Everybody loves samurais because of their mystique, fierce fighting skills and legends steeped in mystery. One of the famous samurai was Honda Tadakatsu who was also known as Honda Heihachiro. He was a Japanese general of the late Sengoko and early Edo period. He lived from 1548 to 1610 and was one of the Tokugawa Four Heavenly Kings.
Tadakatsu was born in the Mikawa province in Japan and was promoted many times for his service. His son Honda Tadatomo became daimyo of Otaki and his other son Tadamasa took over Kuwana after Tadakatsu retired. Even though Honda served years of loyal service, he became estranged from the Tokugawa shogunate as it moved from military to civilian political institution. Many other warriors had the same problem transitioning from the chaotic warfare life to a stable peaceful life of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Honda Tadakatsu was well respected in his time and was called the Samurai of Samurai by Oda Nobunaga, who was known not to praise his followers which made this high praise indeed. Toyotomi Hedeyoshi also stated that the best samurai were Honda Tadakatsu in the east and Tachibana Muneshige in the west. Honda was also respected because even though he fought in over sixty battles, he never suffered a significant wound. He was referred as The Warrior who surpassed Death itself for this reason.
Honda is regarded as one of Tokugawa leyasu’s finest generals. He earned distinction at the Battle of Anegawa and also served at the Battle of Mikatagahara which was the scene of Tokugawa’s greatest defeat. At that battle he commanded the left wing of the army facing troops under Naito Masatoyo one of the Takeda clan’s notable generals. Honda went on to exact vengeance at the Battle of Nagashino where he commanded musketeers as the combined Oda-Tokugawa forces annihilated Takeda Katsuyori’s army. This was in part to the skilled use of ranked muskets as one soldier would fire while another was reloading and yet another cleaning the barrel of the musket. This enabled the muskets to fire without stopping. It was the first time this effective battle tactic had been seen.
Honda Tadakatsu has quite a few legends surrounding him including the one that he never received a wound. His helmet was adorned with deer antlers which made it very conspicuous so the ability to battle without receiving wounds was legendary. His fighting prowess was incredible and so well known that his weapon of choice, a spear, was named as one of the Three Great Spears of Japan. The spear was named Tonbo-Giri, Dragonfly Cutter, due to a legend that the tip was so sharp that a dragonfly that landed on it was cut in two.