originally posted January 1, 2003
Yesterday, the day before New Year’s, I went with my student to have a new saya made for his sword. I was sitting there talking with my friend who has been making saya for the last 30 years now. He was looking at my student’s sword and recognized his work, both the old saya and the tsuka or handle.
Looking at the handle, he said, I don’t do this kind of work anymore.
Surprised, I said, What do you mean? I remember how long it took for him to catch the gentle center taper of the handle.
He replied,Nowadays, all the Iaido guys who do tameshigiri are complaining that the handle breaks too easily so I make it thicker and straighter now.
I had to laugh to myself and suddenly realized that there is NO compromise in the way sword must be taught. As I teach my students over and over and over again, most people put too much power in the arms and hands and the power is never projected to the monouchi or upper, cutting portion of the blade. My students are always frustrated to catch this point. When I heard my friends comment, I realized that these people are not cutting properly so all of the impact of the blade is focused in the hands, not the blade itself. This is what causes the handle to crack and break so easily. If you cut properly, the handle will never break. In addition, this tapered style of handle was popular in the late 16th century at a time of fierce battles and proved itself over and over again as the superior grip.
There is no way to compromise sword training. It is either right or wrong. It is black and white. I think this was a sign from my long gone teachers and it came right at the last day of the year at a time when I was most discouraged! It must be a sing I think! I will continued as I have before in my teaching, whether it is outdated or not, in or out, popular or hated, accepted or not accepted. It was good enough for me teachers, and still good enoug for me, I don’t know why it is not good enough for people today. I teach to pass on the teachings of my teachers and hopefully preserve this art for your generation, I do not teach to gather numbers of students, be popular, or personally profit from it or enhance my personal image. Whether students want to learn for me or not, is purely their choice, not mine, and I should not be crass or greedy enough to try to sway or attract them to me. As long I can focus on this, I will be fine. . . .