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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