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 at half an arm's length away. It cannot be leaned at all and it's position in the slot, surrounded by wooden railing, make it impossible to hold against the body as you lift.

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 (that prevents the spear from being removed completely from its station. 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.

Update: Here's a video of a guy who lifted it successfully in 2011 - impressive!


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!