Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Practice with Outdated Weapons?

Why Practice with  Outdated Weapons?

     Swords are an outdated weapons.  They haven't been really used in battle since the American civil war (maybe the Spanish-American War).  So why would people want to study how to use them?  Isn't it a waste of time?  Why do we find fascination with swords over, say something more useful in the present day, like knives or even bayonets?  There is something to studying the use of swords and other archaic martial arts weapons.  They have both good and bad associations, so here are my opinions, and personal conclusions as to why we still do this.

1. Weapons require increased attention and concentration
    There is something psychological that happens in a society when weapons are brought into a conversation.  Suddenly things become a lot more serious.  As it should be.  I have personal experience with this.  I had a job as a supervisor for a summer camp.  During the planning week, before any kids showed up, there was a box that we needed to open.  So I pulled out my CRKT and cut it open, closed the blade and put it back in my pocket.  The entire room of adults got quiet, because I had a "weapon."  We were not always an unarmed society, but we have become one.  Because so many people are now unfamiliar with something as simple as a pocket knife, there is now a mystique generated by them.  Knowing that weapons can hurt yourself or others means that in their practice and use, you have to be extra careful.  Much more so than with empty hand techniques.  A misplaced punch could result in a bruise.  A misplaced cut could land you in the ER.  In many ways, training with weapon requires so much concentration on the movements being performed, that it becomes a form of meditation.  Some areas of study, like iaido or kenjutsu place this meditative state as one of the goals.  I think this singlar focus, on one thing is an oddity these days.  We have become multi-taskers to the point that thinking of a single thing for a long period of time has become a luxury.  Using weapons is a way to exercise that luxury.

2. Weapons are amplifiers
Pencak silat master using kris
    Weapons amplify all of your mistakes.  Many weapons, besides acting as either a hard surface, or a cutting edge, act as levers.  They increase the force used by being longer than your arm.  That means that any small mistake is amplified and made larger.  Any small defect in your technique has now been made larger.  That means there is a smaller margin of error in your movements with weapons.  This means the use of weapons is a good way to check your techniques.

3. Weapons usually have empty-hand equivalents
    In my arts of aikido, jujtutsu and kenjutsu, all sword movements/techniques have a direct application to empty hand techniques.  The template of body movement that applies to my sword work, has direct corralation to empty hand techniques.  My background is exclusively with Japanese martial arts, but I assume this true with most, if not all martial arts.   There have been numerous times that when someone is having trouble doing a technique.  I tell them to think of the move as if they are using a katana, and they almost always improve their techniques.

Who doesn't want to be this guy?
4. Romantic ideas/Connection to the Past
    Lets face it weapons are cool.  We like to think of ourselves as modern samurai or knights, or whatever warriors from different cultures.  If this is your inspiration at the start of your art, that's fine, but I have never found it to be a sustaining motivation.  Eventually the reality of what weapons training actually involves runs over that dream.  However, this weapon study can be a link to the past.  People have used these weapons throughout history to defend their homelands, to attack innocents, and to settle matters of honor.  Some martial arts can trace their lineage back to those times.  Some of the arts are preservations of history more than a useful martial art.  And if that's their purpose, it works too.  Swords in particular have a special representation to us.  Because of the high level of skill that goes into making one, let alone using one, they a subject to a lot of semi-spiritual symbolism.  Swords are often used to represent the best of humanity, or at least the ideas of them.  It's not a coincidence that a knights sword was in the shape of a cross.  Marines still have their dress swords for this point as well.

5. You can practice by yourself
    Unless you are doing a sport form like kendo, there is very little weapons training that you can't practice by yourself.  That means that weapons training is an extremely solo journey.  This is both a good and bad thing.  On one hand, you have only your own successes and failures, on the other it can be a lonely art.  I study sword, and invite people all the time to come check it out.  They usually come once or twice find out how much work it is and stop coming.

6. No real competition/application
    This is tied into the 4th reason.  For some people, the lack of competition is a good thing.  They like the solitude of self-practice.  They enjoy the time spent in moving meditation.  Others require a sense of usability.  Because its been a long time since people were using these weapons in actual combat situations, there is a lot that has to be assumed about their use.  Until you actually use the weapons, which I hope you don't, there will always be a doubt.

    So even if your art doesn't have weapons training as part of its curriculum, there are often arts that specialize in specific weapons.  It is always a good idea, once you are far enough along your own path, to supplement your main art with additional arts.  When you get to that point, consider adding a weapon based art.  They often teach you different things that non-weapons arts.

No comments:

Post a Comment