Confused Fight in the Darkness

Originally published on

In the spring of 1875, Sokaku Takeda returned home for a visit from the fencing school of Kenkichi Sakakibara. This incident occurred while he was back in his hometown. At that time the decree abolishing the wearing of swords had entered effect and it was popular to carry one’s favorite sword inside a cane. Sokaku, who was second son born into his family, was given a fine sword bearing the name of the swordsmith Kotetsu Nagafune of Bizen as a present upon his adoption [Sokaku was adopted for a time into the Kurokochi family on his mother’s side]. His maternal grandfather, Dengoro Kurokochi (a sword master) used the sword regularly.

Sokaku always carried the sword in a cane. After he had returned home, he arrived at a bridge on an errand in the village of Inawashiro at about seven in the evening when it was dark. Suddenly, two ruffians jumped out from the right bank and attacked him brandishing naked blades. He could not see their faces due to the darkness. Sokaku was very surprised at what happened, as he could not think of anything he had done to have incurred a grudge. He dodged their attack and fell to the ground. He drew his favorite Kotetsu sword and executed cuts to the left and right which were sure to cut the legs of the two attackers. He cut once more to make sure no one was there and then rolled in that direction. When he stood up because he heard no sound, two or three men jumped out from the left bank and attacked him. He avoided the attack and cut from below from a prone position.

This time, when he stood up again, more than ten men jumped out from both sides wielding naked blades. Sokaku moved backward to the center of the bridge. Then more than ten others from yet another group closed in on him from the rear approach to the bridge flailing their swords and shouting loudly. Sokaku was about to be attacked from both sides. At the center of the bridge, the ruffians fought wildly in the darkness. He could not figure out what was happening and thought he would be killed. So he jumped into the river from the bridge and escaped from danger. Though it was spring, the river was cold. Sokaku swam downstream for a while in the direction of the light of a house near the river. He emerged from the river and washed the blood off his sword so his clothes would not be stained. When he arrived at the house, he found a couple of about 60 years old. They said, “Did you fall into the cold-river water?”, and treated him to a cup of hot water and kindly dried his wet clothes.

Sokaku related the incident on the bridge. The old man said, “There are two powerful groups of gamblers in this district. They are always quarreling over their territories. There was a rumor that there would be a big fight soon. I guess it happened tonight.” Finally Sokaku realized that he had become embroiled in a quarrel. He remembered he had cut the legs of four or five men. He thought that he had better leave the house. He would be in trouble if they learned about him. In the fight Sokaku surely cut the legs of four or five persons, but the cutting quality of the Kotetsu blade was so high that there was no knicked edge.

Sokaku left the following oral instruction: “Real fighting and training in a dojo are quite different. The mental attitude and way of using the sword are different in these situations. In a real fight a quick-witted person can win. Especially when in the darkness, lie on the ground and you can see the movements of the enemy’s legs with your mind’s eye from below. Before you move yourself you must strike in the direction you are heading to make sure there is no person or thing.”