K540 Sword by Yamaoka Tesshū 山岡鉄舟

kenjutsu no
okugi o fukaku
tazunureba
sumie ni kakishi
matsukaze no oto
Tesshū Kōhō

Asking for the
Inner secret of kenjutsu
Is like asking me
To brush on an ink painting
The sound of wind in the pines.
松風の音
尋ぬれバ墨絵にか起し
剱術の奥義を深く
鉄舟高歩書
Yamaoka Tesshū (山岡鉄舟, 1836-1888)
K540 hanging scroll, sumi on paper 131.4 cm × 51.4 cm

This appears to be an unique Tesshū Zenga. Normally, Tesshū brushed hundreds of copies of the same theme but here it is clear that the the person seeking the secret of swordsmanship was sitting next to Tesshū. “If you want to know the secret of swordsmanship I will paint it for you.” Tesshū brushed the sword but the secret was not spelled out—that is like trying “to draw the sound of the wind in the pines.” That expression comes from a poem by Ikkyū:

The mind—
What can we say?
It is like the sound of
The wind in the pines
Brushed on an ink painting.

The secret of swordsmanship is tangible but not concrete. This large scroll is a big visual swordsmanship koan. Due to the unusual placement of the seals—the one on the bottom (“foster the spirit”) is usually put on the top—it is highly likely that Tesshū placed the seals on the painting himself. (Normally, his disciples would seal all of the works after the session had been completed.) All in all, this is an unusual and important Tesshū Zenga.