Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Spear of Benkei

Towards the entrance of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, there is an abnormally large spear placed in a hole in the wooden walkway. The staff itself is rectangular and smooth, about 8 and a half feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds. Legend has it, that the giant warrior-monk, Benkei, used it as a walking stick and left it at Kiyomizu temple. Also, according to legend, if you can lift it, you will prosper.

Benkei was a warrior monk in the 12th century. He is most famous for posting himself at a bridge in Kyoto and defeating 999 samurai and collecting their swords. The 1000th warrior he faced was Minamoto Yoshitsune who defeated him - Benkei became one of Minamoto's most famous warriors and eventually died in battle under his service.

His staff/spear is not anchored. It is resting in a slot in the wood which demands that it be lifted straight up - it cannot be leaned at all.

My first attempt lifting the Spear of Benkei was two years ago. Being with a group of 30+ students who were begging me to try to lift it, I had no choice but to try. The metal of the staff was very smooth with really no way to get a secure grip. There was a single, tiny peg sticking out of the staff at about eye level, but it was not an aid at all - if anything, trying to use it probably made it more difficult. It did not budge for me at all. There was a long line of tourists waiting to give it a shot, so I gave up after a couple uninspired attempts.

Last week, I had another go at it and as I was looking for a way to hold the spear lower and squat it up, found a very small handle towards the bottom of the spear. If you have small hands (which I do), you can grip it with one hand and essentially one-arm deadlift it up. Honestly, anyone who does any kind of heavy lifting at all should have no problem lifting it in this fashion. I felt almost like I was cheating, but my students and the tourist-crowd were impressed. I plan to lift it again without the handle and wield it like Benkei next time.


SF said...

I wonder what happened to his naginata? I wish one day I can visit Kyoto and see all the temples.

Peter Dell'Orto said...

When I went to Kiyomizudera last year, we didn't get to try and lift it. Not sure why, but it was blocked off...there was a wedding going on, maybe that was it.

Are you still here in Japan? Not that I'm close to Kyoto at all.

Boris said...

I don't know SF. Kyoto is a great place - amazing temples and shrine everywhere.

I'm back in the states already. Where are you in Nihon?

Peter Dell'Orto said...

Niigata city, although I might be back in the states soon.

Franklin B Herman, RKC said...

Thanks for the great story and congratulations on lifting the Benkei sword!

Boris said...

Hope you and yours were not hurt by the earthquakes.

Thanks Buddy!