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Born in Okazaki, Mikawa (modern-day Aichi Prefecture), Honda Tadakatsu, also known as Heihachiro, was one of the esteemed quartet of generals, alongside Ii Naomasa, Sakai Tadatsugu, and Sakakibara Yasumasa, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tadakatsu's name carries a clever pun, as "Tada" can mean "just," and "katsu" signifies "win." Hence, his name could be translated as "Just Win!" — an apt name for any samurai.

As a trusted confidant of Ieyasu and a brilliant strategist, he stood by Ieyasu's side during pivotal battles such as Okehazama, Anegawa, Mikatagahara, Nagashino, Komaki Nagakute, and, of course, Sekigahara. One of Honda Tadakatsu's most remarkable feats occurred in 1584 during the Komaki Campaign. While Ieyasu left to confront Toyotomi troops at Nagakute, Tadakatsu observed Hideyoshi leading a sizable force in pursuit. With just around 30 mounted samurai, he daringly confronted Hideyoshi's forces, facing overwhelming odds of 50 to 60 to 1 across the Shonai River. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, astonished by Tadakatsu's audacity and valor, ordered that he and his men remain unharmed.

Oda Nobunaga hailed Honda Tadakatsu as a "samurai among samurai." Similarly, Toyotomi Hideyoshi once remarked that among samurai, there were "Honda Tadakatsu in the east and Tachibana Muneshige in the west." Takeda Shingen also commended Honda, stating that "the only things above Tokugawa Ieyasu are his helmet and Honda Tadakatsu."

Honda Tadakatsu's distinctive black armor, with its deer antler-fitted helmet, was a recognizable sight on the battlefield. Despite the helmet appearing heavy and unwieldy with its thick antlers mounted on top, they were actually made of lightweight paper mache covered in lacquer. The reason for adorning deer antlers wasn't merely to enhance his intimidating presence but stemmed from a significant experience following a decisive battle.

The story goes that after the Battle of Okehazama, Tadakatsu led the 19-year-old Ieyasu back to Okazaki Castle. Following days of heavy rain, the rivers were swollen. While searching for a way to cross, a stag deer traversed the shallows, guiding Tadakatsu. Interpreting this as an auspicious sign, Tadakatsu adopted the deer's imagery to further guide and serve his lord, Ieyasu, an undertaking he fulfilled with bravery and honor throughout his life.

At the age of 57, Honda Tadakatsu participated in the Battle of Sekigahara, commanding a mere 500 samurai on the battlefield. During a charge on the Shimazu clan's war camp, Tadakatsu's horse was brought down by a volley of arrows, but he remained unscathed. Pausing briefly to offer a prayer for his fallen horse, he then seized the reins from one of his captains and resumed fighting.

Tadakatsu is often referred to as "The Warrior who surpassed Death itself" as he never suffered a significant wound, despite engaging in over 55 battles. He passed away in Edo in 1610, having inadvertently cut his hand while woodcarving. Observing his own blood flow from the wound, he considered it an omen and willed himself to pass away at the age of 63 several months later.


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