBN 4-7700-1957-2)
- Sengoku Jinmei Jiten Concise hen, Abe Takeshi and Nishimura Keiko. Shinjin Oraisha, 1990. ISBN 4-404-01752-9bg:Сасаки Коджиро