Dragon Calligraphy



Dragon Art Gallery


Dragon as Calligraphy


Exhibition 2001

This exhibition focuses on the highly charged and often powerfully gestural works of many of the great names of the Zen calligraphic tradition. It provides a rare opportunity to see a genre of work that, despite its centrality to the Japanese artistic canon, has had little exposure in Britain.


Tesshu Yamaoka (1836-1888), 1880
height 135 cm

© www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

山岡 鉄舟(やまおか てっしゅう Yamaoka Tesshuu )

Yamaoka Tesshu was an outstanding swordsman of the nineteenth century who attained spiritual enlightenment at the age of 45. As well as a master swordsman, he was a renowned calligrapher- another testament to his mastery of Zen. He was born in Edo (modern day Tokyo) as Ono Tetsutaro on June 10th, 1836. His father was a retainer of the Tokugawa Government and his mother was the daughter of a Shinto priest from Kashima Shrine. Tesshu practiced Kendo from the age of nine, starting in the Jikishinkage Ryu Tradition.

Later his family were to move 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 Tesshu had joined the dojo, Seizan died, Tesshu went on to marry Seizan’s sister in order to carry on the Yamaoka name.

Obviously tales of Tesshu’s life differ and exaggerate to some degree, but by all accounts he seemed to be a man of immense spirit. It is said that Tesshu divided every day into four parts, Kendo, calligraphy, drinking and sleeping. Renowned for his drinking abilities, on one occasion whilst drinking with friends, they spoke of a horse that was so wild no-one could get a hold of it let alone ride it.

Tesshu replied “An animal that man cannot control! That is ridiculous! So his friends baited him to ride it and together they went to the stable. Tesshu marched up to the wild horse, grabbed it by the tail and started yanking it hard. Tesshu’s friends all dived for cover expecting the horse to buck and kick. Then to all their surprise the horse turned quietly and obediently followed Tesshu.

He explained to his friends “Animals confronted with determination greater than their own immediately submit”. However he later admitted that he had been quite drunk and had felt a bit braver than usual.

Tesshu’s pursuit of Kendo and enlightenment knew no bounds.

As well as a great teacher and swordsman, Tesshu had even played a role in the modernisation of Japan, employed by the Tokugawa government before the restoration, he subsequently was taken in the direct employ of the emperor.
© Read more in the WIKIPEDIA

© Shinjinkai
Painting of Daruma by Tesshu

......................... Haiku by Tesshu

Tightening my abdomen
Against the pain-----
The caw of a morning crow.

腹痛や fukutsu ya
苦しき中に kurushiki naka ni
あけからす akekarasu

© Budo haiku / Aoi Tokugawa


The Truth of the Ancient Ways:
A Critical Biography of the
Swordsman Yamaoka Tesshu

Anatoliy Anshin

... documents the life of famous Japanese swordsman Yamaoka Tesshu and his historical role in the end of the Tokugawa era. Written for martial arts practitioners and those interested in Japanese culture and history, Anshin draws from his doctorate dissertation to create the first critical biography on Tesshu over 120 years after his death in 1888.

Among practitioners of Japanese martial arts both in Japan and overseas, there is hardly a person who does not know the name of Tesshu. According to the author, Tesshu was not only famous for his martial arts skills, he was also known for his calligraphy and his pursuit of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism. Despite this, for over a century Tesshu’s figure was buried under numerous anecdotes and mythical stories, presenting a contrasting combination of broad popularity with the absence of critical biographies and a lack of verified data.

Based on scrupulous investigation of primary and secondary sources, Anshin’s book shows that Tesshu’s whole life was an uncompromising quest for authentic Japanese swordsmanship, which had been practically lost by his time. Anshin further analyzes how this quest eventually led Tesshu to play the central role in the bloodless surrender of Edo Castle – one of the most important events in the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Looking at everything, from the beginning and development of Tesshu’s thoughts and belief systems to establishing his own swordsmanship school called Itto Shoden Muto-ryu, Anshin chronologically highlights Tesshu’s dramatic life path. This path mirrors the centuries-old cultural history of the Japanese warrior class, the samurai and its martial arts.
source : www.prnewschannel.com



Calligraphy, Haiku and Daruma



Anonymous said...

doumo arigatougozaimasu. I like Tesshu. good infomation of Tesshu. i enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

According to Neal Dunnigan, in his
book "Zen Stories of the Samurai" (Lulu Enterprises, Inc., North Carolina, 2005), the above-quoted haiku was Tesshu's death poem:

"Tesshu died from stomach cancer, in the year 1888, at the age of fifty-three. On the day before he died, Tesshu noticed that there
were no sounds of training to be heard from his dojo. When Tesshu was told that the students had canceled training to be with him in his last hours, he ordered them to return to the dojo saying, "Training
is the only way to honor me!"

Tesshu's last moments before his death were classical. First he composed his death poem, then he sat in zazen until he died.

Tightening my abdomen
against the pain.
The caw of a morning crow."


I have a book, "Samurai Painters," by Stephen Addiss and G. Cameron Hurst III (Kodansha, 1983), in which there is a painting by Tesshu of a skull, similar to this:


only the one in my book is brushed with a much thicker, darker line, and the skull eyesockets look more hollow and have a more haunted expression. The skull looks less alive. The inscription on the painting of the skull in the book says:

"There is nothing more auspicious than this."

And Tesshu is mentioned in "Cluster 13: A View of the Fuji" of Ad G. Blankestijn's "Haiku Stones" series:

"It was an Edo sword master who in the new Meiji era became [a] politician, Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888), who collected money to restore the temple, that people now called after him: Tesshuji."


There is a lot on the internet about Tesshu!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Gabi:

This one is simply terrific! One only has to experience pain once to understand how well the crow's caw fits.
The imagery is perfect.
The calligraphy is very well done!


Gabi Greve said...

摩尼山 Manizan 吉祥院 Kissho-In 隆全寺 Ryuzen-Ji
台東区元浅草2-1-14 / Taitō ward, Motoasakusa, 2 Chome−1−14 Tokyo
In the compound is a stone memorial in honor of the Yamabushi priest 普寛 Fukan.
The calligraphy on the stone is by Yamaoka Tesshu 山岡鉄舟.