Share this photo on Twitter Share this photo on Facebook

Before the Duel

Posted by
GJC (Kyoto, Japan) on 18 February 2009 in Lifestyle & Culture.

Thanks to all for your warm comments, which I always appreciate, and for your thoughts on putting words and image together. Kyoto has such a rich and long history that every single spot I photograph has sediments of stories. But, for me at least, often the stories and history are incidental to my photos; that is, I simply try to share with you things I've seen that strike me as extraordinarily beautiful. At the same time, I will make more of an effort to supply text when I think it might enrich the image for those of you eager to know more about Japanese history and culture. Others of you can always skip it if you're not interested. But behind today's image there is indeed much history . . . .

This is Hachidai Shrine (八大神社) established in 1294, and later famous in the life of the great swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵) who came here to pray before a third duel with the Yoshioka family in 1604. The Yoshioka family headed a major school of swordsmanship in Kyoto and after Musashi defeated the father in a duel (striking only one blow) the oldest son and then the youngest son each in turn demanded a rematch and met the same fate, finally destroying the entire clan.

Before the final match legend says that Musashi came to Hachidai Shrine near the dueling site to pray, feeling fortunate to find some gods upon whom to call for aid in the contest. But before he had begun his prayer he was suddenly struck by the realization that he could not rely on divine help but must rely on himself alone. "Respect Buddha and the gods,” he later advised, “without counting on their help."

As he left Hachidai Shrine for the duel Musashi was ambushed by those loyal to the Yoshioka family but was able to defeat his numerous opponents. He continued across Japan, fighting any and all who wanted to challenge him, and his skill and discipline allowed him to live out his natural life. In later years he distilled his thoughts about the Way of the Warrior in The Book of Five Rings (五輪書) .

NIKON D300 1/160 second F/6.3 ISO 200 78 mm (35mm equiv.)

1/160 second
ISO 200
78 mm (35mm equiv.)