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Cheryl Matrasko
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Cheryl Matrasko
James Loeser
Matthew O'Connor


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The Sword of No-Sword, Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu
John Stevens, author

by Cheryl Matrasko

published by Shambhala, Publications, Inc.
Boston & London

John Stevens’ book, The Sword of No-Sword, Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu is an excellent biography of master swordsman, Yamaoka Tesshu. Tesshu is revealed from his early years under classical samurai training, through the development of his Sword of No-Sword style, intertwined with his spiritual growth, enlightenment, as the Ascending Dragon, and his own enlightenment and outlook as a warrior through his writings.

 Stevens’ sections out the book very neatly in six sections:

  • Tesshu’s Life and Times – The swordsman’s early life as young boy in training, influenced by renown spearsman Yamaoka Seizan, his leadership and political involvements as a negotiator of peace for the shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu and later as a statesman under the new Meijii government.
  • The Sword of No-Sword – Tesshu’s early swordsmanship with Kusumi Kantekisai, master of Shinkage-Ryu, Inoue Kiyotora of Ono Itto Ryu. The creation of the Muto Ryu or no-sword, and the rigorous training he conducted at his dojo, the Shumpukan.  
  • Great Enlightenment – Practioner of Zen, this section details some of the influences during his journey towards enlightenment with abbots Seijo of Ryutakuji in Izu,Tekisui of of Tenryuji of Kyoto. Stevens also introduces the readership to koans. Zen Buddhist monks use koans, which are writings or narratives used to exercise, expand, enlighten and elevate the mind to different levels of understanding / truths.
  • The Ascending Dragon – Tesshu was a perfectionist in his calligraphy. In training his effort and dedication was unending.
  • The Three Shu – Tesshu was a member of The Three Shu of the Bakamatsu era, Bakamatsu no sanshu.
  • Tesshu’s Writings – Interesting collection of explanations, songs, and writings that offer a more in-depth understanding of Tesshu and his perspectives on Budo, Muto Ryu, and life as a warrior, etc.

This book is definitely on my list of highly recommended Aikido literary works! The book reads well, gives us an in-depth look at Tesshu as a young man, the perfectionist, the person – the mortal man, and the seeker of truth. We get to see him develop through time in his personal growth in budo, swordsmanship, Zen and calligraphy. I found quite revealing Yamaoka Tesshu’s expanding and maturing perspectives, his place in the martial arts and the modern world, as it was changing and evolving. He was so instrumental in the introduction of Japan to the modern world.

I can hardly count how much e-mail I receive from readers that want to seriously instruct Aikido, but have no real education or in-depth knowledge of Aikido itself. Through no fault of their own, most of these individuals have no knowledge of the history or cultural aspects of the martial art, let alone any idea how it evolved.

I believe that John's literary works bridge this educational gap. His writing style communicates quite well to a wide and varied audience, without becoming too academic and boring. Some college professors are not very prolific writers - and oftentimes take up too much paper to communicate an idea. By the time the literary work gets to a particular point --- the reader has lost track of the topic and where the idea was going. This is not so of John Stevens’ books. I found this particular book very personable in regards to Yamaoka Tesshu. He gave his subject color and substance, and was very insightful into his personality. In addition, it was quite an interesting book and at the same time it was very educational.

I hope you will enjoy it as I did.

Cheryl Matrasko

  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications
  • ISBN: 1570620504
  • Many kudos to Professor Stevens again on another fine book!

    Thank you to John Stevens' publisher Beth Frankl for allowing us to review this book!

    Permission received to display book's cover and quotations used for this review from Shambhala, Publications, Inc. Boston & London
    and are Copyright
    © by
    Shambhala, Publications, Inc. 

    © 2003, Aikido World, Inc.  All rights reserved

    Cheryl Matrasko is a Network Analyst for the department of Networking and Communications at a prominent Chicago hospital. Formerly the LAN Administrator for Northwestern University Medical School - Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and assistant LAN Administrator to the previous MIS of the School of Law. 

    She started Aikido in 1965, studying under Isao Takahashi as her first instructor. She enjoyed working out under many well known Aikido instructors during her tenure with Takahashi Sensei, and thereafter following his death in 1971. Cheryl has dedicated time with instructors in Northern Shaolin Long-Fist, Seven Stars Praying Mantis, and Daito-Ryu Aikijujitsu to extend her martial arts education and perspectives. Currently, she is instructing Aikido at Northwestern University's Chicago Campus and supporting Aikido World Journal.

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    Michio Hikitsuchi 10th Dan 1978
    (C. Matrasko as uke)
    © 1978 C. Matrasko

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