Geek of the Week: Swords! (And Other Martial Arts Equipment)

swordLong before I knew I was a writer, I loved fountain pens (real ones, the kind that have a reservoir for ink, not cartridge pens) and all kinds of notebooks. Even today, when I go to the office supply store for printer paper and ink cartridges, I find myself browsing through the notebooks.

This is funny, because I haven’t written anything but notes with pen and paper since I learned to type in high school. I jettisoned my Royal upright typewriter for a correcting Selectric as soon as I could afford it, and bought my first computer (a Kaypro II) in 1983. These days I write fiction on my Mac PowerBook. I love all the improvements in writing tech.

But while I’m looking into the new tablets (iSlate?) coming soon, and frequently fantasize about how to make my life even more high tech,  my most passionate desire is for a tool that’s more than 5,000 years old.

I want a sword.

And not just any sword: I want a Japanese katana, like the ones made by my friend David Goldberg, a Japanese swordsmith and Aikido teacher. Sure, I’d like an ancient Japanese sword, but even my passions have financial limits. And David makes excellent swords.

Understand, I don’t need a sword. It’s not really a useful weapon in this day and age — you can’t really walk down the street wearing a sword, even in locales that allow open carrying of guns. In Aikido weapons training, we use wooden swords — bokken — and even if you want to practice Iaido, the art of drawing the sword, there is a perfectly good tool called an iaito, a sword without the sharp edge. You can’t cut someone in half with an iaito, but you can’t cut off your finger by mistake either.

Among Aikido students and other martial artists, I am not alone in my lust for a sword. While in Aikido we strive for Katsujinken, the sword that heals, as opposed to Satsujinken, the sword that kills, Aikidoka (Aikido students) are martial artists and we can’t help loving the beautiful tools of war.

If you train seriously in Aikido for years (and I’ve trained since 1986), you accummulate all kinds of equipment and develop strong opinions on what’s good and what’s not. Here’s my take on equipment:

  • Gi: You have to have a gi to train. I prefer heavy-duty cotton karate-style gi, especially the Aikido version Bujin Design sells, which has shorter sleeves, though a quilted judo gi is nice in the winter. But to be honest, I rarely buy new gi anymore; most of my current crop (I’ve got four at the moment) came from Aikido Shobukan Dojo’s annual auction of abandoned equipment.
  • Hakama: Once you get serious about Aikido, you need a hakama (some schools reserve them for black belts, but in mine you buy hakamaone as soon as you know you’re going keep training). I get mine from Bujin Design. At the moment I’ve got one of their cotton twill hakama.
  • Weapons: bokken, jo, tanto, shinai. My favorite bokken (wooden sword) is a hickory model from Kingfisher Woodworks — strong, but light. I also have several white oak bokken. My jo — short staff — is ancient; I bought it off my friend John Ogram because it was too short for him and just right for me. I’m not too picky about wooden tanto — knives; a medium length is fine. I get my shinai — a split bamboo sword covered in leather that doesn’t do a lot of damage if you hit someone with it — from Bujin. For two sword practice, I use cut-down bokken for a short sword.

bokkenThat’s the basics. You also need a good bag to carry your gi and a bag for your weapons. Depending on how many weapons you carry, and their quality, you might need a padded bag, but I do fine with a Bujin bag I bought 20 some-odd years ago.

Then you start getting into books, DVDs, and accessories of all kinds. My teacher, Mitsugi Saotome has written several books, and put out a Principles of Aikidonumber of DVDs. (I have them all, though because I bought them awhile back, I have the DVDs in VHS form.) That’s not to mention calligraphy and other art work, or a rack for storing all those weapons.

But of course, the real investment in Aikido is in training, the time spent regularly at the dojo or going to seminars. You can buy all the equipment you want, but you’re not really an Aikido geek unless you’re passing up social engagements because you have to train.

In fact, I used to go to the dojo for midnight class on New Year’s Eve every year. It’s hard to figure out what to do on New Year’s Eve now that I live 1500 miles away from Aikido Shobukan Dojo.

I figure anyone who would rather train than go to a party on New Year’s Eve is a certifiable Aikido geek. Though, of course, we do party after class, but preferred beers among Aikidoka is a subject for another post.

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Nancy Jane’s collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available here.

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About Nancy Jane Moore

Nancy Jane Moore's science fiction novel, The Weave, is now available in print and ebook versions from Aqueduct Press. Some of her short stories are now appearing as reprints on Curious Fictions. She is a founding member of Book View Cafe. Her BVC ebooks can be found here. She also has short stories and essays in most of the BVC anthologies. In addition to writing fiction, Nancy Jane, who has a fourth degree black belt in Aikido, teaches empowerment self defense. She is at work on a self defense book that emphasizes non-fighting skills.

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Geek of the Week: Swords! (And Other Martial Arts Equipment) — 2 Comments

  1. Another key delineation of unarmed martial arts is the use of power and strength-based techniques (as found in boxing, kickboxing, karate, taekwondo and so on) vs. techniques that almost exclusively use the opponent’s own energy/balance against them (as in T’ai chi ch’uan, aikido, hapkido and aiki jiu jitsu and similar). Another way to view this division is to consider the differences between arts where Power and Speed are the main keys to success vs. arts that rely to a much greater extent on correct body-mechanics and the balance of the practitioners energy with that of the opponent.-,*’

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