Keeping Your Edge
©1996 Kendall Kelsoe
Whenever I have the pleasure to meet fellow arms and armor devotees, I am quick to offer my professional services. It took awhile to get used to the ones who were martial artists, taught classes in swordsmanship, yet not one of them owned a sharp sword. There were others who paid me to take the edge and point off a replica Katana (Samurai sword) to "make it safe". I would offer advice to no avail.
A Kung Fu teacher I know of was shocked at how "heavy" a real sword was when a friend of mine brought the one I gave him to her class. She taught a class on Chinese swordsmanship, but had never seen a real one before. Here are some thoughts to consider... Anyone who studies a martial art that includes edged weaponry should own both "live steel" and training replicas that approximate each other. In Japan, Bushi (warriors) trained with a hardwood version of their swords called Bokken. This tool was used for both training waza (techniques) and, in some cases, actual combat. Bushi would also make use of the Suburito, a Bokken that weighed at least twice as much as a real Katana. The Suburito was employed to strengthen a novice warrior's grip and stamina.
Other cultures throughout history have used techniques similar to this. Ancient Roman soldiers drilled and marched using wooden versions of their Gladius (Roman short sword) and Scutum (shield) that weighed twice as much as the real things.
Nowadays, modern martial artists also have a new version of the Katana that is cast in Zinc or Aluminum and cannot hold an edge. These training swords allow the student to practice his or her Iaijutsu (fast draw and cutting technique) skills without the consequences of serious injury. I recommend this type of sword instead of rendering a tempered steel blade impotent. The metaphorical parallels to a practitioner's skills and how sharp and well - maintained his weapons were are worth examining.
In the Austin Bujinkan Tanemaki Dojo, we encourage newcomer's to avoid trying anything that looks too risky for them. I abhor peer pressure. We do not poke fun at anyone for not wanting to experience a Nage Waza (throwing technique) or Ryu Otoshi (dragon drop) before they learn Ukemi (breakfalls). Indeed, I personally respect a person's intelligence for knowing their own limitations. At the same time, there is a realm that many readers of this article understand well. This realm is known by any serious student who "goes for it". When I first began studying Ninpo, I learned to endure being thrown on the ground very hard for two hours at a time. Since I am 6', 6" tall, I make a good Uke (he who receives the waza).
If a smaller, weaker student can learn how to throw and pin a giant with ease, he or she can confidently throw just about anyone. However, this knowledge has cost me dearly. I suffer from chronic injuries incurred from training with partners whose knowledge was greater than their skill. But to me, this is more than worth what I paid a hundred fold. Nothing holds my interest if it is too easy or boring. I thrive on challenges, and while I'm not always up to all of them, I have a deep personal sense of satisfaction when I succeed. I have a strong sense of respect for the ultimate truth.
As a large number of you know, it takes a large amount of effort and dedication to be really good at anything. Those of you who were brave and tenacious enough to take the risks and the pain involved in learning a martial skill know what I'm talking about. You are the few that "go for it". When I want to know whether or not a technique is effective, I ask to be the Uke. If your Tori (he who will defeat) is skilled, he or she can demonstrate a technique without injury to you. A good Uke just has to trust his instructor. Accidents can happen, but reasonable care can go a long way to avoid them. Just like the care and maintenance of a steel sword requires dedication, so do your skills in martial arts.