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Sasaki Kojiro (1585?? – April 13, 1612)
Sasaki Kojiro, also known as Ganryu, was considered a master swordsman during the late
Azuchi Momoyama, early Edo period. He was a vassal of the Hosokawa family of Kumamoto
and is best remembered for having lost a duel to Miyamoto Musashi in 1612.
Despite his fame, very little information regarding the warrior’s life is known. The true date
of his birth is unknown, and he was born in either the small village of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
Prefecture, or in Soeda, a small town in Fukui Prefecture. The first reliable accounts of Kojiro’s
life start around 1610, showing that having created his own successful school and having proven
himself in winning a number of duels, including a bout against three swordsmen while he fended
them off with an iron war fan called a tessen, he was accepted as the sword-master under
Lord Hosokawa Tadaoki of Kumamoto in 1610.
Sasaki Kojiro was believed to have studied the Chujo-ryu sword fighting techniques under Toda
Seigen, a master of the short sword, or his disciple, Kanemaki Jisai. The story goes that he
defeated his masters’ younger brother in a bout before leaving the school, whether by choice
or expulsion is also unknown.
skilled in wielding an oversized sword known as a nodachi. His personal weapon was a sword
of over 90cm in length, about 20 cm longer than the average samurai sword. This weapon
he named the “Monohoshi-zao” or “The Laundry-Drying Pole”.
Kojiro’s favoured technique was created about 1605 and was known as the Tsubame Gaeshi,
or Returning Swallow Cut, based on the motion of a swallows tail in flight. A downward cut
was followed by a return upper cut. The move was believed to have been so quick and precise,
it could cut down a bird in mid-flight.
At the time of the duel Miyamoto Musashi was about 29 years old, however Kojiro’s actual age
cannot be positively determined, and he may have been anywhere from his mid 20s to 50s.
The great duel took place on the morning of April 13, 1612 just off the coast of Shimonoseki,
in the waters of the Kanmon Straights, on a small island, formerly known as Funashima, or
Boat Island. The two arch-rival swordsmen, Musashi and Kojiro had agreed to meet on the
island at a designated time, however Musashi failed to arrive until much later.
The popular version of the story is that as he was being rowed to the small island, Musashi
fashioned a wooden sword from an oar, with the intention of fighting with that, instead of a real
sword. As his boat approached the beach, Musashi nimbly jumped out into the knee-deep water
and faced Kojiro.
“You’re late!” snarled Kojiro, drawing his oversized sword and angrily casting the scabbard into
the water. “You’ve lost,…” answered Musashi. “What makes you think that?” spat Kojiro moving
menacingly forward. “If you were going to win, you’d need your scabbard again later, ” answered
Musashi calmly striding out of the water and onto the beach, holding his carved oar behind him.
Kojiro made the first move, and in an instant Musashi struck him down. Rumor
has it, that as
Kojiro slumped to the ground dead, Musashi’s headband fell away, sliced by Kojiro’s near fatal
cut, however this is most probably just a dramatic embellishment to the story.
Musashi then bowed to the official witnesses, returned to his boat, and was rowed away.
It is believed Musashi was then taken to a small castle that once stood on the opposite
side of the channel, overlooking the site of the Battle of Dan no Ura in 1185.
Accounts of the duel on Ganryujima differ greatly, and there are claims of Musashi having
resorted to trickery to obtain victory. Either way, the duel was Musashi’s final fatal duel,
and spelled the end of the life of Sasaki Kojiro.
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