Monthly Archives: December 2013

THE SOHEI – WARRIOR MONKS OF JAPAN

Many cultures throughout history had some type of religious military class. Arguably the most well-known are the Knights Templar or the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Created in the 12th century to protect pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land after the First Crusade, the knight-brothers took vows of poverty and chastity to fulfill their religious duties yet also were committed to fight in any type of conflict which threatened the church.

Japan had its own version of such pious knights – the Sohei. Followers of Buddhism, the Sohei, like the Knights Templar, operated in groups and formed armies, engaging in combat initially against other Buddhist sects during a time when such sects were rivals of one another. The Sohei were born to fight in these feuds among the sects. As the warrior monks grew and gained more power and influence, they constructed large temples, sometimes with a series of subordinate temples and small monasteries.

Their main weapon of choice was the naginata, a sort of combination of a spear and an axe although they were proficient with various types of swords, knives and bows and arrows.  Some also fought on horseback.

They wore kimono-like robes over trousers, their feet clad in the two-toed tabi socks and wooden clogs, sometimes garbing themselves in samurai armor over all that. They also wore a type of head-wrap/turban, covering most of their face and looked pretty intimidating in battle. You didn’t want to mess with these guys.

 Some texts talk of the Sohei hiring themselves out to, basically, the highest bidder among the daimyos or warlords, an idea I incorporated into The Sixth Precept. My main baddie, the evil daimyo Omori Kadadomora, keeps a contingent of Sohei to help him do his dirty work. The Sohei in my book are basically subordinate characters, there for added historical detail but I love the idea of warrior monks and hope to write something about the Sohei in more detail sometime.

In an early version of the novel, I do have a giant, magical Sohei attacking my protagonist, Kim Yoshima, in her apartment and trashing it completely before being defeated by Kim and her ally, Wayne Brewster, aka the costumed vigilante, ArcNight. For various reasons, I had to cut that scene but still have it on tap, ready to use it at a moment’s notice!

I wonder–if there was a throw-down cage match between a member of the Knights Templar and a Sohei, who do you think would win?

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FUN WITH JAPANESE DRAGONS

I’ve always been a big dragon fan so it wasn’t a great leap for me deciding to incorporate those magical creatures in THE SIXTH PRECEPT and its still-being-written sequel WARRIORS OF THE LIGHT. At first, my dragon characterswere giant, winged beasts that breathed fire, etc. Just like you would expect, right?

Well, it turns out a lot of Japanese tatsu or dragons fly but don’t possess wings. They’re more like long, sinewy serpents with short legs and facial whiskers. Some do breathe fire but others have different powers they employ, some being associated with water or different directions of the Earth (North, West, East, South). As a result, there are a lot of different types of dragons such as the following:

Hairyu the Dragon Bird is one of the only Japanese dragons to possess wings and is of a benevolent nature. He makes a brief appearance in THE SIXTH PRECEPT, helping out the good guys.

Ryujin is the Dragon God and ruler of the seas and oceans. Described as a shapeshifter, he could take human form.

Mizuchi is a river dragon/water diety. I use Mizuchi briefly in WARRIORS OF THE LIGHT in a dream sequence of one of my protagonists.

Azure Seiryu the Guardian Spirit Dragon of the East is one-fourth of the Four Symbols (adapted from Chinese astrology), including Suzaku the Vermillion Bird, Byakko the White Tiger and Genbu the Black Tortoise. Seiryu is also a character in WARRIORS OF THE LIGHT. I characterize her as a shapeshifter as well and a gentle but powerful worker of magic. In my slightly different mythological world, Seiryu is served by the Guardian Spirit Force, a group of eight karura, eagle-human hybrids.

As a sidebar, my dragon character in my upcoming novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS, published by Assent Publishing and coming out next year, is more of a traditional-looking dragon, that is, of a medieval European aspect. But the similarities end there.

Wyverna is the Queen of the Daxas (what the dragons call themselves) who is a gentle giant but you don’t want to tick her off, especially when her hatchlings are threatened! She is telepathic and does breathe fire but has another type of magical breath she generates that’s very, very different.

Whatever culture the dragon myth exists in (and there are a lot–dragons or some form of them seem to have been very popular throughout history almost everywhere), they have a mystique, a resonance with people that goes beyond a simple interest or youthful fascination. If I ever get a tattoo (I’ve been wanting to get one for twenty years! What a wuss!), it’ll be a dragon.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Sixth-Precept-Larry-Ivkovich/dp/0615554245

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