The dragon is a mythical creature. In fact, it’s the only mythical creature among the 12 zodiac animals and, for centuries, has been considered to be an embodiment of a deity and the source of all other animals. For many artists specializing in images of the dragon there is a certain dedication and sense of purpose to honor this mythical beast and mighty symbol of good fortune.
In Japan’s Nikko region there exists an artistic tradition known as ippitsuryu: ippitsu (sometimes called hitofude) meaning single-stroke and ryu meaning dragon. It’s a technique, passed down from generation to generation and kept tightly in the family, of creating the flowing, river-like body of the dragon in just a single stroke.
The artist will typically begin by creating a detailed depiction of the head. Once that is completed the artist moves on to the single-stroke-body. Here, the large brush slowly traverses the canvas, making gentle twists and turns, never once being lifted up until the body is complete. Later, the artist goes back and adds details like whiskers and claws.
The current proprietor to the tradition is claimed by Fumiko Takase, the 3rd in the Takase Family. The tradition is carried on by her siblings and she is also training her son. The tradition, however, is not without controversy. Just steps from Takase’s shop and studio in Nikko is another family, the Kousyu Family, who also practices the same tradition.
According to the Takase Family, a member of the Kousyu Family stole the technique several years ago and then opened up shop claiming to be legitimate proprietors. The Takase Family has a detailed account on their website as to how the technique was stolen. They also have a family tree showing the descendants. The Kousyu Family has no mention of this on their website.
Below is a video of Fumiko Takase demonstrating the technique.
Below is a video (there are many on youtube) of the Kousyu Family demonstrating the technique.