August drags on…nearly the middle of the month now…the heat is unrelenting…the air conditioner drones day and night…resist…temptation…to wish…for January…
OK, 13 August. Most remarkable things happened on this day. For example, in 3114 BC, the Mayans started their calendar; so would somebody tell me, please…how did they know that it would be the middle of August? (ba-dump-bump). On 13 August 1851, Johnny Clem was born in Newark, Ohio; he managed to join the Union Army sometime during the Civil War, but there’s no evidence he was hurt at Shiloh, or even that he was there, making the “Johnny Shiloh” moniker the stuff of legends. Nonetheless, he did retire in 1915 a brigadier general, the last Civil War veteran serving in the Army. On this day in 1913, British metallurgist Henry Brearley announced his formulation of 12.8% chromium and 0.24% carbon as an additive to steel, making what some claim was the true first stainless steel. There had been patents for stainless as early as the 1820s, but the formulation of a minimum of 10% chromium wasn’t established until 1911. As in anything else industrial, the bragging rights for being “first” are just that. And on 13 August 1953, Omar Bradley finally caught the brass ring in the US Army’s merry-go-round by being named Army Chief of Staff, working for his old friend Dwight Eisenhower, the recently-elected president. It’s also National Prosecco Day because some vintner says it is and the National Day Calendar agreed. But today we’re talking about Japanese warrior monks and southpaws.
This was one example that disproves the idea that all Buddhists are and have always been peaceful, and was one of many examples of the Japanese tradition of Gekokujō.
On 13 August (traditional date 27 July) 1536, Buddhist Sōhei (literally “monk warriors”) from Kyōto’s Enryaku Temple set fire to 21 rival Nichiren temples throughout Kyoto in what has come to be known as the Tenbun Hokke Disturbance. This action was just one example of many that disprove the idea that all Buddhists are and have always been peaceful, and was one of many examples of the Japanese tradition of Gekokujō.
The warriors-monks protected land as extensions of their patrons, becoming a significant factor in the spread of Buddhism and the development of different schools during the Kamakura (1185-1333) period.
The Buddhist warrior monks of feudal Japan held considerable power, at certain points in Japan’s history, they obliged the imperial and military governments to collaborate. By the 12th century, the Go-Shirakawa Emperor complained that he could not control the monks of Enryaku-Ji sect. These monks of different sects acted as auxiliary armies for Japan’s rival daimyos, often marching alongside their patrons on campaigns. The prominence of the sōhei rose in parallel with the ascendancy of the Tendai Buddhist school’s influence between the 10th and 17th centuries. The warrior-monks protected land as extensions of their patrons and intimidated rival schools of Buddhism, becoming a significant factor in the spread of Buddhism and the development of different schools during the Kamakura (1185-1333) period.
After the Tenbun Hokke (so called for the period of Japan’s history ) Disturbance, the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto found it almost impossible to control this band of brothers and turned against them.
The warrior monks living high in the mountains above the (southern) imperial capital were intended to protect Kyoto from evil, but in fact, they were there because theirs was the most militarily powerful sect in proximity to the imperial throne, and thus to the resources of money, food, and influence. After the Tenbun Hokke (so-called for the period of Japan’s history ) Disturbance, the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto found it almost impossible to control this band of brothers and turned against them.
Revolts both small and large were commonplace. One source claims that there were at least two Gekokujō revolts large and small each year for nearly four centuries, and often more.
But other daimyos and other priorities got in the way, not the least of which was the tradition of Gekokujō. Literally, this word means “the low shall rule the high,” and by the 15th century, it had come to be a matter of faith in Japan among the samurai and those who served them that was as deep as any religion. As odd as it may seem to a more ordered society, Gekokujō was seen by peasants, monks, minor lords and even groups of artisans or merchants to be tacit permission to violently rebel against an overlord. Revolts both small and large were commonplace. One source claims that there were at least two Gekokujō revolts large and small each year for nearly four centuries, and often more.
Gekokujō slept for a time in the 19th century, only to be resurrected in the 20th by the militant neo-samurai who provoked “incidents” that led Japan farther along the path to war, and who refused to even think of their oncoming defeat against the West in 1945.
In 1571, as part of a program to remove all potential rivals and unite the country, shogun Nobunaga Oda ended this Buddhist militancy by attacking the Enryaku-Ji temple complex, leveling the buildings and slaughtering the monks. Other, less powerful warrior monk sects were similarly treated for the next twenty years, but the rise of the Zen Buddhists did more to eliminate (or convert) the militants who got away from the purges. But the Gekokujō tradition remained after the Tokugawa shogunate started in 1604. Gekokujō slept for a time in the 19th century, only to be resurrected in the 20th by the militant neo-samurai who provoked “incidents” that led Japan farther along the path to war, and who refused to even think of their oncoming defeat against the West in 1945.
Now, today is either International Left-Hander’s Day or it’s just Left-Hander’s Day: sources differ. The point is that we’re supposed to be either celebrating or commemorating or just recognizing all those southpaws out there today.
But there’s a fly in that soup. In the first place, the very nature of “handedness” isn’t all that clear. Some of the eggheads with more research money than sense claim that the reason the 90/20 ratio of righties to lefties exists is that the evolutionary models all show that the more social an animal, the more they tend to be commonly-handed. Regrettably, these same people can’t really say why such a distinction exists, anyway. Some say genetics, others say the environment.
Famously, the Housecarls of early medieval Britain were all left-handed. Being some of the most massive men in England wasn’t enough, and all carrying the most feared weapons of the age–the heavy battleax–wasn’t enough. These guys could all step inside any shield wall and batter it to pieces on their opponents’ off-side. Regrettably, for Harold in 1066, they couldn’t stop arrows that easily.
Nearly everyone who went to a parochial school before the 1970s who was unfortunate enough to claim to have been left-handed was converted to right-handedness without fail, but often without success. The reason for this attempted conversion was old but was not because of the Latin sinister (left) and dexter (right). It was because the inkwells on 19th-century school desks were all on the right, and because dragging one’s sleeve through the wet ink when writing from left to right soiled the robes or other sleeves with impossible-to-remove ink.
To read one study of left-handedness, one would be given to believe that more top athletes were left-handed than were right-handed, but that doesn’t wash. Left-handed pitchers (southpaws, so-called because of the geographic orientation of important early baseball fields) have a slight edge in the game but not as disproportionate as might be expected, as are left-handed batters (strike zone is different). Left-handed golfers are rare, however, and almost unknown in the shooting sports. Only goaltenders are common lefties in hockey; left-handed quarterbacks are in smaller proportions than they are in the general population.
The woman above’s plight is, of course, made-up but emblematic of our modern culture of wanting something to be recognized for. I was ambidextrous as a lad but gradually switched to right-only, even though I always wore my watch on my right for unclear reasons, and I still do. A story my mother used to tell about me in kindergarten was that my teacher was convinced I needed to go to a special school because I couldn’t write correctly. My dad looked at a sample, went to a mirror and held it up: it was perfectly backward. “It’s OK with his right hand, but backward with his left,” Dad told her. “Don’t worry about it.” Dad, apparently, had the same problem as a kid and outgrew it by 2nd Grade, and so did I. I’ve heard since that this kind of thing is not that unusual. That my dad survived it, however, probably was.