Benefits and Thoughts of the Sword
I’ve noticed that I’m much more able to visualize the realistic functions and limitations of swords as used historically for self defense or war due to my training with both blunt edged iaito katanas and shinken/sharp katanas. The maintenance of sword steel is indistinguishable from the maintenance and cleaning of a gun, down to the exact oils used to prevent rust. Although obviously one doesn’t need solvents to clean gunpowder residue. However, the sword often gets stained or blemished due to nicks, scratches, and other stuff in the target (blood, vegetable sap, etc). Modern cleaners from Metal Glo and the micro cloth from Miracle Cloth, are a very convenient answer to this ancient issue. Gives me more time to appreciate the hamon on my sharp katana.
In the morning light, tipping the edge up and facing me, while I look from the base of the hilt to the tip of the sword, the light glances off the blade geometry in a way like liquid mercury or water.
As for what I’ve learned from maintenance, it really gives me a sense of what people back then used their time on: polishing, sharpening, or cleaning their swords. It also gives me a noted appreciation for the various different ways people figured out how to carry the scabbard. If it isn’t tied to the belt or body tightly, it can go flying off or otherwise obstruct the body’s movements. Sheathing a sword without looking down at the scabbard, for Japanese katanas, is also interesting and makes noted use of “sensitivity”, much like Wing Chun or internal Chinese martial arts. This gives me a lot more “visualization” power when imagining the circumstances of historical individuals.
Physically, the exercise of cutting air with the sword builds my wrist, forearm, and shoulder strength in a way that is much more interesting and realistic than weight training. Although I often switch to my iaito for complete glycogen exhaustion courses. My body kinesthetic and awareness is sufficient to feel the tip and blade of the sword, much like my hand, and thus I can stop it from touching my own body, without having to use my eyes to check. However, that doesn’t necessarily apply when I’m tired.
It’s a very different appreciation and feeling in knowing something theoretically from actually physically gaining the methods and skills other people have described. The process is very different. One might call it the difference between classroom-book theoretical knowledge and hands on field knowledge. There’s a stronger sense of identity when I learn things from doing, since that knowledge is mine and not something “I was told” in a book or by a speaker. This is often the cause of education dysfunction in cultures like the West.
The mental training is also quite stretching on the horizons of the mind’s eye. Having to send my intent and will past my finger tips and to the tip of a sword that I can only gauge through feeling, requires far greater dexterity, touch sensitivity, and mental focus than simply exerting power and transferring it into a punch on a heavy bag. A person that cannot exert power transfer to their hands in bare handed fighting, may rely on weapons to shore up what they are missing, but that’s very unlike a person that uses a weapon merely as another tool to extend powers and abilities they already have bare handed. When a weapon becomes part of a user’s body, one uses it much like one uses a hand to swat out mosquitoes.
A lot of Americans already buy swords for backyard recreational cutting, with or without any Eastern traditional training. There are also Western trained individuals, trained in ARMA or SCA based off of extinct Western fencing styles and their manuals, that do the same thing. These hobbyists are often targeted through sword manufacturer’s advertisements, such as Cold Steel’s aggressive video test cutting campaign. I do think that there are even more Americans that have the interest, but lack either the idea that they can train in such fields or the motivation to start. Many I’ve found are interested, if only because it is an “exotic field”, but few have the willpower to take the first steps on the road to knowledge.
Ending on the point of Western decadence: history is boring to many American students because their knowledge isn’t really knowledge. It’s just some rote memorization of dates and events that impact them not. When they are required to actually show skill to pair with their comprehension of the theoretical data, males are usually hooked right then and there. As Western civilization has moved more and more away from “hands on learning”, decadence has corrupted all aspects of Western life and culture. That’s pretty sad; when high school and college students tell me that they loved the movie 300 about the Spartans at Thermopylae, yet find “Ancient Greek and European history boring”, the cause is very obvious. The less supply there is of martial theory and knowledge, the greater the demand there will be amongst American youth.
P.S. A word of warning. If you don’t have sufficient body kinesthetics or skill, don’t buy a sharp sword and swing it around. Even an iaito or bokken in the hands of the untrained and careless, will result in injuries one way or another. Stories of people playing around and hitting some guy in the eye with the bokken do exist. Other stories of people who cut off their ear or hacked into their leg, also exist. I don’t ever tell people this in person, least they get the wrong idea, but I treat the iaito as a lethal weapon, because I know how to use it as one. I’ve also impacted and cut through small plant branches, about the width of one’s ring finger. They break like chopsticks against the blunted edge of the iaito. The point is also sharp enough that I can stab straight through the aluminum on soda cans using only a medium level of force. Your stomach and skin won’t be any harder. Half the people in a kenjutsu dojo I go to, are not yet at the level to graduate to the blunt edged steel sword. Either they are reckless and uncoordinated as teenagers, or lacking in the sense and moderation to control their movements as adults.