Yamaoka Tesshū


Yamaoka Tesshū

Yamaoka Tesshū (山岡鉄舟 June 10, 1836 - July 19, 1888) also known as Ono Tetsutaro, was a famous Samurai living during the period known as the Meiji Restoration and the founder of the Itto Shoden Muto-ryu school of swordsmanship.

Early life

He was born in Edo (modern day Tokyo) as Ono Tetsutaro on June 10, 1836. His father was a retainer of the Tokugawa government and his mother was the daughter of a Shinto priest from Kashima Shrine. Yamaoka practiced kenjutsu from the age of nine, starting in the Jikishinkage Ryu Tradition. Later his family moved to Takayama where he began the Ono Ha Itto-Ryu style of fencing. When he was seventeen, he returned to Edo and joined the Kobukan Military Institute and the Yamaoka School of Spear Fighting under Yamaoka Seizan. Not long after Yamaoka had joined the dojo, Seizan died, Yamaoka went on to marry Seizan’s sister in order to carry on the Yamaoka name.

From an early age, Yamaoka showed dedication and talent in the practice of martial arts. As he grew up, Tesshu became well-known for several things: his swordsmanship, calligraphy, drinking, and sleeping.

Enlightenment

Yamaoka studied the art of Kendo thoroughly until the morning of March 30, 1880, at the age of 45, when he became enlightened while in meditation. From this point on, Yamaoka worked to maintain a dojo for his style of combat known as "no-sword" the point in which a samurai realizes that there is no-enemy and that the purity of the style is all that is needed.

He is famous for his amazing range of Zen Art works, of which during his lifetime is estimated that he produced over 1 million works.

Death

Yamaoka died at the age of fifty-three on July 19, 1888 of stomach cancer. Prior to his death, he allegedly composed his death poem first, then sat formally and closed his eyes, slipping into death.

Appearance in Koans

Although he lived well after the Golden Age of Zen, Yamaoka appears in a handful of modern koans. Three popular koans featuring Yamaoka are listed below.
* [http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/82nothingexists.html Nothing Exist] , featuring a young and precocious Yamaoka
* [http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/66childrenofhismajesty.html Children of His Majesty] , featuring Yamoka as the Emperor's teacher
* [http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/93storytellerszen.html Storyteller's Zen] , showing Yamaoka using skillful means

References

Recommended Reading

* [http://www.amazon.com/dp/1570620504 The Sword of No Sword: Life of Master Warrior Tesshu] by John Stevens
* [http://www.amazon.com/dp/0804831866 Zen Flesh, Zen Bones] by Paul Reps - contains the three koans listed above
* [http://www.tesshu.info Collected Academic Papers on Yamaoka Tesshu] (in Japanese only)
* [http://www.kendo-world.com/products.php?s%5Bid%5D=64&s%5Bcat%5D=4 Ken-Zen-Sho: The Zen Calligraphy and Painting of Yamaoka Tesshu]


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