Sasaki Kojiro and his famous duel with Miyamoto Musashi
Sasaki Kojiro, known as ‘Demon of the Western Provinces’ was a master swordman who was born in Fukui prefecture. He earned this nickname because of his skill with the nodachi, since nodachi swords were often depicted as something that a demon would use. Legend says that Kojiro was a very flamboyant man. He quite often wore the clothes of a Kabuki actor which made him stand out, though a man of Kojiro’s skill level didn’t necessarily have to worry about what people thought of his attire.
He was also known as Ganryu, a name shared with the sword style he eventually came up with. Ganryu means ‘large rock style’, and involves the use of the nodachi. He was known for a particular technique called Tsubame Gaeshi, which translates to “the turning swallows cut”. Swallows move very fast and erratically, and they can also change directions very quickly which is where the name of this technique came from. The speed that he went from his first swing to the next was extremely fast, which is quite surprising considering he wielded a very long sword.
The weapon used by Kojiro was a sword with a 3 shaku blade, approximately 35.5 inches. Now there’s a lot of debate as to what kind of sword it actually was, some say that it was a nodachi that barely had any curvature, while others say that it was his family tachi or a tachi remounted as a katana, some even say that it was actually a chokuto which was an earlier straight sword. In other words, no one real knows. All we know is that it was a 3 shaku blade, and many sources say that the sword was forged by Ichihara Nagamitsu who worked in the Bizen tradition.
Legend goes that his sword went by a few names because of it’s size. One name was Monohoshi Zao which translates to “The drying pole” or the “Clothes rod”, the reason being was that it because of it’s great length it resembled the bamboo clothes rods that were used at the time for drying clothes. Another name was the “Silver Frost”. He ended up using the nodachi because the man who taught him, Toda Seigen, was a master of the kodachi (short sword) and since he was his master’s sparring partner, he ended up using a longer sword to have a range advantage. The style which Kojiro fought is believed to be Chujo-ryu which is one of the oldest schools of Japanese martial arts.
Some of his duels before fighting against Miyamoto Musashi include one in which he fought against three different men armed with swords, while the only thing he was wielding was a Tessen, or war fan with outer spokes made of plates of iron. Without a sword, he defeated every one of them with his fan, which showed he was a skilled warrior with more than just a sword. Then again, it also shows his skill with swords since you have to know what you’re fighting against. There’s another legend in which he defeats his own uncle, and then of course the one in which he fights Musashi. Unfortunately that’s the only duel that we really know the details of.
On the day of the duel against Miyamoto Musashi, Musashi arrived a few hours late, a psychological tactic that Musashi was known for. Kojiro waited by the beach, and once Musashi arrived, runs up with his long sword in hand and says to him “Are you late because you are afraid? then draws his sword and throws away the scabbard, some say on the ground or into the ocean. Musashi replies to him "If you have no more use for your scabbard, you are already dead”. This taunt enraged Kojiro even more, and he ran towards Musashi without bowing. It would have been seen as cocky to arrive late, but Musashi also arrived late wielding a wooden sword. This was a huge insult, as if to say that’s all he really needed to kill his opponent. The bokken that Musashi wielded was made out of a boat oar which was carved a few inches longer than Kojiro’s sword, now turning Kojiro’s advantage of reach against him. Not only that, but Musashi fought with the sun on his back so Kojiro had to deal with the blinding light.
Sasaki Kojiro, wielding his nodachi, went in for his famous turning swallows cut. Supposedly the cut missed Musashi’s head by inches, other sources say that Musashi's headband was cut off and he may have taken a minor cut to the head. After Kojiro’s failed attack, Musashi then took his bokken and swung down on Kojiro’s head, bringing him to the ground. From there, Musashi lowered his gaze down towards Kojiro, and Kojiro with a little bit of life left in him, goes to swing for Musashi’s legs. Musashi backed up just enough to dodge the attack, and then came down with his bokken on Kojiro’s chest and supposedly broke one of his ribs, which in turn pierced his heart. Finally the duel was over.
Afterwards, the island where the duel took place was renamed Ganryu island after Sasaki Kojiro. If you visit Ganryu island to this day there is still two statues there, one of Musashi, and one of Sasaki Kojiro, locked in combat in their famous duel.