(Trying) to compare Enlightenment and Sekiro, Corrupted Monk becomes a Helicopter and a look at the Riven Cave

Enlightenment and Sekiro and Deflecting: Sekiro is a game with some overt Buddhist themes and imagery, so let’s try applying a Buddhist quote to the game play. I’m going to use footage of the Corrupted Monk – in part because it’s one of my favourite boss fights, and she’s a Monk. She fits right in with this topic. A quick tangent – why isn’t she the Corrupted Nun? There are Buddhist Nun’s. The original Japanese uses the character for Monk, so there’s no mistranslation. So, yeah,

“Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

Dogen Zenji.

So, how is any of that applicable to Sekiro? I guess on the surface there might not be much there. But I’ve been thinking about it more and more after I saw someone mention it in a comment section for a fighting game video. I think it can be applied in a similar manner to Sekiro.

I do love Sajam’s videos.

“Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters;

When I first played Sekiro, a weapon swung towards to me was a weapon swung towards me. It was nothing more, and nothing less. I saw it coming, I hit L1 and a block came out. If I timed it right I got a deflect. In any case I reacted all the same. I stopped a weapon headed towards me. Sometimes. Sometimes I just missed it. In which case it was just a weapon hitting me. Nothing more and nothing less.

“after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters;”

The more I played Sekiro, the more I learned about it. I learned that weapons swung towards me were different. They came at different speeds and different angles. I had to pay attention to these things. Identify which attack was being used, account for me position relating to these attacks and alter my timing for each individual attack. I had to think about these things. The game became more complex, and rather than simply reacting I was thinking and processing. Sometimes this was good, sometimes it could lead to bad results – overthinking can happen.

“after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters.”

And finally, here we are. It turns out, all along, it was always a weapon being swung at me. Nothing more and nothing less. I am still engaging with the thought processes from the second part of the quote, but it has all been internalised. I don’t think about it, I just do it. An attack comes in, and without thinking I press L1 as it needs to be. The Corrupted Monk has her attacks and combos, they all have the individual properties – but it’s of no concern. They get deflected without much thought. Because all along, she’s swinging a weapon at me, and I need to deflect it. Nothing more, nothing less. 

It’s been a wonderful journey getting to this point with the game.

She did the thing: A while back I wrote a series of posts about the Corrupted Monk. One of those posts talked about all her attacks and combos. It turns out I missed one because I confused two jump attacks. She has one that is straight jump in the air and a slam down:

And she has this one:

I knew that this move existed, but I had not seen it in so long that I mistook it for the other attacks. This attack is a much more expansive move – the Monk swings her Naginata/Nagamaki (still haven’t figured it out) in a flat arc, intent on clipping everything around her. She’ll hit Sekiro somehow. It’s one of the games most spectacular attacks – she turns into a Sengoku era helicopter for a precious few seconds. There aren’t many other attacks that have same scale or expansiveness.

I’m pretty sure it’s a move that is meant to clear players out of trees. And I think sometimes, when the player is in the air near the trees the AI thinks that a person is in the trees, and then uses tree clearing moves to get them down. Very rarely, at least for me, it picks this one. I think I’ve only seen this move 2 or 3 times (including this instance) – it’s super cool when she brings it out.

A weird obsession with Riven Cave: Riven Cave is one of the rest points in Sekiro. In all honestly there’s not much too it. It’s pretty much just a cave. A stopping off point before heading off to Bodhisattva Valley. For the vast majority of folks (I’m guessing), the Riven Cave is simply a rest point before the rest of the game unfolds, and nothing more.

I sometimes get weirdly obsessed with stuff. The Riven Cave is one of those obsessions. There a few things that got me interested. The elements of human habitation – I am fond of things human beings have left behind. There are lanterns leading up to the entrance. There’s a half ruin rope ladder hanging from a ledge – I always take a little gander at it. There are ropes hanging across the ceiling and there are some Jizo sculptures. I dig all of it.

And while it is a rest stop, it is the rest stop that comes right after being hounded by a giant snake, so it’s a good chance to get one’s bearings and regain composure, after escaping the attentions of a colossus. Right outside, there is a skeleton of a monkey. A sign of things to come. It’s a neat bit of visual story telling.

In the games story, Bodhisattva Valley is where the Sculptor and King Fisher lived and practiced. It would make sense for Riven Cave to be one of their refuges. Prior to King Fishers disappearance it is pleasant to imagine the pair of them living in this cave with one another, honing their skills and sharing each other’s company. It’s nice to think about.

Notes and Asides:

Gfycat is still not playing ball. So, no gifs. Hopefully it will work soon. Hopefully. I miss making gifs.

Ode to the Corrupted Monk (Part 3)

The Corrupted Monk has the duty of protecting the Wedding Cave Door – in the form of spirit and Fountainhead Palace – as herself from outsiders. The Fountainhead Palace battle takes place under a moonlit sky, on a bridge against a pole arm wielding monk.

I don’t how I did not see the parallels with Benkei. I was searching for stuff on google and I saw a search result that mentioned Benkei and I was like…of course! Of course, the fight with the Corrupted Monk is a homage to Benkei. Benkei is one of Japan’s greatest folk heros. There’s lot to talk about with Benkei, so here’s a link to the Wikipedia. What applies to the Corrupted Monk is the battle at Gojo Bridge – where Minamoto no Shitsune defeated Benkei on a moonlight night – an event that would lead to Benkei becoming Minamoto’s retainer and their adventures together. This is a woodcut painting of the battle:

Image from Wikipedia

This is the battle with the Monk:

That’s a Benkei reference. Stories about Benkei have been turned into Noh plays. And speaking of Noh, the Monk wears a mask used in Noh theatre, the Hannya Mask. It’s one of the most striking features of the Monk’s – it helps to make her a memorable character. And it tells us a few things about her.

Image from Wikipedia

The Hannya Mask is used to represent a woman, due to jealousy and/or obsession becoming a demon. Hannya mask’s come in different colours – white (the colour of the Monk’s mask) is used to portray a character of a refined nature, someone from a higher social class. This would seem to imply the Monk is someone who is perhaps from the aristocracy or a similar social standing. The Hannya mask can also represent different emotions by simply tilting it. From one angle it can appear snarling, angry, menacing but tilted it can appear sad, mournful, melancholic. The Corrupted Monk has a few emotions as well. Based on her combat style is a little cranky (graceful but cranky) but she is also clearly getting something out of the contest. Lots of bosses in Sekiro speak, more so than in any other From title. While the Monk doesn’t talk, she does laugh, a lot. It’s a sinister laugh. Particularly when it comes after she clatters Sekiro with her weapon. And in the last phase she lets loose a primal scream whenever launching cursed centipedes out of her now open neck. All in all, without speaking she is an incredibly vocal boss – one of those things that make her such a fun boss fight.

The Corrupted Monk, in her non-weapon hand carries a set of Buddhist Prayer Beads. I was going to (try and) talk about prayer beads in Japanese Buddhism, until I was doing research and stumbled upon this article. I did not expect to discover that much information – everything from naming the parts of the prayer beads to prayer beads from different sects of Japanese Buddhism and their complete history. So, I’m going to step back and let the article speak for itself. I feel comfortable doing a summary of the Hannya mask – this is something else entirely. This is one of the best things about doing a post like this – I get to learn so much. And video games are pretty great at opening up avenues into cultures. Thanks for everything Corrupted Monk.

Something similar happened when I wanted to look at what the Monk wears. She is wearing a collection of monastic articles of clothing – in large part because she’s a monk. I wanted to look and see if I could identify any of it. I learned there’s a whole lot that goes into a Japanese Buddhist Monk’s attire – more than I am capable of identifying. Once again, thanks to research and discovering an article shows how little I know. I would love to return to this once I have acquired more knowledge and to try and do a full breakdown of the Monk’s monastic robes. That being said, I think there are two things I have some confidence in identifying – the Monk wears a Kesa and on her feet she wears a pair of Waraji and Tabi. The Kesa is a robe composed of numerous pieces of ochre cloth sewed together and is a symbol of being part of a monastic order. The Waraji are straw rope sandals often worn by monks (they used to be worn by most Japanese people) and the Tabi are split toe ankle socks, with the Waraji wrapped around them. The Kesa has an in-depth run down and pictures in the linked article – it’s worth a read to learn a whole bunch of stuff about Monastic attire and life – more than I can sum up in about 200 or so words. The Kesa, as well as being symbolic has a whole order in how it is worn and the wearing of it is in-of-itself a meditative process.

I think the cloth on her right arm is the Kesa. You can see her shoes during the death blow.

From memories and remnants, we learn the Corrupted Monk’s name was once Yao – Priestess Yao. This is a clear reference to the Japanese tale of Yao Bikuni. It has a few variations but the general gist of it is a girl is offered a piece of meat from a creature called a Ningyo (a half woman half fish creature – unbeknownst to the girl) which causes her to become immortal, leading to her wandering the land as a nun named Yao Bikuni. In the Corrupted Monk’s case, she is also immortal, named Yao, is a Monk (similar to a nun) and in the Fountain Head Palace there are giant fish with human teeth. Only the Monk has a cursed centipede living inside of her. There is a giant fish skeleton at the bottom of the the Fountainhead Palace awash with parasites. Can’t be sure if the Monk partook in it’s flesh though. Admittedly, this bit is common knowledge by now. Vaati did a video on it, and numerous people have mentioned it. I’m just putting it here for completions sake.

Between her outfit, the Benkei references and the Yao Bikuni story she is a character steeped in Japanese folklore and culture. I mean, everyone in Sekiro is but the Monk is practically swimming in it.

Notes and Asides

I do really want to revisit the Monastic Robes question. I don’t have enough time now to do it, but that full down is something I am interested in.

Ode to the Corrupted Monk (Part 2)

Both of the Corrupted Monk’s boss arenas are some of my favourites. The Monk is first fought as a spirit just before the Wedding Cave Door deep within Mibu Village. She is then fought in her true form on the Vermillion Bridge, before entering the Fountainhead Palace.

There is more going on in the Vermillion Bridge arena, so I’ll be talking about that more. It’s the vibe from the former arena that excites me. After working his way through Mibu Village (an area I am fond of) Sekiro finds a series of Torii gates that lead to a stone door blocked shut. Many lanterns provide something resembling light in hanging fog. Out of this fog strides the ghostly figure of the Monk. It’s pure Japanese ghost story vibes and I will always be there for that. Hell, the whole of Mibu is pure Japanese ghost story vibes. I dig it.

The Vermillion Bridge is simply gorgeous. There are also a few bits of environmental story telling. The tumbling maple leaves, the moon hanging in the azure sky, the old yet still proud bridge – and without a cranky monk trying to decapitate Sekiro, it’s a beautiful to walk around and admire. A place I am fond of returning to, to take it all in. After a few boss fights, the perfect place to let my guard down. The falling leaves are nice touch – in terms of aesthetics and volume. Falling leaves are always pretty – even more so with maple leaves. And there is just enough of them for it to not be overdone. Just enough to elicit the right atmosphere. And something I recently realised, during the fight there is a mist caused by the Monk. When the Monk dies, the mist clears showing the moon, the stars and the azure sky.


The bridge itself – a once brilliant red, now a little faded tells a story of previous battles and time passed. Parts of the bridge are broken – seemingly snapped by someone wielding a heavy weapon. Folk have tried to cross the bridge before Sekiro makes his attempt. The bridge is also suffering from neglect – some of the beams are rotted, some are rotting – this bridge has endured for some time and over that time, maintenance has fallen away. It’s still a beautiful piece of architecture but its best days are behind it. One nice little detail are the decorative plates on the rails of the bridge. They have intricate floral patterns adorning them. Prior to this I had never taken a close look at them. It’s nice discovering new things.

There is a nice little detail with the trees. Both the Monk and Sekiro can break the smaller branches of the maple trees. It’s not unusual for the Monk to bring down branches with a great swing of her weapon. It’s a little detail but it works wonders for making a dynamic environment.

Speaking of the Monk’s weapon, let’s try and figure out what it is. Is it a Nagamaki, or is it a Naginata? First of all, before getting into that let’s just admire it. I’ve been digging polearms lately. And the Monk has a mighty fine polearm (or it’s a colossal sword). It’s almost (or is) half handle half blade. It is a weapon that aligns perfectly with the Monk’s fluid fighting style. It’s a colossal weapon. The Monk has to, like, 9 to 10ft tall and the weapon is pretty much the length of her. That thing must be incredibly heavy, and she swings it around like it weighs nothing at all. Sometimes with only one hand.

However, back to the problem I’m putting off. What is the weapon? I have a blog post where I called it a Nagamaki, on the back of the excellent sources of Wikipedia and TV Tropes. I did couch that opinion with a note about how I thought it was a Naginata before some more reading. Google searches for both Corrupted Monk Naginata and Corrupted Monk Nagamaki both bring up results in favour of both. From the official artwork it looks like a heavily stylised Naginata. But in game, when the Monk is using the weapon it looks way more like a Nagamaki. Also, in the most recent Samurai Shodown game (a completely legitimate historical resource) Yashamaru Kurama is a character that uses a Nagamaki. His combat stance and the Monks combat stances aren’t too dissimilar. If it turns out a Naginata can be used in a similar manner, well…

So, I don’t really know and with my limited knowledge (but lots of fondness) of Japanese weapons – I’m punting this one. If someone happens to pass by this blog who is either a From Software developer, a Japanese weapon’s expert or by sheer luck, both – please don’t hesitate to tell me what the Monk’s weapon is called. I’d love to hear it. Right now, I’m just going to admire that weapon, because it’s beautiful. And massive. Like, I don’t think I can overstate how big it is.

It would be fun to wield it.

Wish I could wield it. 

Notes and Asides

On the subject of falling leaves and volume of said leaves – on the final fight on Ghost of Tsushima with Jin’s Grandad or Uncle (I’ve forgotten who it was) there was a tree behind them. On what should have been a moment of immense tension and emotion (I was a little checked out at this point) all I could think about was “Kin’ell, that tree has a lot of leaves”. Falling by the bucket load. Much more measured in Sekiro.

An ode to the Corrupted Monk (Part 1)

I can still write about Sekiro. Wonder when I’m going to run out of material.

I’m still keeping up my regular boss rush appointments. Still having fun. I love fighting a lot of the bosses in Sekiro – this is one of the best boss fight rosters in any video game ever. The best boss is Sword Saint Isshin, but I have a massive soft spot for the Corrupted Monk – both as the True Monk and the Shade. She was the first boss where I realised Sekiro was on its way to becoming my favourite game, and that its bosses were heading the same way.

Beyond the sentimentality, the Monk has a lot going for her. She is visually striking, and one of the most fun bosses to fight – her fighting style and deflecting patterns have a unique rhythm to them. And even after god knows how many times I have rematched her she still has the capacity to surprise – something not many bosses can say. (This post will focus on the boss fight itself – I’ll try to do another post focusing on lore and stuff down the line).

Like most video game boss fight, the boss fights in Sekiro eventually exhaust what they are capable of. Patterns, attacks and timings will be figured out – even more so in a game where bosses can be fought whenever one pleases. While the same applies to the Monk, she does have a few attacks she rarely does (extremely rarely even) that catch me by surprise. As good as Isshin is, his capacity to surprise has been diminished (not his fun factor though). The Monk still has this with three moves. Two that are meant to clear out folk who hide in the trees of her arena, and one move she only uses in phase three.

I don’t know what sets off the tree orientated attacks when she’s on the ground. I cannot get her to do them consistently. One of them see’s the Monk launch herself in the air like someone going up for a dunk. It’s clearly meant to attack an enemy in a high position. But when I’m not up in a tree, and the Monk jumps up that high it’s always amazing. She has hops – far beyond anyone else in Ashina. For the record, I don’t know what sets this off when I’m on the ground with her. She brings it out at such random intervals that I never remember what position me and her are in when it happens. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out.

I think that (maybe) being in the air near the trees might do it. Maybe.

Another attack the Monk does that targets the player in trees is a skyward thrust. Again, I think this is meant to happen when the player is in the tree but sometimes she will do it when Sekiro is on the ground. It looks super weird in that circumstance. First time I saw it (this year – 3 years after Sekiro came out) I didn’t know what she was doing.  I forgot for the moment that Sekiro is a single player game – is there someone else in the trees? Nope, just the Monk breaking out some weird new tech.

Again, I’m in the air near the trees.

The final phase attack is a four-hit combo. The Monk’s attacks are normally graceful – characterised by beautiful, clean swings. Brutal grace, but still graceful. The four hitter is devoid of grace, full of brutality. Prior to this the Monk has always been in control of her actions – here it’s all anger and flailing limbs. This combo reeks of desperation. It’s four flailing hits that’s just lashing out. This is her regular combo:

This is the lashing out combo:

I don’t see this attack a lot. Most times. I can go 10 to 15 fights without her doing it. Then she will do it in back-to-back fights. It can be hard to pick up on first glance because it’s so different to her regular attacks.

Speaking of her regular attacks – the Monk is one of the most beautiful boss fights of all time. In Sekiro she stands alone in terms of grace. She wields a unique weapon – either a Nagamaki or Naginata (it’s one of the two – I previously called it a Nagamaki – now I go back and forward). The way she swings the weapon is mesmeric – incredibly clean arcs chained together. The way she holds it is different – she has an open stance, switching the weapon between one and two hands. Aesthetically, her appearance plays into this. Her robes flowing whenever she swings her weapon and every swing of her weapon dragging up a wave of maple leaves – just beautiful.

I love that if you keep deflecting the Monk’s hits the combo will get longer. She still works with the Sekiro rule set (clear defined attacks to be deflected, mikiri’d or jumped over) but she plays with those rules differently. Genichiro, Isshin and others all have combos – attacks that go for three to seven hits (give or take) hits. But those combos are set – Genichiro and his floating cloud passage for example – that is set. Same with Isshin. Same with Guardian Ape. Same with Owl. They have attack chains that are set – before another attack comes out there is break – the sort of break that would represent a combo ending in a fighting game.

(I had footage of the Monk going for like 10 – 12 hits – that I accidently overwrote when clipping another bit of footage – so well done me. Idiot. Imagine this clip below but without the mikiri – that what she does. She skips the mikiri opportunity and goes into another combo.)

The Monk on the other hand can just keep going. She can chain regular swings together. She can go for eight, nine maybe more hits if deflects are kept up. I do wonder if she had an infinite posture bar how long she could go for. She can also stop these combos – normally she will turn it into a mikiri opportunity. But sometimes she will turn the final hit into a big sweep to push Sekiro away. She plays Sekiro, but she’s playing Sekiro in her own way.
I love her.
Notes and Asides:
I mentioned another post will be on the way about lore and stuff. It will also include my thoughts on her boss fight arena amongst other things because I want to talk about that as well.
One of my impossible dreams is to see the Corrupted Monk but animated by Arc System Works. Her colours, her movements, her attacks in that Arc Systems style. That would be something.