Reminiscing

Against my better judgement, I decided to go through a drawer filled with old assignments from high school to make room for my new swords on my desk. (I have a new wooden iaito- a blade used to practice drawing in iaido.) Anyway, being the nostalgic fool that I am, I went through each one and sorted them into piles of things to keep and things to throw out. And there’s one thing I learned from spending an hour going through all those: I haven’t changed a bit. Sure I know some new words (and have forgotten some, like ‘glib’) and my experiences of the world have broadened, but at heart I still have the same attitudes. My writing style hasn’t really changed at all over the past six years. While some might consider that slightly depressing, that says to me that I matured at an early age and kind of plateaued out. While the majority of my growth has slown, I’m still building on my experiences year by year (crystallised information, I think?) and becoming a more informed citizen of earth.

What I do admire about my high school years was the ridiculous lengths I went to to praise The Legend of Zelda. Going through those assignments, I’ve found tiny references to LoZ in bizarre and blatant places. In Year 8, I wrote an anthology of poems about the Zelda universe, writing haikus about the races of Hyrule and alliterative poems about the Mastersword. In every single piece of work I did for my Year 8 Art and Design course, I stuck a Triforce, or Kaepora Gaebora, or some small symbol from Zelda like Link’s earring. In woodworks and systems tech, everything I built was a tribute to Zelda, from the coloured handle of a dustpan (representing the stages of progression in Link’s quest for the elemental medallions) to a boardgame called The Struggle for Power (where one rolls in order to collect Triforce pieces before Ganon does). In an assignment I did in Year 9 Society and Environment, for multicultural music I put a picture of the Official Sound Track, and for videogames, of the opening screen.

But my absurdity extends further than extolling the greatest game of all time. I made references like using Savage Garden coverart because they were so close to me. The border of one of my assignments was a design Ivy made. In one project or another, the first letters of the first three paragraphs were I-V-Y. The spelling test I gave Jack to give to the Year 12 English class, headed by erudite Michael Mueller, was an acrostic for LORD XIN. I found a note in the drafts of one of my assignments that said "Knowing my luck my group won’t even be presenting today. But here I am doing it at 5:33am anyway".
In the essay plan for one of my Year 10 English essays opened with the words: "I’m screwed. Screwed like a whore on crack. RAR."
In my Year 11 chemistry exams, I wrote about an elephant that could walk on walls and praised the god of goat cheese when chemical A was added to chemical B. A Year 9 wordslueth revealed hidden words like "Septimus", one of my favourite flash animators, "DP", "XIN", "wwwnewgroundscom", "Raven" (or possibly "Nevar")…

In my defence, high school was a crazy place. I found ways of letting out the insanity. I wonder, if I went through all the work I did in those years, if I would continue to find trails that only I recognised the significance of, or had the context to unravel. I’m quite proud of myself for instilling esoteric symbols in my work, not for the sake of being stupid, but to store a part of my identity in my writing.
In a way, I miss those days, when six hours of sleep was all you got, and back-to-back classes for six hours was just the progression of a normal day. Then again, if I returned to high school, I’d probably be removed just as quickly for all the casualties that would spontaneously occur around me when people started screaming like apes or walking around with their pants around their knees. It was tough, but with good company, still somehow amongst the best times of my life.

Returning to Zero

Last night I had a mini-breakdown at Mugai Ryu. It was a fantastic lesson, focusing wholly on the sword. We did an eight-directional movement, practiced cutting for the first time (much to perfect have I), did simple drills for evading and counter-cutting and basically learned how to wield a sword. My left-leg started shaking uncontrollably whenever I straightened it and put weight on it, which was odd but faded after a few hours. As long as I kept it bent in a low stance it was fine. My injured knee limited my movement slightly, but I pretty much forgot about it once I got into the swing of things.

The breakdown occurred during the last of the drills. The exercise was simple- Person A attacks by raising their sword to cut down upon Person B’s head. Before they can cut, Person B steps forward, thrusting their sword in Person A’s face/throat/vital spots to make them hesitate, then cuts from their solar plexus to their hip and steps out of sword-range. This is the movement- the dance, almost- of swordplay, and I have no problem with learning the art of killing someone. What I did have a problem with was thrusting my sword forward to make the person hesitate. This part of the exercise was crucial- it had to be filled with intent. Simply pointing your blade at the person half-heartedly wouldn’t make them stop- you had to show with all your energy that you were willing to and about to hurt them in a very serious way. I was having trouble with this. Andrew, my partner, was encouraging me, showing me what I was doing wrong- standing too close, not moving fluidly enough, not cutting in the right areas, not posing a threat etc. It felt as if I was always doing something wrong, and eventually I felt this negativity towards him. If he wanted intent, I’d show him intent- I blasted him with the energy that said "I am about to stab you through the throat". And that’s an awful feeling. You never want to do that to a living creature, especially one you consider a friend. And when I finally did it right, and Kaneda-sensei praised me, I felt sick. It had drained all my strength and I felt so weak.

I carried that sickness with me during the warm-down, deciding to debrief after class and tell Kaneda how I was feeling. Kaneda acknowledged it- this is swordsmanship. This is martial art. It involves hurting people. And I think I only just realised that fully tonight. What we learn is how to damage other living creatures in significant way. The techniques we practice are not only to defend ourselves, but to harm, cripple and even kill. That life is precious, and this is why we must always be aware of the consequences of our actions. And that is some very serious shit to carry. I couldn’t imagine ever training properly with Beth- I could never extend those feelings towards her.
But Kaneda went on to say that, in this training hall, we do not wish to harm each other. We help each other learn by simulating a real-world environment. That intent to hurt people is very harmful, but only if you carry it with you. If you exude the negative energy, everyone around you is affected by it. But in training, we start at zero. We are blank, empty, full of nothing. Then, in an instant, we demonstrate our power. Then it is over, and once more we return to nothing. I thought at first he was referring to stance- start in chudan, end in chudan. But his teaching went to a much deeper level- there is no animosity between us. I am here to learn. Person B, Andrew, accepts that. He receives my intent and my cuts, and he knows it is only for an instant. Then, we are friends again. Like an elastic band, once it snaps, it returns to its shape, perfect.

In short, I must accept the gravity of the arts I learn. I must never seriously use them without heavy reason, and then I must accept the consequences of my actions. But for training, I must remember that although I learn how to harm, it is only practice, and then only for an instant, before it is dissolved in my well of calmness and compassion. It is lingering hatred that causes pain.

Heavy stuff. I think I need a cupcake and some sunshine before I train again :)

ESP

A lot of what Kaneda-sensei teaches is about the flow of energy. Resisting the flow is damaging: accepting the flow is inconvenient at worst. One thing that amazed me in tonight’s class was his sensitivity to the energy around him. We were learning a simple reaction technique- someone grabs you from the side, you respond by moving away and upwards, without tensing. But Kaneda didn’t need to do even that- he could sense his partner’s intent before the grab came. To demonstrate, he stood facing us, eyes closed. His partner stood to his side and went to grab Kaneda’s wrist, and without batting an eyelash he lifted his hand out of reach. He did this multiple times in different scenarios- he could feel what was about to happen.

I learned that I have this ability too. Not nearly to Kaneda-sensei’s proficiency, but most people are born with it. We know when someone is standing behind us. We can feel them watching us. We know we’re about to walk into a pole the moment before we collide with it even when we’re not looking at it. It is this awareness that we are encouraged to expand- to feel all that happens around us, to broaden our senses and be aware.

Even more amazing is that after many years of experience, Kaneda can connect with people in such a profound way he can put ideas into their head, if you can describe it so. Rather, he puts into their mind intention. He wills them to do something and they are tempted to do it, against explanation. He can draw a person’s attack from them by willing them to move in a certain way. Even more interesting is Malcolm, a long-term fencer for Australia, has expanded his awareness so that he knows when Kaneda is doing it.

Such powerful men… More time on this I must meditate.

Rebel Empire

Last night I attended my first session of Mugai Ryu. As I understand it, this is a traditional Japanese art taught to the samurai to defend themselves with not only their swords, but unarmed and with a variety of weapons. Suffice to say, I have never enjoyed any martial art more and intend to continue going for as long as they do.

I had my first official lesson in rolling (left, right and backwards), holding and cutting with a sword (where I broke Bethwyn’s bokken! I felt so awful and yet kind of proud- must have been a good cut, right?), the soft art of accepting rather than resisting, and how to free my sword from someone’s skull in case I need it quickly. I know, right? Awesome. But not in your flippant "Oh my God, I’m learning how to kill people" awesome. Awesome as in, this is an art which has been cultivated over hundreds of years to teach one how to defend oneself in the most perfect way possible. Kaneda-sensei is the purest spirit and one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. I get the impression that he has experienced deep suffering in his personal life, and as a result he has no place in his heart for hurtful people or idiots. But for those who he does let in, I believe he has incredible love for them. His whole life has been dedicated to bushido- not just theĀ  martial arts, but its code for life. He is, in every sense of the word, a great warrior. And the application of what he teaches is not just to defend from a punch or a sword cut, but how to live. I have great respect for him- more than I have had for anyone I have ever known.

Mugai Ryu is, at the moment, very close to my heart. I’m very keen to spend my poverty days studying under his wisdom.