A Final Word on Tesshu

A quick update before I start writing on the actual blog topic.  I did in fact finally drag the sand and other materials upstairs in order to construct my own training apparatus.  I began work also on putting the weighted hoop together.  I had to be a bit resourceful as I realized that a serrated hand saw probably would have more easily cut through the tubing.  On the flip side, I found yet another use for the Tom Brown Jr. Signature knife produced by Tops (thanks Mr. and Mrs. Pearson…your gift proves handy yet again!)

I got stumped though in the construction process.  Just a note to all of you out there who may be creating your own weighted hoop…a funnel and some other people would be really helpful.  I ended up with a mess on the floor and an unfinished project 😦

I also started officially in my new job on Friday.  I have met some really lovely people and I am very fortunate to be working for and with an incredible senior rabbi.  When I look at my life in the context of the people who are in it, I realize how lucky I am to have such wonderful mentors – both in the martial arts world and in my professional world.  Not everyone can say that!

So anyway, I am finally finished with Tesshu.  John Steven’s wrote a wonderful book celebrating his life and teachings and I am almost sad to have finished it.  I usually swallow books whole, but this one I really savored and it’s too bad that it has finally come to an end (especially because I don’t have access to Master Pearson’s library again until August!!!).  At any rate, I thought I would just reflect on one final teaching of Tesshu’s that sort of continues the theme I wrote on in my last post – namely about the power of the mind to either make us or break us.

In 1884, Tesshu wrote the following explanation of his school, Muto Ryu – The “No-Sword” School…

“Swordsmen train diligently to reach the ultimate state of “no enemy.”  To focus on the relative strength or weakness of an opponent is to lose the state of no-enemy.  All depends on the mind.  If one imagines the opponent to be skillful, the mind freezes and the sword is held back; if one imagines the opponent to be weak, the mind is open and the sword is unhindered.  This is proof that nothing exists outside the mind.  A swordsman may practice earnestly for many years, but if he is only moving his body and vacantly swinging the sword, his training is worthless.  Based on my insights I have established what I call the “no-sword school.”  Outside the mind there is no sword – this is “no-sword.”  “No-sword” means “no-mind;” and no mind means a “mind that abides nowhere.”  If the mind stops, the opponent appears; if the mind remains fluid, no enemy exists…Practice day and night and you will attain the state of no-enemy.  Train harder and harder.”

Like I said previously, Tesshu, although he does so very beautifully, isn’t explaining anything revolutionary here.  The concept of mind that he teaches is one which most martial artists (and probably all Star Wars fans) have heard hundreds of times.  But, for some reason, his words resonate with me differently now than they have in their past repetitions.  In my reading, Tesshu says three important things.

1. The mind (i.e. the imagination) is incredibly powerful.  It can help you or harm you.  If you are able to truly imagine yourself doing something not just correctly, but incredibly well, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to achieve this in real life (assuming you are not physically prevented from doing so, etc).  The same is true on the opposite hand.  If you can only imagine yourself failing miserably then you almost cannot help but do so in real life.  As the old adage goes…perception can most certainly become reality – change your perception, change your reality.

2. The mind has no limitations except the ones which we place on it.  When Tesshu warns against “stopping the mind,” I interpret that to mean allowing negative thought to enter into the mind.  To continue with my analogies from the gym that I started in my last post…I’ve noticed in my own training how much negative thoughts affect my ability to perform physically.  If for instance, the trainer gives me an exercise that I’ve done a hundred times before I get through it without any problems.  If however he changes something, even slightly, like adding 5lbs or 10 seconds, all the sudden it becomes tremendously difficult.  The reason…my own mind.  When I hear him change the terms of the exercise I freeze; my mind stops, and I immediately think about how hard it’s going to be and how there’s no way I can do it.  The same is true for me in martial arts.  I’m definitely my own worst enemy.  While I am still unsure how to really confront this, at least it is now more readily in my realm of consciousness.  For me, it is not enough to simply “change the way I think.”  I can tell myself anything I want to but it is obvious when I really, truly believe what I am thinking and when I can see through my own bull sh*&.

3.  Practice and train hard — this just makes me sad that we don’t meet again until August!

This looks like hard training!

So it seems I have learned (or perhaps re-learned) some valuable lessons from Tesshu.  I am sad to close the book on him (literally) but I’m grateful for the chance to have studied him.  Thank you for your recommendation Master Pearson…don’t worry I already bought my own copy (these assignments are turning into a rather expensive endeavor in the end!)

Requirement Fulfilled…


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