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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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