A Warrior’s Death
By: Tatsukawa no Sadanori
I am a warrior. I was born and bred to be among the elite fighters in the world. Many people believe that if you simply fight, or practice a martial art, that you fall into this category; that is wrong. A warrior is not only a fighter, but also an academic, a poet, and a follower of a strict code of ethics and honor.
At the age of seven I was taken in by my master, a traditional kenjutsu instructor. He was from a small family from Japan, one with a long history. I was very fortunate, most never train with masters such as himself. At the time I lived in Virginia, within the United States. My master began to train me among his other students at his small dojo well outside of town. Every day, when I was not in school, I would train and hone my abilities. I enjoyed training, it became my passion. My master would have us train with every traditional weapon, in armor, and even on horseback. My master would say that we were the next in the lineage of samurai, guardians of honor. Every day we would study Bushido. We would practice calligraphy, tea ceremony, meditation, and study classical literature. For many years I train with my master until the day I was granted the title of master and granted permission to study other styles.
I travelled for a bit, studying Aikido and Isshin Ryu Karate, among other styles I dabbled a bit in. I eventually enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. I fell in love with the warrior culture within the Corps, embracing it as a good home for me. I saw two separate deployments to Iraq, fighting in the Al-Anbar province area. After my contract ended I decided to leave the Corps and begin teaching my style. At this point I had over two decades of training, and still yearned for more. I began to travel when I could, going to as many masters as possible. Now this introduction is to help you understand my mentality, and to help you see why I did not flee from my final fight.
There is a lot of mythology and rituals in traditional kenjutsu, many bordering on pure religious in its practices. In the mythology the very first human samurai was granted his strength from Amaterasu, the sun goddess. Samurai were not only supposed to serve their respective daimyo or masters, but also protect all humans from Oni, or demons, and the evils that they bring. Now, I am an atheist, and did not believe much in this mythology. I felt that it was written in when the original warriors wanted to believe they were part of something much greater than themselves.
As I travelled to as many of the different masters that I could find it usually ended up in a small duel. Almost always these fights were with mutual respect and simplistic, using training bokken, or wooden swords, just to test each other’s abilities. I truly felt alive during these fights. I admit, after experiencing true combat, I yearned for a true battle between warriors.
One day I was working at my dojo, cleaning up for the most part, I notices a rolled up scroll on the front stoop. I became very curious since this is 2016 and no one even uses regular mail nowadays. As I unrolled the scroll I found that it was written very traditionally in kanji, Japanese calligraphy. The scroll was a challenge, one that promised a fight that I could not win. I laughed to myself and marveled at the thought of who would take this amount of time to challenge a relatively unknown kenjutsu instructor. Never the less, I was intrigued and continued to read. The scroll instructed that if I was truly a warrior that I would meet at near an old lake in seven days. The scroll stated one last thing, something that really caught my attention, it said to only bring true katana. No duel I had ever fought in used a ‘live’ blade. A katana could cut another man down with a simple flick of the wrist, and was not to be toyed with. I figured that this challenge came from a younger person, one who wanted to really force me to coming.
I was truly enthralled in the thought of this fight. On the seventh day I went to the lake as the scroll had instructed. It was just after sunset as I was sitting quietly by the lake meditating. I had brought two bokken on top of my traditional weaponry. I figured that the challenge was just an idle statement and that we would need the bokken. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting I finally heard footsteps approaching. I stood up and turned to face my guest, I was instantly struck with the sense of danger. My eyes fixated on a shadowy figure standing thirty feet away from me. Every instinct I had was screaming at my internally that the person in front of me was a threat.
My eyes strained in the low light to try and make out who was standing in front of me. Out of nowhere the figure spoke, its voice echoed through the evening. “I told you that you would not need those,” indicating to the bokken laying the ground next to me. I was now committed to showing this person, whoever they were, that I was not too impressed with their games. I smiled and said, “I did not think you would be foolish enough to challenge me in such away.”
The figure stepped into closer to me, however, the shadow falling over them did not lessen at all. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I knew that, whoever this was, they were here for blood. The figure stood motionless for a bit, seemly observing me. “Throughout the ages warriors have agreed to my challenges, you will be among a long line of defeated.” That statement sent a cold chill down my spine.
There was a long silence between us, I could feel the wind blowing ever so slightly. Adrenaline began to course through my veins, and I began to sweat. I knew, deep inside of me, that this was not going to be a fight that I was used to.
The figure moved in a flash, closing the distance in lighting speed. Its blade drew from his sheath and glinted in the pale moonlight. I reacted with as much speed as I could, drawing my katana and parrying its attack. I shifted to my right in a violent counter attack. The thought of not drawing blood, or a friendly fight was gone. This was a fight to the death, every part of me knew it. The figure moved, almost effortlessly, away from my attack. The figure stepped back away from me as I took a guarded stance. “Interesting,” was all that it said.
It attacked again, this time with what seemed like greater speed. I moved in counter bringing my weapons up from a low ready. I only stuck air, as I quickly realized that the figure was behind me. I turned quickly and blocked an attack just in time. The force of the blow vibrated my katana and sent its energy throughout my body. I had no time to recover before the next attack came with intense ferocity. I was placed on the defensive rapidly, doing my best to simply avoid its attacks. I knew that I had to recover, and push back with a counter offensive. As its next attack came I struck out my katana in a simple jab. As the figure moved back to dodge my jab, I attacked. I struck from above, forcing to figure to dodge to its left. I was prepared for the dodge and rotated in a rapid follow through. My blade connect, slicing diagonally down its chest. I expected blood, even though it was a swallow wound.
Instead I only saw black. The figured reached up and touched its chest. “Well struck. I will definitely be entertained by this,” it stated flatly. “Who the hell are you?” I asked with frustration. “That cut would disable most men,” I stated. The figured laughed, its laugh was hallow and cold, sending a chill through me. “I am beyond your skill, and beyond you petty wounds.” The figure moved slightly and revealed its face. Its face was blank, in that it had no eyes, no mouth, and no nose, just blank. “You are not my equal, and I enjoy seeing what you pathetic race can provide in the way of a fight.” I stood as still as a mountain. “What are you?” I raised in question. “I am Noppera-bō, and I will enjoy taking your life this lovely evening.” I stared intently at this creature. “A… an oni? Why have you come to me demon?” I asked with slight hesitation, still not wanting to fully believe what was in front of me. “You are a warrior of some skill, I would like to defeat you. It is not much simpler than that,” it said without any emotion.
My mind was racing with all of the mythology that I had learned, then it snapped into thought. The rituals that I had to practice over and over. Blessing of the katana was needed to truly defeat an oni. I began to utter the prayer under my breath as I took a center guard stance. “Oh? Do you think even with that you will have the ability to defeat me?” The creature asked mockingly. “You will fall tonight demon,” was the best reply I could utter. Though, deep inside, I was not as confident.
The demon flashed forward, striking from my left. I maneuvered to avoid the attack and counter. My counter failed and I took a deep cut on my left forearm. Blood ran down my arm and seeped into the wrapping on my katana. The demon slightly cocked its head, almost in amusement. “You see how weak you are? Accept your fate now. You will not survive this storm.”
I tightened my grip, “I am the storm.” I launch in a full attack. The demon dodged every strike I could muster. In a flash the demon lashed out, striking a glancing slice to my right leg. I began to feel the burning pain from the cut. I pulled away from the engagement, keeping my eyes locked on the creature. This is not a fight I will walk away from, was repeated over and over in my head. The only way is to take the demon with you. That thought brought my body to a still calm. The realization of that statement made me solidify. I knew that I would fall, but, if I was to fall I would bring the demon straight to hell with me. A smirk formed on my lips, my heartbeat was steady. I withdrew my katana and stood in a ready stance. I closed my eyes for a mere second and reopened them locking in place with where the demon’s eye should be.
“If we are both to die, then you have picked a beautiful place for it,” I uttered calmly. The demon did not respond. I was truly in mushin, or no-mind, I was free from fear, or any other thought really. I was ready for this final assault to begin.
The demon almost seemed to hesitate, but not for long. Its attack came swift, but I was not looking to dodge it. With a mighty shout I drew my katana and attacked in the same motion, harnessing all of my training in iaijutsu to maximize my speed. I had to be perfect, it was the only way to strike out. The demon’s blade sliced across my chest, just as my blade sliced deep into its abdomen. I used what energy I had left and completed my cut, pulling my blade clean through its body.
I collapsed onto my one knee, breathing heavily and with intense pain. The demon had fallen with my attack, but was now starting to stir. I rotated around using my katana to hold myself up. Blood was pouring from my wounds, and I was unsure if I could muster another attack. My sight was fading and I knew that my time was coming quickly. The demon’s strikes had been effective, its last strike was fatal, and I knew it. The demon was now able to steady itself onto its feet. “You pathetic pile of dirt,” its anger was clear. I began to smile, I knew my blow had been effective. “I will take your head as my trophy,” the demon stated as it moved in attack towards me again. However, it was wounded, and much slower. I rallied all of my strength and counter fast. My katana pierced its throat cleanly on its left side. The demon stopped moving, I had it. I rotated my blade and moved to complete my cut. In a flash I separated its head from its shoulders. The demons body collapsed on the ground as I fell for the last time.
I rolled the best I could to a sitting position, propping my katana on my shoulder. I looked up at the night sky as my vision faded. A smile broke my lips, I die a true warrior’s death. I continued to smile happily as my life faded away. Dying while defeating an oni was not a bad death.
Credit: Tatsukawa no Sadanori