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Cutting Class

Ahhh. There’s nothing like a good sword-slinger movie set in a historic and/or fanciful Asian world. Any Kurosawa film belongs on the list. My favorites include Seven Samurai, Red Beard, and After the Rain. I also love Hero, The Twilight Samurai, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers. And then there’s my very long list of to-be-watched films! Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, the Rurouni Kenshin series, The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi to name a few. 

Marathon movie nights are one of the perks I can appreciate in this turbulent time of Coronavirus and social isolation. For a few (or many) hours each night, I can put on a movie and escape reality. I can marvel at the poise and dexterity of the blade-wielding combatants. I can drool over the swirling, jabbing, chiming sword dance. When the desire to escape fades, inspiration warms into action. Watching these films spurs me to get out my own training weapons — the bokken and jo — and start swinging.

The ongoing pandemic seems like an undefeated, heavyweight boxer landing jaw-quaking, temple-rattling blows in every country across the globe. The shots are relentless and brutal. Jobs, schools, social recreation–the major and minor facets of daily life and subsistence — are impacted. 

In accordance with the many state health regulations, Durango Shin-Budo Kai’s dojo cannot offer our usual indoor Aikido classes with close contact, mat-rolling, wrist-grabbing, and dance-like kokyu-nages.

For me, the closure delivered a seismic shock. I have practiced Aikido three or more nights a week since 2007. It’s a huge part of my life.

Luckily, we were able provide outdoor weapons classes with masks and social distancing. I guess you could say that after we cut class, we started cutting class.

Every Wednesday (5-6pm) and Saturday (9-10am), students join Mark Sensei at Claire Viles Park for a mindful, granular exploration of body movements with our weapons.

Quick aside: I realize “weapons” as either a broad concept or just the specific word can smack of violence for many readers. I want to make clear that what I love about weapons training (and sword-slinger movies) has nothing to do with gratuitous slashing or bloodshed. On the contrary, I grew up so timid and conflict-averse that I experienced soccer or basketball as total melees. I mean, even volleyball came off as waaay too confrontational with its aggressive in-yo-face spikes.

With bokkendo and jodo, I am attracted to the physical poetry that comes with learning to wield a sword or staff. I am also drawn to the deeper, philosophical principles underpinning these arts, which encourage the practitioner to forge her soul as a master metalsmith forges a katana. That is, to perfect a thing that reflects the blazing light of the world and cuts directly to the heart of truth.

It takes 10,000 hours to master something. So goes the old saying. And for good reason, too. Mastery is not easy. Nonetheless, if you’re like me, you probably go into any new hobby or activity expecting instant mastery. 

When I started West Coast Swing dance lessons, I believed that by the end of my intro class, I would attain the cat-silk-sexy moves I saw in YouTube videos.

When I took up mountain biking, I was certain I’d be an epic trail-shredder after devoting a half-day to riding.

The same was true of Aikido. Specifically, my school’s weapons curriculum. I expected:

What I accomplished was more like…

Rest assured, I have improved my dancing, mountain biking, and my weapons skills over time. I have benefited from the fact that the recipe for mastery contains two simple ingredients: dedication and patience.

Or, to paraphrase Sensei Imaizumi (the founder of Shin-Budo Kai), the continuous accumulation of fresh starts. 

Thus, I practice. During class, out of class, regardless of whether or not a class is even scheduled. In a public park or in my front yard (much to the fascination of my neighbors). I generally swing my sticks three times a week for an hour or so, running through the many katas and taisos we must memorize and perform on tests. 

Other times, I just cut. Raise the bokken or jo. Swing it down. Raise it. Lower it. Repeat. Although it seems simple, this fundamental motion is surprisingly complex when I break it down into even smaller fundamental motions. Grip the weapon too tight or too loose and my technique will suffer. Raise or lower the blade mindlessly and my muscles will fatigue before long. Chopping or hacking the stick for a long time can also cause injuries to micro muscles and ligaments.Without mastery, I would wound myself in any blade battle long before my opponent ever took a shot.         

Over the last few weeks, I have become curious: how many days do I need to reach 10,000 cuts?

No doubt, I’ve amassed at least that many cuts in all my years of practice, but honestly, I’ve never counted…until now! It’s my 10,000-Cuts-for-Covid-19 Challenge! And I invite my dojo community (plus any inspired reader) to join me. 

Can you reach 10,000 cuts? How many hours/days/weeks does it take you?

Ready? Set. Practice!

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