Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, November 12, 2018

One of the Last Great Samurai

I've posted about Tesshu Yamaoka a few times before. Below is an excerpt from another fine article about him. The full post may be read here.

Yamaoka was born in 1836 when Japan was in the final stages of 252 years of peace and isolation from the rest of the world, a time that most World historians would agree was the most amazing times in world history wherein there was relative peace in a country, at the time known as the Edo period. At the tender age of 9 he began to study the way of the sword. Remember during the Edo period the possession of real swords was outlawed and practitioners of the sword would work with either the wooden sword known as a Bokkuken or a bamboo sword known as a Shinai. When he was 17 he began to study the way of the spear under a teacher known as Yamaoka Seizan. When this master died Tesshu married one of his daughters and went on to carry the name of Yamaoka throughout his life. This was a practice that has continued until the present day although less common in Modern Japan.

Yamaoka was intensely focused on the sword and sword fighting throughout his life but along the way he was the subject of countless stories that border on the mythical in stature.

In his late 20s a senior member of his group announced when they were drinking that he was about to set off on a 1-day trip out to Narita and back. It was only Yamaoka who was brave enough (or foolish enough) to vow to go along on this 140 Kilometer adventure. When Yamaoka arrived at the senior`s house early in the morning he found he was too hungover to go and so Yamaoka steadfastly undertook the journey out and back in less than 24 hours on his own in a tremendous downpour, And in wooden Japanese clogs, or Geta (下駄)to boot (no pun intended).
Yamaoka when he was in his early 30s was defeated by a skilled swordsman named, Asari Yoshiaki
Yamaoka became his student and even though he was larger than his teacher standing around 182 centimeters which was gigantic at that time in Japan and was known by the nickname of the Demon Tesshu, he could not come close to dealing with his teacher`s greater mental skill. It is said that Asari would drive Yamaoka to the back of the Dojo, out onto the street and after knocking him down would slam the door shut.
For years Yamaoka thought about little else than sword fighting and immersed himself in sword skills, mental training and meditation. It wasn`t much later when he was 45 years old that while sitting in Zazen he attained enlightenment (悟り). Following this, when he went to the Dojo and stood in Tachiai with Asari, the teacher realized immediately that Yamaoka had become enlightened and could no longer defeat him and backed away from the fight. He told Yamaoka that he had arrived at his destination and that there was nothing more he could teach him. Yamaoka went on to open his own form of swordfighting known as “Mutou Ryuu” or, “The No-sword way”. That is 無刀流 and not 武藤 as in Ayami (武藤彩未).

Being an incredibly skilled and powerful warrior he became a tutor for Emperor Meiji when he was a teen.

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