(The quotes interspersed are from The Book of the Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi’s great work on the philosophy of life as he understood them through budo and martial arts training.)
“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”
My first sword was a toy, a child-sized plastic samurai style sword from Disney. It was white with a black tsuba (hand guard) and a purple hand wrap, single strand, knot secured. It had a black sheath with two golden stickers near the top and bottom. The stickers were round and had a flower mon.
My bro got one too; his featured a red hand wrap but was otherwise identical. All the swords probably had the same mon, but we didn’t know this. We interpreted our matching mon, as 5 and 6-year-old boys, to be a divine sign that we were meant to be brothers – for even randomly we chose the same family. We would both turn our sheaths with the shiny gold stickers facing up, fully displayed with a straight arm, and we would nod solemnly together.
Anytime a movie came on that had a sword fight sequence in it, bro and I would rush upstairs to retrieve our “swords” and [try to] act out the sequence. The sword fights frequently ended with one of us clutching at our fingers, and our knuckles would be bruisedo. Bright boys that we were, we sacrificed some of our perceived realism for not having deformed fingers as adults. The fights needed to be choreographed.
“You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”
The opening sequence was bro jumping out and posing while announcing his nom-de-guerre “Best of the West!” I would then run up to him and say mine “Beast of the East!” and we would proceed with an awful clanging, jumping and ducking somewhat unnecessarily, but mostly still just wild sword swinging. The clanging and laughing would usually attract my mom’s attention, and it took little time for her to put a stop to her boys swinging metal sticks at each other.
As luck would have it, my mom found a community fencing club that was very affordable and free for kids. I had asked my mom to let me learn a Chinese or Japanese style because I liked their swords better, but I was happy fencing too.
Eventually, as I got older, I would save my money for a nice Belgian pistol grip bad boy that I took to high school competition (foil). I had a Visconti, but by the end of high school, my fingers felt cramped on it, and I let a friend use it. I had a French grip that I practiced with too.
Eventually I stopped because I wasn’t good enough to compete in college – nor did I really have the desire. It was fun but the flame of that passion had blown out. In 2003, I started training Aikiken, and I got really into it (as well as the empty hand analog, Aikido).
This is a short segment of Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the style I study.
The style is apparently deadly against attacking pumpkins too (5 sec. exerpt clip).
“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.
I studied it assiduously. I spent spare time training on the roof, in a yard, or a park. I studied the Book of the Five Rings and the Art of Peace. Before long, I was influenced by a desire to have a style responsive to the smaller but quicker European blades. I started merging the kata forms into a more free flowing style, and into a more personal style.
It took me longer than decade of aching shoulders and burning forearms to study the forms only to figure out the lesson was “forget the forms”. But as with many things, the lesson had to be learned in the practice.
Yours truly in the park training.
“To know ten thousand things, know one well”
“Do not sleep under a roof. Carry no money or food. Go alone to places frightening to the common brand of men. Become a criminal of purpose. Be put in jail, and extricate yourself by your own wisdom.”