Tokuhon and the Sword Master

Boat is rudder,
Fan is pivot
Then Ojo is what?
Namua Amida Butsu
And unshakable faith.
by Tokuhon Gypka (1745-1825)


In the beginning of Bunka period(1804-1818), there was a master of Kendo or Way of Sword, named Terada Goemon (also called Terada Muneari) (1745-1825) who founded “Tenshin Ittoryu Style” in the domain of the Lord Takasaki Clan. He was so impressed with a short poem above by Tokuhon Gyoja and encouraged his men to practice Nenbutsu.


One of his students named “Shirai Toru (1783-1843)” who later became an unparalleled sword master but when he was under training, he seemed to boasted his commandment of the sword after visiting many Dojos. Master Terada instantly saw his arrogance and ordered him to go to see Tokuhon.

Shirai Toru was unsatisfied with what his master ordered because he thought Tokuhon was not a sword master but just a priest.


At that time, Tokuhon was staying at Katsuo-ji Temple in Setsu (Osaka) and observing a special Nenbutsu practice. It was on the 15th when Shirai went to see Tokuhon, he was in the midst of preaching. Shirai instantly felt dignity and unusual inner power of Tokuhon and couldn’t do anything except leaving.


On the next day, Shrai Toru requested to see Tokuhon formally and introduced himself politely as follows; “I’m a student of Master Terada Goemon who ordered me to go to see you and hear your teaching. I’d very much appreciate if you could share good teaching about improving my way of sword.”


Then Tokuhon showed him smile and said, “I am just a Nenbutsu practitioner. I don’t know anything about way of sword. All I know is to practice Nenbtutsu and to attain the birth in the Pure Land. Why don’t you recite Nenbutsu for your own future.” As soon as Tokuhon said to Shirai, Tokuhon turned back to face Amida Buddha and started chanting Namu Amida Butsu by hitting a Sho-bell.


Shirai was so impressed by Tokuhon’s no doubt about his action. By staring at Tokuhon’s chanting of Nenbutsu, all of sudden, Shirai fully realized the depth of Kendo.


Later Shirai recalled this moment of awakening and told his men, “When I once saw Tokuhon chanting Nenbutsu with just a small hitting stick of the bell, his inner power so called “Ki” looked as if he was confronting thousands of enemies. Yet, he didn’t show any hesitation and carelessness in Chanting Nenbutsu.


This story reminds me of Nakajima Atsushi’s famous novel called “Meijin-den” or “The legend of the Master.” This is an amazing short story how a young man became a legend of master Archery by learning archery of no archery.


I think Shirai realized the existence of ultimate way of the sword that doesn’t require a sword. While having a sword, one is attached to the sword more or less and one cannot think out of the box. However by holding no sword or by leaving the sword, one can attain free mind that is far from the attachment. Just like the best words must be far from words, the best way of sword is that not used.