Dust Settles Back Where It First Flew: A Haiku Series

As many of you may know, the Star Spangled Banner was written on September 14, 1814 by Francis Scott Key. September has an eventful month in human history with many prominent occasions to note. It can difficult to decide for which to account on a weekly basis. Yet, I still wished to write something about the War of 1812 or Francis Scott Key before September’s end. This haiku series was one I produced while pondering the motivations for the War of 1812 and the course it took.

Tensions flaring high
Bitter resentment abound
Conflict is brewing
Honor under threat
Petty disputes festering
Life disrespected
Souls taken adrift
Stolen by the enemy
Madness rules the sea
American ships on the water
The War of 1812 was sparked by trade and territorial disputes between the United States and the British Empire; the impressment of American seamen who were captured and forced to work on British ships; and British influence on the Native Americans to fight against the American colonists.
Battle lines are drawn
One shot will set them ablaze
Peace is to be lost
The world in peril
An empire on the march
All to be undone
Once more into fire
Freedom threatened once again
Liberty at risk
The Burning of Washington
The Americans suffered many devastating defeats at the hands of the British in the War of 1812, as the British were able to conclude their hostilities with the French and focus their attention fully on the United States.
Losses unmeasured
A fate brought upon ourselves
Darkness we conjured
Yet hope always looms
Victory is never far
A path forged in strength
The goals unattained
Dust settles where it first flew
Nothing changed for good
The U.S. capitol in 1814 after the burning.
After the war, none of the goals set forth were achieved. British impressment and Native American hostilities continued. Territorial lines were not changed. However, the war did prove to many for the first time, including the Americans themselves, that United States was ready to fight and defend its people, territory, and honor on the global stage against hard-hitting giants.
Peace returns once more
The fury of war subsides
A new era comes

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Constitution Day in the United States

On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers of the United States signed the U.S. Constitution. The holiday was originally “I Am an American Day” and was observed on the third Sunday in May, first established as a federal holiday in 1940. Twelve years later in 1952, it was changed to September 17 and renamed “Constitution Day” to coincide with the day the U.S. Constitution was originally signed. More recently, the holiday was again renamed in 2004 to “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.”

We remember this day by reading and studying the U.S. Constitution and pondering its meaning. In reading its words, we learn the profoundness of the timeless wisdom contained within. This revolutionary document was produced by those who had studied the errors of governmental design throughout human history and sought to establish a new form of government which rectified many of the past issues. The separation of powers between three branches of government was ingenious, combining the strengths of different systems and balancing out the weaknesses. The Founding Fathers devised a system of constitutional republicanism which sought to have representative government without falling into the same traps presented by the tyranny of the majority which are the downfall of democracies.

The full text of the U.S. Constitution can be read here. It first describes the system of government, various responsibilities, and how to carry them out. The necessary requirements of adding amendments to the document are also detailed. Then, the various amendments which have been added are listed. These describe the restrictions placed upon a just government which has the support of the people. Failing to abide by these amendments by making laws or taking actions which contradict them is akin to forfeiting the right to govern, and necessitate that government officials guilty of enacting such laws or engaging in such actions be removed.

Of particular importance in the U.S. Constitution are the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” These two amendments being first and second is significant, as the Founding Fathers understood that conventional weapons are the enforcement mechanism of civil liberties, and freedom of speech would be pointless to those unprepared to defend it. As the saying goes, “the Second protects the First.”

Looking back throughout history, I find I certainly cannot deny the truth of this wisdom. That is why I am proud to have trained with and carried a weapon from a young age, starting with learning how to use a knife and my bare hands when I was a child, to learning how to use and carry a gun responsibly now. I love learning about weapons and how to use them, both practical applications for the modern era; and historical weapons no longer in common use. Being armed and responsible is one way we can all make society a safer place and honor the wisdom granted to us by those who came before.

I hope everyone has a great weekend, and happy Constitution Day! If you have the time, I would recommend taking a minute to read through the U.S. Constitution, whether you are an American or not. What do the words mean to you? What lessons can be learned? What are the most important parts? Feel free to share your thoughts.

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The Value of a Nation

As I saw so many posts remembering the loss and the sacrifice that characterize our collective memories of the September 11 terrorist attacks, I was prompted to ponder the national response and massive relief effort which took place in the wake of the attacks.

For those unfamiliar with the context, on September 11, 2001, a group of militants from the Islamic extremist group known as al Qaeda launched a series of suicide attacks against targets in the United States by hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings. The targets were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House. The plane intended to target the White House was retaken by the passengers and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The other hijacked planes were successful in hitting their targets. Approximately 3,000 casualties were suffered from the attacks.

Twin Towers
Many eyes were fixed on the Twin Towers of the WTC after the attack began.

A recovery effort ensued immediately following the attacks which persisted for many months around the area where the World Trade Center used to be, an area referred to as “Ground Zero” or “The Pile.” Many local first responders were killed when the buildings collapsed on them as they attempted to facilitate an evacuation. The following day, a small army of volunteers from around the nation converged on Ground Zero to begin clearing debris and searching for survivors. Emergency responders and construction companies brought in equipment to move the heavy debris and “bucket brigades” of humans moved small pieces rock-by-rock, stone-by-stone to clear the rubble. Churches and other humanitarian organizations assisted by bringing food and medical supplies for the emergency workers and survivors pulled from the site.

By early October, the mission at Ground Zero shifted from rescue and recovery to just recovery. In mid December, the fires which had been ongoing for months were finally declared extinguished. Cleanup and recovery continued for many more months as the operation was downsized with progress being made. Many areas and services gradually reopened and the safely-accessible areas at Ground Zero expanded. Recovery operations formally concluded on May 30 the following year.

Ground Zero
The affected area became referred to as “Ground Zero” after the attack.

The collective effort of the United States and the American people to rapidly rise up and recover from the attack while rescuing survivors reminds me of the value of a nation and why I am grateful to be part of one. As I understand, a nation is a collection of people who share a common history, value system, and moral framework who, together, are more than they are alone. While any one of those people involved in the rescue and recovery effort would not have been able to make much of a difference by themselves, working together as a team – as a nation – they were able to pool their knowledge, resources, and willpower to orchestrate a massive relief effort which saw life in the area largely return to normal in less than a year. The unity displayed by those who responded to the terror attacks serves as an inspiration to all of us across time and space about the importance of standing together in time of need. United by a common vision, the nation extols the value of teamwork and cooperation.

While spoken in a very different context, I find myself reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s comments on July 2, 1776 when the Continental Congress agreed upon the Declaration of Independence. He said: “We must hang together or surely we shall hang separately.” When blessed with a nation, the people are able to coordinate a massive amount of effort and resources toward achieving strategic goals too grand for a few souls to muster, let alone for one on their own. No matter how brave or how strong we are, we can surely achieve more as a team than we do operating alone. Hence the common saying, “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team.'”

Aid Workers on 9/11
Many emergency responders and volunteers who were local to the area and from around the nation were brought together to help recover from the attacks.

That is not to say some tasks are not better suited for a lone operator. Surely there are. Also, a team is only as strong as its weakest link. A nation which champions individual liberties is strongest of all by building a team of robust members. A nation which neglects the rights of the individual is no nation at all, but a horde of mindless husks which think not for themselves, completely at the whims of the hive. This is why the greatest nation which can ever be achieved is the one which is built up by a group of people who protect first and foremost the virtue of individualism, while still retaining the ability to work as a team.

I am inspired by the legacy created by the Founding Fathers of the United States and the wealth of literature they have left behind to guide us. It is amazing to see how far we have come and what we can accomplish when we unify behind a common goal. I know we face many challenges ahead, both from Nature and from our fellow Man. Threats to freedom and liberty shall assail us until the end of time, both from without and within. Yet by staying true to the principles which shaped the nation during its founding, I believe we can overcome any trial and best any foe.

Tribute in Light
The “Tribute in Light” to the Twin Towers displayed on September 11 from dusk till dawn.

Just as those who rushed into the fires of uncertainty on September 11 stood together as one in their endeavor to preserve life and heal the nation, I do believe that we today can and must exemplify the same excellence in moral character wherever we are by holding true to the ties that bind us together as one people and one nation. There is no darkness too great and no evil too strong. Where there is a will, there is a way. Some tests may break us down, but we have the power within ourselves to stand back up after a thousand falls and rise again stronger than ever.

For my part, I am honored to take this day to remember those who perished on September 11, 2001 and those who spent months toiling away to save others, repair the damage, and restore life to the nation. Most honorable are those who charged into the storm and gave their lives so that others may live. Most cherished are their souls among the halls of the dead. While they fell, their memory lives on forever and inspires us all to live our lives in such a manner worthy of their sacrifice. May the fallen be at peace, and the survivors find theirs.


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Fateful Flight of the Stars and Stripes

This weekend was the 244th anniversary of the first time the American Flag was flown in battle. On September 3, 1777 the red, white, and blue banner with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes was first flown during the Battle of Cooch’s Bride in Delaware. Under the command of General William Maxwell, Continental forces raised the flag for the first time in history as the rallying point of where to meet British and Hessian troops in battle. They were defeated, however, and forced to retreat to Pennsylvania. It has flown on many occasions and in many battles since then, by both Americans and many other peoples around the world.

The first American Flag
Betsy Ross presenting the first red, white, and blue American Flag to George Washington.
Flying in the wind
Rallying us to our goal
By our flag we stand
A strength that binds us
Stars and stripes. Red, white and blue
Together as one
Iwo Jima
U.S. Marines with the American Flag in Iwo Jima during WWII.
Against cold and rain
Against trials evermore
Nothing in our way
Guiding light and force
To never lead us astray
As long as we know
Apollo 12
Charles Conrad Jr. next to the American Flag on the moon during Apollo 12.
Know what we must know
To follow on the right path
And find our way home
To find liberty
To do not just as we please
To do as we ought
Free Hong Kong Protests
Pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong waving American Flags during the communist takeover.
On the quest for peace
Darkness rising around us
We prepare to fight

It is inspiring to see the journey the American Flag has taken throughout its long history, and will no doubt be just as interesting to see where it goes from here. What is your favorite image of the American Flag? I think the most interesting instances of its flight are when people who are not American citizens choose to fly the flag as a symbol to try and inspire others.

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The Monomyth and “Hero’s Journey”

The Monomyth is a 17-step guide for creating a story, separated into three acts. It was first defined as such by Joseph Campbell, and later refined into the 12-step Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. However, this formula was not something created by Joseph Campbell or any other individual. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that Campbell discovered stories from across human history tended to follow the structure of what he defined as the “Monomyth.” Most epic tales which engender awe and wonder in humans across time and space have followed closely this timeless structure. From the stories of Osiris to Prometheus; to Jesus and Buddha, the Monomyth is an integral part of Humanity and the tales we tell to inspire one another.

The Monomyth described by an infographic.

The Monomyth or the simplified Hero’s Journey can be a useful tool for aspiring and accomplished writers alike. Whether you are wondering where to start, or are stuck on where to go next, the formula has guided writers for millennia. We will go over each of the steps to the Monomyth and explain what they all entail briefly. While we do, something important to remember is that the Monomyth is not a hard requirement for making a good story. In fact, sticking to such a method so strictly can make our stories homogenous and less interesting as a result. Instead, the Monomyth should be taken as a guide to thinking about good stories, something which motivates and inspires us to come up with unique plotlines and characters of our own.

The 17 Steps of the Monomyth
  • The Departure
    • The Call to Adventure
    • Refusal of the Call
    • Supernatural Aid
    • The Crossing of the First Threshold
    • Belly of the Whale
  • The Initiation
    • The Road of Trials
    • The Meeting with the Goddess
    • Woman as the Temptress
    • Atonement with the Father
    • Apotheosis
    • The Ultimate Boon
  • The Return
    • Refusal of the Return
    • The Magic Flight
    • Rescue from Without
    • The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    • Master of the Two Worlds
    • Freedom to Live

The Call to Adventure: the hero starts the story off in a normal and mundane place where something beckons them to start their journey.

Refusal of the Call: for one reason or another – be it fear, duty, or uncertainty – the hero initially refuses to heed the call to adventure.

Supernatural Aid: the hero receives some kind of aid which is outside the boundaries of what they would consider to be “normal,” whether it be a person to guide them; a weapon to use; or some kind of knowledge/power.

The Crossing of the First Threshold: the hero sets out on their adventure in earnest, leaving the mundane world of their beginning for a new and dangerous setting.

Belly of the Whale: the hero is separated forever from the world of their beginning, either because it has been destroyed or forever changed; they have undergone some metamorphosis or permanent change themselves; or because duty demands they keep pressing forward.

The Road of Trials: the hero undergoes a series of tests, some of which they fail; and which change them from the normal, mundane individual they were in their humble beginnings into the hero they are meant to be.

The Meeting with the Goddess: the hero experiences some kind of all-encompassing, unconditional power which is akin to that of a mother’s love.

Woman as the Temptress: the hero is tempted to abandon the journey for some material gain.

Atonement with the Father: the hero must confront the object of power which holds influence over their life, which is often represented by an estranged father who must be reconciled with.

Apotheosis: the hero conquers their fears and is reborn. This may be represented by a spiritual rebirth, or the hero may physically die and be reborn in a new form.

The Ultimate Boon: the hero accomplishes their goal or receives that which they embarked upon their journey to receive. This conveys great power, wisdom, or ability upon them which they can use to further shape the world.

Refusal of the Return: after having found enlightenment, the hero may hesitate to return the world where they came from in order to impart new wisdom onto others, desiring to isolate themselves or stay in the new world.

The Magic Flight: the hero must escape with the ultimate boon, pursued by danger and threats which seek to stop them from bringing enlightenment to the world from whence they came.

Rescue from Without: the hero receives assistance in returning to the everyday world to bring the boon to others.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold: the hero returns to the world of their everyday life with their boon and shares their new wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment with others of their world.

Master of the Two Worlds: the hero achieves balance between the spiritual and material world.

Freedom to Live: the hero is free from regret and worry. They have learned how to “live in the moment,” without concerning themselves of the past or future.

Applying the Monomyth

As mentioned, one should caution against sticking too stringently to the Monomyth when crafting a narrative. Indeed, if you analyze any great epic which follows the Monomyth and possesses all of its elements, you will notice that much else happens in the story which exists outside the 17 prescribed steps. This is because all great epics are said to possess these elements, but they are not directly molded by them. For example, the original Star Wars trilogy and the story of Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi is often reviewed as an example of the Monomyth or Hero’s Journey. However, much happens in the story which is not part of the 17 steps, even though all of the 17 steps are included. The story shows what is happening with other characters and events when Luke Skywalker is not on screen, and there are many instances which flesh out Luke’s story which do not neatly fit into any of the specific steps of the Monomyth. This is because his story is its own, unique story.

Luke Skywalker
The original story of Luke Skywalker is often cited as a contemporary example of the Monomyth or “Hero’s Journey.”

And your story needs to be unique too. All our stories do, because all our stories are unique in real life. If every story followed a standardized formula, using the 17-step Monomyth as a “fill-in-the-blank” format for a 17-point plotline, every story would be exactly the same. There would be no variety in storytelling. No unique and compelling narratives which reinvent ideas and make us think of old concepts in new ways we never considered before. Part of what makes great stories so great is their uniqueness from stories which came before. As such, I would recommend keeping the Monomyth in mind when outlining a story, but not sticking to it strictly. Instead, one can review their story outline after it has a beginning, middle, and end. You can compare the finished outline to the Monomyth to ensure all the elements are present without limiting yourself by copying the Monomyth into an outline directly.

Have you ever heard of the Monomyth? What are your thoughts on the elements described in it? Also, how would you propose using the Monomyth as a tool to write great stories without falling into the trap of using it as a standardized method which could stifle creativity and uniqueness?

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Before the Dawn: A Dramatic Monologue/Soliloquy

Here is my first attempt at a new form of poetry I have never written before: a dramatic monologue/soliloquy. I wrote it while contemplating the common phrase “the night is always darkest before the dawn.” Please enjoy!

The night is darkest before the dawn, as I am so often told. Walking through the halls of doom, a specter of dread looming over my shoulder at every turn. The dawn a light at the end of a sinister path, with no way back, and but one leading forward. A look behind or left to right brings only terror and emptiness. Peering into the shadow, it pierces the soul and slows the step.
Sometimes the end of a dark path seems ever out of reach.
Only striving toward the luminous glow brings hope, yet even that seems fleeting. The tendrils of the void closing in and gripping my mind. A twisted force spreading as light seems to recede. To reach dawn’s embrace as it recedes from the encroaching shadow, one must run to catch it. As the light recedes, all we can do to escape the darkness is to forever resist.
Walls closing in around me. An overwhelming force bearing down on my will, threatening to force me to my knees. All my strength conjured in every step. I battle with demons, pace-by-pace just to keep myself from stopping. The light calls to me, but the dark touches my core and drags me back. The beacon ahead a distant reminder of what is at stake and what lies ahead, yet the shadow an ever-present companion which trips me and turns me astray at every opportunity.
In the darkest of hours, stress can seem to take shape like a dark hand holding us back.
But darkness holds not forever to those who press ever onward. Yearning, striving toward the light with unwavering commitment and persistence. The night is darkest before the dawn, and the dawn shall come to those who do not falter. Its warm rays pressing on my face to comfort me as cold lashes tear into my back. I taste the blood and sweat pooling in my mouth as the light heals my frozen numbness, if only for a moment.
My body aches with burning cold scars, the pain I was apathetic to now returning as life and warmth refill my mind, body, and soul. I stumble forth into the sanctuary of the light. All the terrors of the dark recede and peace falls back upon the world. A stillness comes to preside over my mind and with it the clarity of calm. Looking back, I understand the path which led me here and push on further still.
A flicker of hope on the darkest night can light the path to victory.
Strength returns as darkness falls. The light pierces into shadow with the might of a thousand suns and vanquishes the last vestige of agony plaguing my weary soul. The night is darkest before the dawn, they say. Indeed, and the dawn breaks upon the darkness at the end of every night, picking us up to reach new heights. I feel stronger than the day before, for the cold lashes of the night pushed me toward the light I would have never otherwise reached.
Basking in the warm caress after having escaped the cold embrace of the darkness, my body reinvigorates and grows to new strengths not before imagined. I turn and face the encroaching shadow, now with the light at my back. Other souls inch forward, pulled back by the cold lashes whipping and grasping at their backs. With the warm push of the light guiding me forward with the fire and fury of a burning star, I rush forth into the darkness once more. The light steadies me now to reach out to others and bring them forth into the dawn as darkness fades and the shadow recoils back to the abyss.
One of the best things about overcoming our own demons is helping others do the same.

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Dramatic Monologue and Soliloquy

A dramatic monologue or soliloquy is an interesting format for writing poetry. It is a poem written in the form of a speech. There are many applications of a dramatic monologue in writing. It can be used to convey a vivid scene, rich with detail and sensory experience. It can also be used to express an individual’s thoughts and perceptions, giving insight into their psychology. A character may also explain a telling of history, or of their life and what their thoughts are regarding what happened. Indeed, there may be other uses of a dramatic monologue as well, as the possibilities are nearly limitless.

A soliloquy is similar to a dramatic monologue, and may not differ at all in your own writing. There is an important difference which separates the two, however. A “monologue” is a speech delivered to other characters or people, whereas a soliloquy is a speech to oneself. In a fictional story, this means other characters can hear the monologue being spoken. A soliloquy would be a character talking or thinking to themselves for an extended period of time. In use as a standalone piece of poetry, however, there may be little to no difference in how you write a dramatic monologue versus a soliloquy.

There are some important elements to include which separate a dramatic monologue/soliloquy from dialogue, prose, and other forms of writing. Firstly, as stated above, it involves only one person speaking. There is no dialogue between multiple characters or people during this time, if it is being included in a script or story with multiple characters. It is a long speech with only one voice. Also, the purpose is to reveal information, insight, or other important details to the audience which would otherwise be glanced over in normal conversation. It entails a revelation which is deep and profound, and should draw the audience into the story. Also, the rhyme scheme is not important with this form of poetry. It may rhyme and it may not. It matters little, as long as it is theatrical and compelling, catching the interest of the audience.

There are many great examples of dramatic monologues online catalogued from literary history. Many are from fictional plays, but historical speeches delivered to a crowd could also be considered to fall under this category. I suppose it would depend on whether they were exciting or interesting enough to be considered “theatrical.” In fact, I feel historical speeches from times of great crisis may be more compelling than fictional monologues since they convey real events which took place in our history. Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech in 1775 is one such example.

Many of us may have created soliloquies or passages which could be used as a dramatic monologue without even thinking of it. Just writing down one’s thoughts on a particular event may produce such poetry. For me, I intend to practice this form of poetry to try my hand at it and see what I can produce.

What do you think of dramatic monologue and soliloquy? Have you ever tried writing poetry in this way? What would you write about if you did?

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Origins of Knighthood

The concept of the medieval knight is prevalent in fiction and other media across many different societies. When we think of a knight, it is common for images of an armored warrior covered in steel plate with a longsword to come to mind. What are the origins of this iconic class of warrior, however? When and where did they come from? This is something I have not really thought about before, so I decided to do some research on their origins. I was surprised to learn some new things which I had certainly never been aware of or thought of.

The origins of the knight as we know the concept today can be traced back as far as ancient Rome, well before the medieval European period. The “equestrian class” of warriors in ancient Rome consisted of armored nobles who were mounted on horseback and served as both political and military leaders. Owning a horse was rare and something only the wealthy could afford, making the mounted warriors almost entirely exclusive to ranks of nobility. It is believed that warriors mounted on horses also contributed to the myth of the Centaur in ancient times, as not everyone unfortunate enough to encounter a mounted warrior was familiar with horses during those times. The one difference that has been observed between the equestrian class of warriors in ancient Roman times and the knights of medieval Europe is that the ancient Roman warriors were said to serve more as leaders coordinating battles, whereas the medieval European knights were noted to have been more heavily involved in combat during battles.

Equestrian Warrior
An ancient Roman “equestrian” warrior.

There were many warriors who loosely fit the description of the medieval knight throughout history, many of which existed before the times of medieval Europe. As such, it can be difficult to say definitively when the first “knights” existed. One of the earliest instances of these particular warriors appearing in literature was with the Paladins of Charlemagne. These were a group of 12 fictional knights loyal to the Frankish king who founded the Holy Roman Empire. However, they are said to be merely legend, and not actual knights. Still, for them to have existed as knights in fiction, the idea of knights would had to have preceded them.

Another historical figure who established one of the earliest groups of named knights was William of Normandy. He led a large group of knights who some say were the first to encompass all of the classic features of a medieval knight as we know them today. Armored warriors of noble birth mounted on horseback who followed the doctrine of Christianity. Many of these features were innate to certain warriors throughout history, but it is difficult to say when the first “medieval knight” emerged. Knights often served as the enforcers of their leader who they were loyal to. They may have simply been the wealthy landlords who could afford armor, a horse, and some of the best training at the time. Alongside “William the Conqueror,” a large group of knights sailed to England in 1066 and managed to take control of the land. The names of all the knights who accompanied William I were recorded and have been preserved.

Battle of Hastings
A tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings in which William the Conqueror and his knights fought.

From delving into the history of the concept of European knights and attempting to trace an origin, it is clear that knights did not have a definitive starting point at any one identifiable day or year. Rather, they were more of a phenomenon which emerged and took shape over time in response to the social and political needs of the day, more so than out of military developments. Different groups of knights were formally established to meet specific needs, whereas other knights appear to have emerged incidentally. By some accounts, the first knights appear to have been valiant warriors who were risen to nobility because of their military prowess. Eventually, however, the procedure of becoming a knight became a uniform process whereby the son of a knight was often trained from a young age and inherited the armor and weapons of their forebear.

One of the defining features of the medieval knight today which I find the most inspiring is not their iconic weapons and armor, or even their horse they rode into battle. Rather, it is their honor code of chivalry which guided a knight on how to behave and interact with others. There were problems with knights abusing their status and misbehaving around others at times. Some knights sought to rectify this by describing how a proper knight should act at all times in order to maintain a respectable status. Geoffroi de Charny was one such knight who wrote A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry in which he described the moral code of chivalry by which a knight should live their life.

The Knights Templar
An artistic depiction of members of the Knights Templar. which Geoffroi de Charny was a part of.

The moral code of chivalry, or the “Chivalric Code” guided a knight to live a good life as a Christian warrior. It taught them to fear God and maintain certain values. Knights were to serve loyally to their Lord and liege. They were to be faithful to their superiors; respectful to their equals; and charitable to those less fortunate. Knights were to defend the church, their country, and the weak who could not defend themselves. They were never to lie or go back on their word; be kind and generous to everyone they met; as well as follow the word of God. The code also demanded that knights show no mercy in battle with their enemies; show no fear or hesitation in the face of danger; and be prepared to die in defense of their God and country.

Knights were important militarily, socially, and politically in many societies throughout history. They were essentially warrior-diplomats and scholars who were employed to solve a variety of problems, defend their fellow countrymen, and embody the word of God as faithful servants to their Savior and their sovereign. Of course, those were ideals which may not have been embodied by all knights. However, it could be argued that knights which did not embody said values were not true knights. All in all, they were a fascinating and inspiring group of warrior-poets from who we can draw much inspiration for our own lives today.

Knight praying
The longsword commonly wielded by European knights had a cruciform hilt which can be seen as symbolic of the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on.

What do you think of the medieval European knights? What do you think of their code of chivalry? I find it interesting how the Chivalric Code of the knights and Bushido Code of the samurai code are so similar, and that similarity in my mind conveys that there must be some universal wisdom behind these two codes which I can draw from in my own life.

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Pain and Regret: A Haiku Series

This is a haiku series I wrote during a reflection on feelings of loss and despair. I present it without further comment.

Left in grief and tears
Overwhelming agony
All hope being lost
Lonely path
Humans have a remarkable ability to overcome difficult and lonely paths.
Time has flown away
A haunting dread that follows
So much left undone
So many mistakes
Never to be rewritten
Dread I must embrace
Light in the darkness
There is always light in the darkest of moments, and hope in the deepest pits of despair.
The past is the past
To be better than before
My only real hope
Will I be worthy?
Can I learn from my mistakes?
Am I to be lost?
Dark path
Life at times takes us down dark paths which we must brave without stopping.
I lift my head up
Knowing not where I should go
Heavy with despair
Grief and tears recede
My sorrow clearing with time
May I be at peace

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Heroes From History: Miyamoto Musashi

Miyamoto Musashi was a Japanese samurai who lived between the years of 1584-1645. He was originally known as Miyamoto Masana, but later changed his name. Musashi was also known by the name Niten, which was his artistic name he attributed to his later paintings and sculptures. Musashi is famous for having partaken in at least 60 duels in his lifetime without ever losing once, and for developing a unique fighting style where he wielded two swords instead of one. He is also remembered for authoring several books, including “Go Rin No Sho,” or The Book of Five Rings.

Early Life and Duels

Musashi was trained by his father, a samurai named Shinmen Munisai. Musashi is said to have shown an affinity for Kenjutsu – the art of swordmanship – from a young age. He also learned about reading, writing, and Zen Buddhism from his uncle, a monk named Dorin. By the age of 13, Musashi made his first steps onto the path of becoming a prolific samurai when he won his first duel against Arima Kibei. They dueled with wooden swords called “bokuto.” The encounter lasted only a few moments and ended with Musashi throwing his opponent to the ground and striking him hard. Arima Kibei is said to have been struck so forcefully, he began vomiting blood and died soon after.

Musashi then left his home on a journey to become the greatest swordsman in all of Japan. While Musashi took part in dozens of duels, there are two in particular worth mentioning. The first was the final in a series of duels Musashi took part in against members of the Yoshioka clan. After defeating two members of the Yoshioka family, Musashi was challenged to a third duel at night. This was highly unusual, as duels typically took place during the day. Musashi accepted the challenge and stealthily approached the site of the duel to see if anything was afoot. Surely enough, his opponent – Yoshioka Matashichiro – had arrived with a large group lying in wait to ambush Musashi.

Miyamoto Musashi
An artist’s depiction of Miyamoto Musashi with two wooden swords.

However, instead of sneaking away from the obvious trap, Musashi chose to seize the element of surprise and charge in. It is said he cut off the head of Matashichiro and took the challenger’s sword before darting back into the rice fields. He was reportedly pursued by the group of bodyguards, and managed to fight them all off using both swords, one in each hand. Despite the overwhelming odds, with some of the henchman reportedly even being equipped with firearms, Musashi managed to prevail. This experience is what the samurai claimed led him to found the Nito-Ryu or “Sword Saint” style of Kenjutsu where two long swords were wielded by one swordsman, one for each hand.

Another of Musashi’s most famous duels was against Sasaki Kojiro. Musashi had gained a reputation as an accomplished swordsman, as had Kojiro. They were said to be equals in skill, and so it may have been inevitable the two eventually crossed blades to test who was greater. Musashi, determined to win, decided to delay from arriving at the agreed upon location for two hours in order to disturb his opponent’s mind and hopefully gain an edge. This strategy seemed to have worked, as when Musashi finally arrived, Kojiro was reportedly very angry and eager to fight. They clashed with wooden swords, but the strikes were as lethal as with any steel. Musashi quickly landed a blow on Kojiro’s forehead, fatally wounding and killing his enraged rival.

Musashi was disturbed by his victory over Kojiro. Defeating this rival did not bring him peace of mind that he was the greatest swordsman of his day in Japan. Instead, it made him question why he won that day, and why he had never lost a duel in his life. Musashi wondered why he was so fortunate, and if it was just luck that kept him alive; if it was skill, or some sort of divine will. He wondered why he was still alive instead of so many opponents who he had slain, and what his purpose must be which led him to where he was. At this point, Musashi retreated from his life of dueling and leaned more towards the arts and teaching.

Miyamoto Musashi
Musashi won many lethal duels with the seemingly non-lethal bokuto.

Musashi’s Service Record

Miyamoto Musashi was not just a duelist, but also a soldier on the battlefield. At the age of 16, he took part in the Battle of Sekigahara during the year 1600. Despite his young age, he was already an accomplished warrior. The battle was fought between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans for control over all of Japan. Musashi’s family was allied with the Toyotomi clan, which saw him taking that side of the conflict. Musashi took part in the attack on Fushimi Castle and later in the defense of Gifu Castle, as well as several other engagements throughout the battle. In the end, the Toyotomi clan was defeated, yet Musashi managed to escape unharmed. He would have been hunted with a bounty on his head after his side lost the battle, but he was never caught.

Miyamoto Musashi also took part in the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637, a conflict which lasted about 4 months. One of Musashi’s less heroic moments in history, he aided in crushing the rebels who revolted due to overtaxation and religious persecution. There was a small Christian population living on the Shimabara Peninsula which was originally under the care of the Christian Arima family until custodianship of the land was transferred to Matsukura Shigemasa. While Christians in Japan were never popular, many noted Matsukura’s treatment of the population to be overly cruel. It was not long before the the people of Shimabara felt they had no choice but to revolt in order to try and stop their persecution.

Miyamoto Musashi was a loyal samurai, however. Despite the noble intentions of the rebels fighting for liberty under a repressive regime, Musashi found himself on the side of Matsukura. They crushed the rebellion and depopulated the lands of both the Shimabara Peninsula and the Amakusa Islands. The role of overtaxation was covered up, and the Christians were blamed for all the death. This resulted in Christians being persecuted across Japan, and the country was also isolated from the rest of the world for a long time. Still, Miyamoto Musashi went on to do much more good in his lifetime, preserving his place in the hall of human heroes.

Miyamoto Musashi fighting a dragon
An artist depiction of Miyamoto Musashi fighting a dragon

Musashi’s Legacy

Miyamoto was also an accomplished artist and author as well as a warrior. He was skilled in painting, sculpting, and poetry. Many of his artworks have been preserved into the modern day. He wrote several books, including: “Hyodokyo,” “Hyoho Sanjugo Kajo,” “Hyoho Shijuni Kajo,” “Dokkōdō,” and “Go Rin No Sho.” The names of these books can be translated to: The Mirror of the Way of Strategy, Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy, Forty-two Instructions on Strategy, The Way to be Followed Alone, and The Book of Five Rings. His books have been translated many different times, with each translation being slightly different.

Musashi never married, but he did have several children. Sometime around 1614, he adopted a son named Mikinosuke, who would later go on to become an important vassal of the fief of Himeji in 1622. Mikinosuke committed seppuku at the age of 23 when his lord died, as was tradition for him to do. Musashi had adopted another son by the name of Iori, who Musashi reportedly encountered living on his own as an orphan and took charge of. Musashi sought to find a good future for Iori, who he described as unskilled with a sword, and in 1628 discharged his second son into the service of Ogasawara Tadazane, under whom Iori rose to prominence as a talented individual. Records also indicate that Musashi had a third adopted son by the name of Kurōtarō, who may or may not have been the younger biological brother of Mikinosuke. Lastly, Musashi is said to have conceived a daughter who sadly fell ill and died at the age of three years old. The child was reportedly the result of an affair, but Musashi was deeply disturbed by the death as he still cared for the child as his own.

Miyamoto Musashi spent his final days meditating and refining his fighting style at Reigando Sanctuary. The samurai completed his last litarary works here in his twilight years. He also took on a disciple by the name of Terao Magonojo. Miyamoto Musashi passed away on May 19, 1645. It is said that during his funeral service, a lightning bolt struck out across the sky near Iwato Mountain where he was buried.

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