The story of Fujiwara no Yasumasa and the robber Hakamadare found in the Konjaku Monogatari Shu (vol. 25, sec. 7) is a classic in the Japanese martial tradition, standing as an example of the force of will and presence of mind in the face of a threat.
Fujiwara no Yasumasa (958-1036) was a nobleman of some reknown, and though not of a warrior house, was described as “stout of heart, skilled of hand, and strong,” and “when called to the service of the court in the way of the warrior, gave no ground for ill ease. Those around him bent to his will and feared him without limit.”
For Hakamadare’s part, he was a notorious robber, known to be strong and cunning, with no one to compare to him in the business of taking what he wanted from others.
One midnight, Hakamadare went out seeking some clothing, and lay in wait for a passerby on a secluded moor. Along came Fujiwara no Yasumasa, as it happens, playing a flute.
The story goes that the robber stalked Fujiwara for some time but hesitated to attack him due to something about the latter causing him to be afraid. Despite the fact that Fujiwara continued to play the flute and simply walk along his path, the robber was cowed.
Hakamadare made several passes, attempting to frighten Fujiwara with no effect. Finally drawing his blade and moving to attack him, Hakamadare was stopped when Fujiwara stopped playing, fixed him with his gaze and asked him what he was doing.
Hakamadare was do overcome with fear that he abandoned his plan and fell to his knees. Fujiwara asked his name and when told, said he had heard the name of the fearsome bandit. He then continued on to his home, playing his flute all the while.
It is said that Hakamadare was directed by Fujiwara to follow him home. Once there, Fujiwara gave him a robe and warned him that he “might get hurt” if he continued to waylay people. Supposedly when later arrested, Hakamadare was said to have observed of Fujiwara: “He was such an unusually weird, terrifying man!”
Friday, Karl F. Samurai, Warfare, and the State in Early Medieval Japan. Routledge 2004.
Sato, Hiroaki, Legends of the Samurai. Overlook 1995.
While Japanese history is replete with tales of rapacious and callously murderous warriors, there are also tales like this – where a warrior shows no weakness and yet by dint of skill and strength and force of mind masters those around him, avoiding killing though being prepared to do so, even to the point of benevolence.
While certainly I would not recommend inviting an armed robber to one’s home as an act of kindness today, it behooves anyone going armed to glean something from the mindset demonstrated here, even if idealized.
Too often we teach fear instead of confidence in the face of threats. This is a problem, for when faced with a real threat, of all things we should be confident in how we handle ourselves. And in how we handle others.