The Myth of Masamune and Muramasa

I’m back! I know, it’s been forever. I have been focusing my “blogging time” to my writing group’s blog; check it out at mhcpugetsoundwriters.com. I realized, though, that I was neglecting my passion, so here I am, with a new priority. So, let’s just get to it. For the following, I would like to thank my friend and colleague Allison Stieger who turned me onto this myth about a year ago.

Masamune-600x300

Masamune was an actual craftsman of swords, believed to live from around 1264-1343 in Japan. To this day, there is an award for swordsmiths called the Masamune prize. But that’s not the legend.

As the story goes, Masamune had a student named Muramasa, who was extremely talented and thought himself to be equal to Masamune in skill. So Muramasa challenged Masamune to a contest: each would craft his own sword, and then test their quality.

Muramasa’s sword, expertly made, was called Juuchi Yosamu, which means “10,000 Winters,” while Masamune’s sword, equally beautiful, was called Yawarkai-Te, which means “Tender Hands.” For the contest, each swordsmith put his sword in a stream with the blade facing up, towards the surface of the water. When the leaves passed over Juuchi Yosamu, they were cleanly split in two, as were the fish. Even the air passing over it was sliced. Over Yawarkai-Te, however, the leaves drifted past; the fish swam gently around it, and the air remained calm.

Muramasa thought this was a riot, and laughed, proclaiming the superiority of his sword. (That’s called “bullying,” kids.) After all, his sword sliced through everything quite easily. But a monk was nearby watching, and he approached the competitors. He declared Masamune’s sword superior, and here is why: Juuchi Yosamu was bloodthirsty and evil; it slaughtered everything in its path, including innocence and beauty. Yawarkai-Te, however, was discriminate. This sword was holy, in that it showed control, and did not kill everything in its path. And that’s why it was the better sword.

Why did I choose to tell this myth on my first day back, the day after a pretty notable election for this country? Because we all wield swords, whether they be words, ideas, or actions, and in the depths of despair or the soaring of victory, we begin to brandish them. My hope is that in the course of any ensuing battle that first an foremost we will be mindful of beauty and innocence, and intentional in what we wish to destroy.

4 thoughts on “The Myth of Masamune and Muramasa

  1. I’ve always loved that story and it’s even more relevant to our times than when your wrote this post. One small quibble. The illustration you have at the top is Date Masamune, the samurai daimyo, not Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, the famous swordsmith. Date Masamune also has a very interesting story and was called “One-Eyed Dragon of Ōshu” (look closely at his right eye in the illustration).

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