The cutting of the abdomen released the samurai’s spirit in a most dramatic fashion, but it was an extremely painful and unpleasant way to die so sometimes a loyal comrade was asked to cut off his head at the moment of agony. By 1180, the practice had become more formal when Minamoto Yorimasa, who was wounded in the leg, could no longer fight, and considered death more honorable than surrender, ordered his assistant Watanabe Chojitsu Tonau to cut off his head. Tonau refused to carry out the command while his master still lived, so Yorimasa said a prayer for his two sons who had died in the battle and wrote a poem as his last act:
Like a fossil tree which has borne not one blossom Sad has been my life Sadder still to end my days Leaving no fruit behind me.
Yorimasa then pulled his short sword and cut open his midsection, fell on the blade, and waited to die. After his death, his assistant cut off his master’s head and hid it in the water to keep the enemy from defiling it.