Takagi Umanosuke Shigesada

According to the Bushū denraiki:

寛永の比、毛利家の士に高木右馬允と云多力の者あり。叡聞に達し、禁庭に召して、力量叡覧有しに、重目百五十貫目を持つ。

During the Kan’ei era [1624–44] there was an incredibly strong man by the name of Takagi Umanosuke, who served the house of Mōri as a retainer. One day the emperor heard of this and summoned him to the forbidden gardens. There, under the emperor’s watchful eyes, he lifted a weight of one-hundred-and-fifty kan.

It was long believed that the Umanosuke in question was the son of Takagi Oriemon, widely believed to have been the founder of the Takagi school of jūjutsu. However, Oriemon was born in 1625, while his son, Umanosuke (though spelled in the same way, yet written as 馬之輔 and not 右馬助) was born in 1656 and died in 1717. Given that Musashi died in 1645, this Umanosuke could impossibly have met with Musashi.

More recent research suggests that the Umanosuke who did have a match with Musashi was probably a former retainer of Mori Tadamasa (1570–1634), the master of Tsuyama castle in Mimasaka. Tadamasa was a troubled man. In 1626, his twenty-two year old son, Tadahiro, had married Kametsuruhime, the adopted daughter of shogun Tokugawa Hidetada. For Tadamasa is was a ticket for a seat at the shogun’s court. But in 1630, at the age of seventeen, Katsuruhime died without having borne any children. Torn by grief, Tadahiro turned to women and drink to forget his troubles.

To correct his son’s dissolute ways Tadamasa turned to his trusted strongman Umanosuke. Eager to please his lord, Umanosuke placed Tadahiro under house arrest and subjected him to an exceedingly harsh regime of austerity and intense martial practice. It was too much for the effeminate nobleman. Before long he fell ill and after a short sickbed he died at the age of twenty-nine. Tadahiro’s death spelled the end of Umanosuke’s career as a Mori retainer. Robbed of his rank he was banished from the Tsuyama fiefdom, never to return again.

Over the next decade Umanosuke travelled the western provinces on a musha shugyō. It was probably during his period in his life as a rōnin that Umanosuke visited Musashi in Kokura. The Bushū denraiki describes how, one day, Umanosuke visited Musashi and challenged him to a match:

武州、大太刀を逆手に持、右馬允が打所を入込て、面を強くひしぐ。ひしがれて身のヽる所を、身をかけて、大指を以て胸をばぐつと突て、あをのけに突倒す。右馬允恐怖し、見物の面々肝膾を作る。

Holding his large tachi in a backhand grip Musashi stooped as Umanosuke lunged toward him and struck him hard in the face. Umanosuke was thrown back by the impact, but before he knew it Musashi was upon him, thrusting his thumb in Umanosuke’s solar plexus and causing him to fall over backward. Umanosuke was terrified and the onlookers were dumbfounded.


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