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 :)

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