View Full Version : Can anyone tell me about Benkei, the fighting monk

Tripitaka of AA
11th July 2003, 09:47
My wife tells me that there is a kabuki drama that features the legendary character of Benkei, a fighting monk who was a friend(!) of Yoshitsune. Apparently he had lots of adventures and he regularly turns up in Taiga Dramas on Japanese TV.

Does anyone know a link, or can you tell me any of the stories?

11th July 2003, 10:08
Though this is not a historicaly accurate movie, Gojoe!, features the characters Benkei and Yoshitsune. A beautifully filmed, but strange, strange, movie.:D Worth watching just for the opening scenes!
I'll see what I can find...:D

11th July 2003, 13:58
Hi David.
The two better/easier to find sources of information about the monk Benkei in English are the translations by Helen McCullough of the Heike Monogatari and the Gikeiki, under the titles "The Tale of the Heike" and "Yoshitsune" (Both Stanford press published)...Possibly available still through Amazon.com....
Briefly though, Saito Musashibo Benkei was the semi-legendary retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, described as a "Great bull of a man, with bloodshot eyes and a booming voice, a swarthy, menacing figure in his black armour, capable of prodigious feats of strength, fearless in battle, indomitable in his self imposed role as Yoshitsune's protector. His wit and good humour are irrepressible, his wisdom, resourcefulness, and patience are inexhaustible, and he is as learned and talented as Yoshitsune himself." (Taken from the introduction to "Yoshitsune" by H. McCullough..)
I don't know of any online sources about Benkei however...The two books above and many 'Noh' plays feature him in a prominent role as Yoshitsune's dependable retainer...Kind of an Obelix to Yoshitsune's 'Asterix' role I guess...
The better known legends feature him being introduced as a rough monk, attempting to collect a thousand swords from Samurai by dueling on a bridge with them...He manages to 'collect' 999 but then decides to take Yoshitsune's....The young Samurai defeats him easily on the bridge and Benkei swears his undying allegiance to the Minamoto boy...There are quite a few variations on the legends though, and the book above "Yoshitsune" manages to give the reader a good idea of the basic legend of the man....
I have not seen the film "Gojoe" but know that it is a modern retelling of the Yoshitsune/Benkei legends and think it would be worth a look at least...There are few really solid facts about him either way so a film could capture the 'spirit' of the legends pretty well I should think....
Sorry not to help more...

Tripitaka of AA
11th July 2003, 20:34
Thank you Ben, or should I call you Fifth ;)

That is a great start, I now know what books to look out for. SOunds like a groovy character, probably gets his story told and retold over and over, like Robin Hood or King Arthur.

Don Cunningham
12th July 2003, 16:26
There are numerous legends about Benkei, the faithful retainer of Yoshitsune. I even included the following one in my book, Secret Weapons of Jujutsu:

Minamoto Yoshitsune was born into the Minamoto family, a powerful military clan of imperial descent, Yoshitsune engineered many of the military victories that helped his half-brother, Minamoto Yoritomo gain control of Japan. After defeating and killing Yoshitsune's father, Minamoto Yoshitomo, following the Heiji Disturbance (1159), Taira Kiyomori spared the defeated leader's infant, placing him in the care of Buddhist priests in a monastery near Kyoto. As a teenager, though, Yoshitsune ran away from the monastery to join his older brother, Yoritomo, in the Honshu region of northern Japan.

Benkei was alledgedly a warrior monk who challenged Yoshitsune to a sword match and later became his faithful follower. Benkei had apparently pledged to raise money to help rebuild his monastery by collecting and selling a thousand swords. Armed with a naginata (a long pole halbard), he would nightly challenge samurai passerbys to duels on the Gojo Bridge in Kyoto. Holding samurai in disdain, Benkei refused to let any pass without paying a duty. After defeating or intimidating his unfortunate adversaries, Benkei would take their swords as his prize. He was reputed to be only a single sword short of his considerable undertaking when he met Yoshitsune one fateful night.

As the youthful Yoshitsune crossed the bridge, Benkei gruffly challenged him to a duel. Without drawing his own sword and deftly avoiding the deadly slash of Benkei's naginata, Yoshitsune ultimately disarmed the monk by striking his wrist with his tessen, thus foiling Benkei's attempt to capture his last sword. Benkei decided that he had finally met a man worthy of the samurai title. Resolved to serve Yoshitsune, Benkei became his devoted disciple.

Many gallant deeds are attributed to the two men, and their adventures the source of many Japanese children's stories about idealism and loyalty. The story about the bridge incident is likely folklore created much later. However, my favorite legend about Benkei is the one regarding his death. Yoshitsune was ultimately betrayed by the son of the lord who gave him sanctuary. Before the samurai killed Yoshitsune, though, Benkei died in a failed effort to protect him. Even though his body was riddled with arrows, it was reported Benkei remain standing even after he died. Also probably just folklore, but it seems somehow appropriate for the faithful retainer who died gallantly protecting his master to the end.

Tripitaka of AA
12th July 2003, 19:35
Thanks everyone.

I'd say Benkei was overdue a bit of Hollywood Big Movie treatment, wouldn't you. On second thoughts, I don't hold Hollywood money-machine movies in very high regard, so perhaps we could just get an artistic low-budget European movie take on it.

Perhaps Charlie Kondek and I should start writing... ;)

George Kohler
13th July 2003, 00:00
I seem to recall there is a story that Benkei was the son of Kumano Betto (chief administrator), Tanzo.