John Wayne. Clint Eastwood. Kirk Douglas.
All familiar names to us with a common thread – they helped create the lore of the rough and tough cowboy.
Killing eight bad guys with their Colt .45 six-shooters. Without reloading. Bullets would glance off them as if they were slickered with the world’s supply of Vaseline.
Make that a non-stick coating.
With that, let’s get into the lore – and the truths – of the samurai.
Yes, Japan had their John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Kirk Douglas creating the samurai lore. Not to bore you with the names of key Japanese actors portraying samurai, but Toshiro Mifune is their John Wayne. You may have seen him playing Lord Toranaga in the 1980 TV mini-series “Shogun” opposite Richard Chamberlain.
Let’s give you a taste of the movie “lore” created in Japan. This compilation is of “Zatoichi” (座頭一), a blind swordsman of all things. He is portrayed by Katsu Shintaro, another famous actor. Think of him as Sean Connery in a series of films; instead of James Bond, it is Zatoichi.
His character is a very entertaining combination of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Jackie Chan, all rolled into one fantasy character. The lore. No need to watch the entire thing, of course; its intent is to expose you to the samurai lore.
In these fictional fight sequences (What am I saying? It’s a movie!), Zatoichi slays up to 40 bad guys with his one sword, i.e., eight guys with a six shooter.
Incorrect. More like 20 bad guys with a six-shooter.
Yes, Zatoichi is smothered in Japan’s supply of Vaseline…and there is no guard (tsuba 鍔) on the sword to protect his pinky.
Anyways, I’m sure you have a flavor of the samurai lore by now.
Did any of you watch the entire clip? Better than the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (which really didn’t happen in the O.K. Corral, by the way)?
Let’s begin the first OMG Samurai Truth with a simple question based on Western culture:
When Colt made a six shooter, how did they test its accuracy? After all, no cowboy would want to aim at a bad guy and have it miss by a couple of feet when it counted. Only Bob Hope.
They test fired the pistol, of course. Likely at a target with a bulls-eye.
And its resulting level of accuracy also made for higher selling prices. They would be prized possessions.
Well, second question: how did the samurai know his samurai sword, or “katana” (刀) was sharp?
Jabbing a bulls-eye would be unthinkable. Where’s the fun?
They would test the katana out on an executed criminal.
Cut off a limb. Perhaps an arm or a leg.
Well, that’s mostly true.
If a samurai was of high enough ranking (perhaps one of my samurai ancestors), he can pay……for a live one.
While the “lore” varies, there is one documented story – but who knows? The story is a criminal was being taken to his execution when he spied a high ranking samurai with a vassal carrying his brand-spanking new katana.
The criminal asked, “Are you going to try out your new katana on me?” to which the samurai replied in the affirmative. The samurai said he would try a slashing diagonal cut on him from the shoulder down.
The soon-to-be executed criminal then replied something to the effect of, “Well, I wish I would have known beforehand as I would have swallowed some stones to dull your blade.”
A grisly first “OMG Samurai Truth”, perhaps, but truth nonetheless. Not lore.
But one thing is for certain: the consequence of execution did not defray criminals from doing their dastardly deeds even in the 1600’s. And they did indeed carry out the sentences. No ACLU.
Stay tuned for more OMG Samurai Truths. More to come.