Running with knives – July 25, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Thinking about dueling inevitably brings out the question of using sharp swords for practice. One of my favourite sayings from many years ago is “Toy swords make toy swordsmen”. My answer was always “Real swords make massive lawsuits”. Not to mention the also real danger of being shot by police. A fellow who does jodo with me was swinging his stick around in his parking lot and was descended upon by the police. This is in sleepy Guelph, where there are enough police and few enough problems that you could really get descended upon. Imagine if that had been a real sword.

Best to do this stuff in full funny dress, with wooden swords, and well away from any bears, er, mothers with cubs, er, children around. The full dress makes it clear you’re just a harmless martial arts nerd and being away from mom-eyes means you’re less likely to get reported in the first place. In an era where parents get reported by other parents for letting their kids walk to school, imagine what seeing a real sword on the street would inspire.

Think I’m over-reacting? How about no stick at all? I was recently told about a karate guy who hopped out of his truck and did a kata while waiting for a delivery. Again, reported and descended upon. If he’d been in his white pajamas it might not have been a problem, he would have been a martial arts nerd and not have some potential mental illness (which, in the absence of any other possible responders, inevitably requires an armed police response).

Folks say that practicing with sharps is a different thing than with a dull blade. It can be, if you don’t practice with your wooden blade as if it’s sharp. I was taught to use my imagination and treat a bokuto like a shinken and to this day I get very angry if someone touches me accidentally with their bokuto. I also get very angry at students who jerk their swords away and yell “shinken-des!” at me if I move to adjust their hands. Really? You think I’m an idiot? Why are you in front of me then? If I want to touch your sword I’ll look at it or I’ll ask you if it’s sharp, otherwise treat it like it’s a bokuto that you treat like a sharp sword. Keep it still until I move it where I want it to be.

I actually have to suppress an urge to attack when some student starts jerking their sword around to avoid cutting me. You swing a sharp thing near me and I figure I ought to defend myself. Imagine if I had a gun on my hip or an assault rifle handy in my car. Be still and don’t provoke.

OK so from that you know I mess around with real swords. Actually I started my iaido with a wall-hanger that snapped in half and then a shinken which I used for years until I got a proper iaito so I’m aware of the benefits of a real sword (you’re careful) and the disadvantages (you’re careful). Working with and around sharps doesn’t worry me much, let’s face it, very few people are ever injured in the martial arts, far fewer than are in the safe sports like basketball or football. What does bother me is talking about using shinken.

Joe public doesn’t need to know there are real swords around, they don’t need to know you use them and they sure as blazes don’t need to see them on the street. I don’t care if it’s legal to carry them around in this country, and neither do the police. There are not enough of us to make a political difference (unlike gun owners) so legislators will make shinken illegal in a heartbeat in the cause of getting re-elected on the law and order platform.

If you must use a shinken to be serious about your practice, make it even more esoteric, pretend it’s illegal, keep it invisible and stop talking about it. For your personal safety (what better justification to shoot someone could there be than “he’s got a sword, stand back and hand me my AR15”) and for the benefit of all of us who would like to at least keep using our wooden weapons which would be the next to be outlawed (hey, you can kill someone with a stick you know). Remember that one of the favourite statements of the gun lobby is “knives kill people too, why not ban knives”. Why not indeed. I wince every time I hear that because the trouble is, knives can be banned and often are. The gun lobby ought to be silent on that point, knives would be the slippery slope, once those dangerous things are banned the authorities might just go on to the less dangerous things like guns.

Because you can never go too far in protecting the public when an election is just around the corner and the public can be scared into voting for you.

Kim Taylor
July 25, 2015

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