There's a chapter from John Steven's great book, "The Sword of No Sword; The Life of the Master Warrior Tessu" in Calligraphy Manual 4.
arguably the greatest swordsman of japan, arguably the greatest calligrapher, one of the 3 great statesman of his age, singlehandedly saved his country from civil war, attained enlightenment at the age of 35. good resume
Indefagible. An astounding life.
Japan was on the verge of civil war. Saigo was at the head of 30,000 samurai opposing the Emporer, who was staging a coup. War was inevitable. Saigo set up an array of impregnable checkpoints, manned by his best samurai with orders to let no one through, so that no enemy emissaries would reach him. Tessu, at the time, was a top advisor and Sumo instructor to Emporer Meiji. Tessu, by the force of his indomitable will, walked past each one and walked into Saigo's tent. Saigo was flabbergasted. "Didn't you see any checkpoints on your way here?" Tessu answered, "Yes, they were very impressive." Tessu was able to secure peace. Three years later, Saigo and a puny force of 3,000 Samurai, with the government's forces massively strengthened, were slaughtered in the final showdown.
He used to walk for miles and miles. He would often encounter bandits, but they could never keep up with him.
He would practice swordsmanship in the mornings, do calligraphy in the afternoons, sometimes creating thousands of pieces for one philanthropy or another and practice Zazen in the evenings. He practiced Zen for years and years, many hours every night. He was feeling and joking that he had not much to show for it. The only sign that was apparent was that if he looked up at a rat scurrying across the ceiling, it would drop dead. He called it my rat killing zen. He attained enlightenment at the age of 35.
He is estimated to have produced over 6 million calligraphies.
Although he was usually desperately broke, he never accepted payment for a calligraphy, giving them all away as charity for noble causes, although he would sometimes brush IOU's knowing people would prefer to keep them rather than redeeming them.
He said "What can you not accomplish if you put your mind to it."
He said, "Don't worry about food and clothes or passing these things on to your descendants, who will surely waste them, practice secret virtue." (paraphrased)
Tessu died fairly young of stomach cancer.
His death verse was,
"Tightening my abdomen
against the pain--
The caw of a morning crow."
The Abbot Gasan said, "What a magnificent death verse"--When the crow flew past and cried out, Tessu was hemorraging, his stomach eaten away by his cancer--those two events filled the cosmos.
Tekisui composed his memorial verse for his funeral:
Sword and Brush poised between the Absolute
and the Relative,
His loyal courage and noble strength pierced the Heavens.
A dream of fifty-three years,
Enveloped by the pure fragrance of a lotus
blooming in the midst of a roaring fire.
His wish was to retire and devote himself to Shako, copying the Buddhist sutras. He had a fantastic goal of tens of thousands of pages. It is a highly regarded practice, and as a source of immeasurable merit.
Practice painting the Dharma, my friends. There is simply nothing better.