The Sword of No-Sword

I apologize for the two day gap in this post.  I just arrived “home” in Connecticut after spending the week in Ohio at the wedding of some friends (quick shout-out…Congrats Josh and Sarah!).  Anyway, it was lovely but I’m home now and I’ve returned to the story of Tesshu in The Sword of No-Sword.

Tesshu the sword master

The author describes Tesshu’s early life as well as his discovery of muto ryu (the “no-sword” school) and his founding of the Shumpukan (the name of his dojo meaning “spring wind” dojo).

Tesshu had some revolutionary training methods,  something which I found interesting given the “non-traditional” traditional methods we have thus been exposed to in Hagsaeng Naebu.  He was not an easy teacher to please, or at least so it seems.  Tesshu, according to the author’s sources at least, did not emphasize the analysis of technique.  He did not spend his timing imagining situations and developing ways to counter them.  He didn’t teach, as was common in most sword schools, wiht cause and effect language (i.e. if you’re opponent picks such and such a stance then you should take up such and such a stance, etc).  Rather, he trained his students in grueling, repetitive simple motions.  For instance, a Muto-Ryu student might practice nothing but overhead strikes for three years.  This had tremendous benefit for his students, though I can imagine it often became frustrating for them.  The author writes…”the body became naturally hardened, one developed strong arms, a powerful grip; ones movement became free-flowing, characterized by forceful blows and sweeping attacks, unconcerned with winning and losing, totally absorbed in the moment at hand, one attained presence of mind.”

Uchi-Komi — repeated strickes to the oponent’s head

Another one of Tesshu’s severe methods was reserved for more advanced students.  He used to require insane sessions of repeated matches that would extend for hours and hours and sometimes for days and days, with students pausing only for a brief lunch.  In some ways, this is not unlike our own 12 hours clases to which we are sometimes subjected in Hagsaeng Naebu, in other ways it resembles a challenge put before Master pearson’s students at a particular time in their training.  Although I am not at liberty to discuss that here in such a public format, I now wonder if this is the source from which he drew inspiration to create that event.  At any rate, there are two incredible anecdotes related to this training method which the author relates in his book.

The first is regarding Kagawa Zenjiro, a student of Tesshu’s and one of the first to undergo such an intense day of training.  He went home after the first day (continual matches from 6am to 6pm) feeling pretty good.  Tesshu admonished him, telling him he was slacking off and needed to try harder.  So the second day he really put it all out there and was dying by mid-day.  He limped home on swollen legs only to return again on the third day, barely able to stand.  He looked up to see his first opponent and realized with horror that it was a former training partner, known for his fondness for injuring others seriously.  Kagawa Zenjiro became internally enraged, focusing all of his energy on defeating this one guy and vowing to himself that if he went down, he was bringing this dude down with him.  The ferocity with which he stepped up to face the guy caused his teacher Tesshu to praise him and stop the match instantly…the test was complete, he had been ready to die rather to than be defeated…he solved the riddle.

The second anecdote is of Tesshu himself.  He told his students that he used to be subjected to such torturous methods and much worse at that.  Apparantly as a young man, Tesshu had participated in back to back matches….1,400 of them over seven days.  “I do not remember feeling tired or being in pain,” he said.  “There is victory and defeat in swordsmanship, but forging he spirit is far more important.  What is the secret?  The mind has no limits.  Use such a mind when facing your opponents, incorporate it in your movements, and you will never tire regardless of how many days and how many contests you have.  Study this and practice harder!”

I find Tesshu’s story to be inspiring – even though it contains a message many of us have heard countless times.  It can be helpful for any practice, be it martial arts or going to the gym or dieting or meditating or studying or working.   Our minds have no limits and therefore our bodies have no limits – other than what we place on them ourselves.

Requirement fulfilled,


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