Thursday, September 14, 2006

Oda Nobunaga

Those who play Go know well that one must learn to adapt to new styles of play and never fall victim to trends or convention. A bannerman for this ideal would be Oda Nobunaga. A brash youth from a moderate family, he quickly rose to power by adapting to the era, new weapons, new tactics, and nearly united his country.

Nobunaga's first real sign came at the Battle of Okehazama. Here, an army estimated at 25,000 men marched on Kyoto, headed by Imagawa Yoshimoto. Nobunaga dared to challenge Imagawa with a tiny force of only 5,000 men. While the forces of Imagawa camped, Nobunuga launched an unexpected attack during a thunderstorm. Many of the Imagawa forces fled without a single weapon drawn. When Yoshimoto left his tent to investigate the commotion, he found a spear in his chest. The lopsided battle had been won by cunning.

source: Samurai Sourcebook : Turnbull

During the Sengoku, or Warring States, Period, rival warlords fought for control of Japan. The times were changing. The Portuguese had reintroduced the matchlock (which was originally introduced from China) which was met with strong resistance from many samurai who held to tradition. Not so with Nobunaga. Not only did he bring these 'arquebuses' into his forces, he pioneered their use. While most lords used them among the ashigaru, or field soldier, as an unorganized unit, Nobunaga saw the true value of the arquebus. His ashigaru were organized into strong units which would fire in sequence, one after the other, one firing while the other loaded, and soon the other warlords learned the merit and strategy of the arquebus.
His ingenuity did not stop at matchlocks. Nobunaga was most likely the first to have organized, highly disciplined ashigaru spear units. (The samurai typically fought individually with a spear on horseback. The sword came into prominence at a later time.) Nobunaga also lengthened his spear from a standard 2.5 ken (1 ken=1.6 meters) to 3.5 ken.

Space does not permit a full biography of the Sengoku nor of Nobunaga. His cunning and ingenuity led him to the edge of his dreams. It was here that they fell apart. Readers of Hikaru No Go Manga #6 might remember the small bonus at the end entitled, "Assasination at Honnoji Temple." Of course, the assassination is of Nobunaga himself. Nobunaga had stopped off at Honnoji temple and was surrounded by only a few bodyguards when one of his own generals turned on him and led forces against him. Akechi Mitsuhide was the downfall of every dream and every right turn. Nobunaga was forced to commit seppuku.
Incidentally, a certain Oda Nobunaga watched Honinbo Sansa play Go and with the placing of one brilliant stone Nobunaga was amazed and shouted out, "Meijin!" and thus was born the title.

Turnbull, Stephen Samurai Sourcebook London: Cassell & Co 1998


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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Strategy in History: Genpei Wars

It must be remembered that Go is a martial art. Among the other skills that a samurai would learn, such as archery, the sword, the horse, and the bow, were skills that refined him. Like the study of the Analects, and Buddhism, the more well-off samurai studied Go, the skill of which would be put to good use as a field commander or general in battle. In todays game we see no ties with life or death, except for the odd Go problem, and we tend to lose touch with the origin of the game in worn-torn China.

As Sun-Tzu said, "All warfare is based on deception." The more deceptive, or those who can deceive at a much deeper level, will be the victor.

In twelvth century Japan, war was very stylized. In many cases, a small group of warriors would separate from a group, have an archery battle, and then the next group would step forward. This was long before the age of the sword. At the Battle of Kurikara, Minamoto Yoshinaka (married to Tomoe Gozen) had a plan to divide his army in two and surround the Taira forces. He had two problems. He had to conceal the movements of his forces. He had to hold the Taira into position.

Using the customs of battle of his age to his advantage, Minamoto proceeded to fight the most stylized battle possible. With so much emphasis given to the declaring of deeds between warriors, and the battles limited to such small numbers, Minamoto knew that neither side would have an edge before morning. Of course, in the morning, his other force would flank the Taira army and the tables would turn greatly.

'All warfare is based on deception.'

On the other side of the Genpei war, at the Battle of Yashima, the Taira hung a fan from the mast of a ship and challenged the Minamoto to hit it. The tactic there was to get the Minamoto to waste arrows to no end.

The human mind, though trained like iron, can bend so easily when a weakness is found. We must look for the simple solution, the simple strategy. Complex ideas do not work. Think of how you may hang your fan on the Go board and cause you opponent to waste precious stones trying to kill a group that is already safe/dead. Looking to the past is the greatest way to understand this game and take it into the future.


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