Benkei Musashibō was a Buddhist priest of the early Kamakura period.
Benkei Musashibō was born in 1155. He was said to have been born in Kumano on the Kii Peninsula, and since there is a record of a monk by the same name residing in the monastery on Mt. Koya, which is not far from Kumano, it is thought to be he.
In the temples of the time there were two types of monks, those who devoted themselves to learning and those who bore arms for the protection of the temple; it is reasonable to suppose that Benkei, who in legend is noted for his military prowess, belonged to the latter group.
He is said to have been active in assisting Minamoto no Yoshitsune to overthrow the Taira family, but later, when dissension developed between Yoshitsune and his elder brother Yoritomo, Benkei accompanied his lord in fleeing to Hiraizumi in Mutsu and died with him in the battle of Koromogawa.
In literary works describing the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto families such as the Heike monogatari and the Gikeiki, Benkei, also called Musashibo Benkei, appears as a faithful retainer of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, but there is some doubt as to whether he is an actual historical personage.
A number of dramatic works centering on the figures of Yoshitsune and Benkei have been written and remain popular today.