Musashi v Denshichiro

This scene is taken from Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel, “The Way of the Sword”. It is a battle between Miyamoto Musashi and Deshichiro Yoshioka. The full text can be read near the end of chapter six in the novel.

    Denshichiro’s heels made a black slanted line about nine feet long as he opened a space for Musashi to land in, Musashi quickly sidestepped twenty or thirty feet along the veranda before jumping down. Then when they had moved, swords sheathed, eyeing each other warily, about two hundred feet from the temple, Denshichiro lost his head. Abruptly he drew and swung. His Sword was long, just the right size for his body. Making only a slight whistling sound, it went through the air with amazing lightness, straight to the spot where Musashi had been standing.
    Musashi was faster than the sword. Even quicker was the springing of the glittering blade from his own scabbard. It looked as though they were too close together for both of them to emerge unscathed, but after a moment of dancing reflected light from the swords, they backed off.
    Several tense minutes passed. The two combatants were silent and motionless, swords stationary in the air, point aimed at point but separated by a distance of about nine feet. The snow piled on Deshichiro’s brow dropped to his eyelashes. To shake it off, he contorted his face until his forehead muscles looked like countless moving bumps. His bulging eyeballs glowed like the windows of a smelting furnace, and the exhalations of his deep, steady breathing were as hot and gusty as those from a bellows.
    Desperation entered his thinking, for he realized how bad his position was. “Why am I holding the sword at eye level when I always hold it above my head for the attack?” he asked himself. He was not thinking in the ordinary sense of the word. His very blood, palpitating audibly through his veins, told him that. But his whole body, down to his toenails, was concentrated in an effort to present an image of ferocity to the enemy.
    The knowledge that the eye level stance was not one in which he excelled nagged him. Any number of times he itched to raise his elbows and get the sword above his head, but it was too risky. Musashi was on the alert for just such an opening, that tiny fraction of a second when his vision would be blocked by his arms.
    Musashi held his sword at eye level too, with his elbows relaxed, flexible and capable of movement in any direction. Denshichiro’s arms, held in an unaccustomed stance, were tight and rigid, and his sword was unsteady. Musashi’s was absolutely still; snow began to pile up on its thin upper edge.
    As he watched hawklike for the slightest slip on his opponent’s part, Musashi counted the number of times he breathed. He not only wanted to win, he had to win. He was acutely conscious of once again standing on the borderline – on one side life, on the other, death. He saw Denshichiro as a giant boulder, an overpowering presence. The name of a god of war, Hachiman, passed through his mind.
    “His technique is better than mine,” Musashi thought candidly. He had the same feeling of inferiority at Koyagu Castle, when he had been encircled by the four leading swordsmen of the Yagu School. It was always this way when he faced swordsmen of the orthodox schools, for his own technique was without form or reason, nothing more, really, than a do-or-die method. Staring at Deshichiro, he saw that the style Yoshioka Kempo had created and spent his life developing had both simplicity and complexity, well ordered and systematic, and was not to be overcome by brute strength or spirit alone.
    Musashi was cautious about making any unnessecary movements. His primitive tactics refused to come into play. To an extent this surprised him, his arms rebelled against being extended. The best he could do was to maintain a conservative, defensive stance and wait. His eyes grew red searching for an opening, and he prayed to Hachiman for victory.
    With swelling excitement, his heart began to race. If he had been an ordinary man , he might have been sucked into a whirlpool of confusion and succumbed. Yet he remained steady, shaking off his sense of inadequacey as if it were no more than snow off his sleeve. His ability to control this new exhilaration was the result of having already survived several brushes with death. His spirit was fully awake now, as though a veil had been removed from before his eyes.
    Dead silence. Snow accumulated on Musashi’s hair, on Denshichiro’s shoulders.
    Musashi no longer saw a great boulder before him. He himself no longer existed as a separate person. The will to win had been forgotten. He saw the whiteness of the snow falling between himself and the other man, and the spirit of the snow was as light as his own. The space now seemed and extension of his own body. He had become the universe, or the universe had become him. He was there, yet not there.
    Deshichiro’s feet inched forward. At the tip of his sword, his willpower quivered toward the start of a movement.
    Two lives expired with two strokes of a single sword. First, Musashi attacked to his rear, and Otaguro Hyosuke’s head, or a piece of it, sailed past Musashi like a great crimson cherry, as the body staggered lifelessly toward Denshichiro. The second horrendouse scream – Deshichiro’s cry of attack – was cut short midway, the broken-off sound thinning out into the space around them. Musashi leapt so high that he appeared to have sprung from the level of his opponent’s chest. Denshichiro’s big frame reeled backward and dropped in a spray of white snow


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