The sword rules

All Martial Arts that are “complete” in their structure, have depth of principals and techniques and, finally, have sufficient historical background, are sword based. A Martial Art of such kind does not merely include swordsmanship in its practice, but literally… stands on it.
For example: The Chinese Art of Wing Chung cooperate two short swords widely known as “butterfly”. It is no wonder that this Art is characterized by its short, compact, economic and well combined moves and techniques, which are a result of simultaneous use of two sort swords.
Also the Art of Tai Chi, mostly known (as in wrongly known) only as a peaceful practice for… elderly people in parks, is a formidable Art. Many of its graceful and elegant moves are based on the long double edged Wu-Jian sword.
The connection between Aikido and the Japanese sword is inevitable, since Aikido is a direct descendant of the Samurai Arts. For a Samurai the sword was considered to be his very soul, and he would actually give a name to it.

Today, with both feet on the ground and clear logic in our heads, one must see the true role of this weapon from the past. The katana, as a practicing tool, is nothing less than a compass and guide that keeps the Art from deteriorating. An Art is only as good as the people that carry it on. But history has proven that all times are not equal, and Masters differ in expressing their Art’s application according to… many things. Thus, the Arts tend to decline. Sword practice with a live blade can prevent that. A sword is absolute! You cannot unload it, there is no safety trigger on it, and it cuts even while lying on the floor, simply because you touched it. In effect, its use demands a seriousness and equal absoluteness on our part… In return the sword becomes a catalyst, a measure of its Art! Any Art…
Practicing Japanese swordsmanship is pure joy, whatever the “school” (ryu) you are in… well, at least until you have the sufficient experience in order to move into a choice.
Repetition and time makes the sword an extension of yourself, in a unique relationship that has no equal. The outcome of practicing with a katana (always in accord of a wise choice of “school”) is an accumulation of Martial skill that will “stay with you” even when you are without your sword!

This solitude “affair” between man and weapon, creates the need and anticipation to practice as soon again, in order to improve and hone your skill, but it is also a meditation like practice, in which you can measure up yourself on “how can you perform today” on all levels, physically, mentally and so on and so forth…
Even when surrounded by many other students in practice “the Art of drawing the sword” is mostly a solitary act. This of course happens due to the nature of the sword that is nothing less than a lethal weapon. Practicing with it takes extreme caution and attentiveness at all times.

As one grows in his Art he realizes that apart from a Sensei, that is guiding you and apart from attending a Dojo, that is the home for all practitioners, experience gained comes from within. You practice, you push yourself and improvement comes as if it was already inside you. And if you figure out how to push yourself in this direction, you become self-reliant, “self-taught” and probably very good in what you do!
End of good news!

A wise... bucket
Among many other talents, skills and education, my Sensei was a qualified engineer. He would literally un-screw his car engine, down to the last part of it and throw the entire… thing randomly into buckets! Then, to my amazement, he would re-assemble it in no time. Now hear this: In order to regain his bits and pieces of the engine, he never looked twice in the same bucket, he was that good!
So, I took it on myself to “follow up” with him (a polite way to state that I was competing with him every step of the way) and I found a way to go round mechanics and do what was natural to me. I drove faster than him… This was easier said than done, because he himself drove like a maniac and I always could sense that he was ahead of me. But driving was no bucket full of screws, so I made sure to prove that this was my field…
Nevertheless, he could laugh it up every time I called him on the phone admitting that: “I am in the middle of nowhere and something is wrong with my car, can you come over?” Lesson of the day, in the end Sensei will have the last word…

So, I might have been developing my driving skills, but I was not far from the point where finding the hole at the gas station in order to refill, was my highlight mechanical achievement…     

Driving skill comes with mileage, pushing your limits and practice. And the more you drive the more you improve. Until it comes natural to you and evolve as you go. And you can become really good at it!
But this cannot help you the moment of a mechanical failure… You open the hood and just stand there…

Something equivalent happens when it’s time to ask the question “what sword is the right choice for me?” This is where good news end!
Drawing, re-sheathing, executing forms and cutting, is like driving. Driving, literally `takes you to places and metaphorically speaking, the Art of the sword does “take you to places” as well.
But choosing a sword is like a bucket full of screws and parts, waiting to be re-assembled again! And you can look at the bucket aaaall day long, and it still doesn’t make sense. You can drive a car, you can wield a sword, but what do you do with a… bucket? No, no, don’t stir it, it only becomes worse!

The entire approach in choosing a sword is that of a good… mechanic. You will need to know everything from scratch, on history, on metallurgy, on the sword market as it is today, and you will need to be doubtful about everything, until you check, double-check and re-check again your info. For all this you will need books, magazines, create a fat file of info printed from the Internet, and stay bookmarked on those sites that can teach you something. The only problem is that you will need to understand correctly all that info and reading that kind of stuff is no joy ride!

This is a realm that has little or nothing to do with our standard everyday practice, which takes us a step further. We will have to deal it with a different approach.
The solutions to a right sword choice are at the end of a long trail of equations and numbers, which I am only too happy to skip here all together, since my intent was and remains to prompt and “provoke”… (the Internet is more than full with info on this, than anyone can handle)
When all cards are finally on the table (including homework) and things start to make sense, you will never come up with an exact figure that will pinpoint “your” sword. Instead you will always come up with an approximate estimating, telling you in general where it is the right place to land.

Two more problems on the “sword-choice” that are raising the bar a bit higher:

“Ask your Sensei” is one of them. It comes highly recommended everywhere and it is understandable…
Of course one should ask his Sensei, he knows you best (sometimes even better than you know yourself) and he also stands at the best spot, between you and the “school” of swordsmanship he represents. “Ask your Sensei” works for me, too! Since students that are under my guide won’t find me as pleasant, if they do whatever comes to their heads! 
But let me ask this: Who was the one choosing your Sensei in the first place? And under what criteria was that? And “what if” you would like to move on, to another Dojo maybe or to another ryu as well!?
Back to square one, aren’t we?
(Note: In Aikido this problem appears more often, and is better understood, since there is a “free” choice of ryu, regarding swordsmanship)

There is one last piece of the puzzle to be taken under consideration, but if you do, you will probably have to “deal” cards again. It is called value for money. This one was/is my own personal favorite… torment (you can include car issues as well)
I have a beyond measure detest for anything that is expensive, overprized and above all, un-necessary. When it comes to a katana I even find the remark “investment” insulting. The sword is a piece of weapon, period. And as such, it becomes a matter of principal that it should not exceed a certain cost! The only problem here is can one hold back?!

Becoming “one with your sword” comes not without drawbacks. Emotion might be the practitioner’s “soft spot” in buying a sword. Every time it is time for me to have my next one, I become jumpy like a nervous cat.    

The prior to the Internet times were… terrible (to say the least) regarding the sword market. Nowadays things are far better, but the market is cunning! Today’s choice could be tomorrow’s avoidance. So, to put up here an address, a brand or a company, means little…
The best way to approach this, the best advice that will last trough time is to grab yourself… a bucket!

July 25, 2008