Let’s talk weapons. Not the gun kind that has been making the news with distressing frequency, but the kind that doesn’t shoot projectiles at a high velocity. We’re talking swords, sabres, canes, and fans. We’re also talking escrima sticks and karambits. I mentioned this before, but I want to delve more into it.
I never wanted to try weapons when I first started taiji. While I was all about the martial arts application, I thought weapons were…uncivilized. More than that, they scared me. I was a ball of rage at that time, and I felt if I did weapons, I would just beat the shit out of everyone with said weapons. It wasn’t rational, but it was how I felt. I kept a tight rein on my anger, but when I slipped, it exploded all over the place.
I’ve told this story a million times, but I fobbed off my teacher every time she brought up weapons for an uncomfortable amount of time. It was only when she put a wooden sword into my hand that I realized what the fuck I had been missing. The second I closed my fingers over the hilt of the sword, I knew this was what I was meant to do. It felt like an extension of my arm, and I bought my stainless steel sword pretty soon after.
I would like to say that I practiced diligently once I started learning the Sword Form, but this isn’t a fairy tale, and I didn’t experience a radical personality change. I still dragged my feet, but I *did* enjoy learning the Sword Form more than I did the Solo Form. I learned it fairly quickly, and I loved every minute of it. When I was learning the Solo Form, there were several times I questioned what the fuck I was doing and why the hell I was doing this thing called taiji? I don’t mind saying (and my teacher doesn’t mind hearing) that I resented the hell out of taiji, and one of the reasons I went to more than one class a week is because I didn’t practice at home at all.
Side Note: I have a new classmate who is challenging to me for many reasons. The one I’m going to focus on this right now is because she’s so gung-ho about taiji, especially weapons. I am the weapons person in my class, and it’s a poke to my ego to see her learning them before knowing the whole Solo Form. Back when I started taiji, my teacher was told by her teacher that weapons could not be taught until after the Solo Form. That is no longer the case, and while I think it’s a good change, it’s hard for me not to feel resentful. I know I sound very much ‘back in my day’ about it, but it doesn’t help to hide it. I try not to have attitude around her, but it’s difficult.
Anyway, after the Sword Form came the Sabre Form, and that was a rocky road. It was nothing like the Sword Form, which shocked the hell out of me. Ignorant me thought, “Hey, it’s just a slightly bigger sword. It should be a snap.” It was not a snap. Not a snap at all. It was the opposite of a snap, and it upset me. There are very few things I’m proud of when it comes to myself, and one of them is that I learn things quickly*. Whereas the sword instantly felt at home in my hand, the sabre was just…dead wood. It never came alive. It never sang to me. It never thrummed with excitement, and I hated it.
I can say that now because I am past that hate and the resentment. Way past it, but I’ll get to that in a second.
For many reasons, I had to stop my sabre lessons for two years. It was only recently that my teacher started pushing me to start it again. I really didn’t want to do it, but I knew I had no excuse to say no. More to the point, I was stagnant, and I wanted to move on. I was frustrated with my practice and myself, and I knew I had to tackle the challenge. I swallowed my hesitation and my instinct to rebel, and I agreed to have a private lesson every other week. I will admit, I was dreading it because what if it still felt like dead wood in my hand? What if it still remained a chore? What if I sucked at it? I mean, not suck because I learned the postures (now movements) at a fast clip. But, it was just by rote, and I didn’t feel any of it. I’m sure it looked ok from the outside, but I just didn’t feel it. Then, I would harangue myself because I didn’t feel it, and I would spiral out of control. I hadn’t touched my sabre in probably two years, and I was nervous when I pulled it out for my first lesson.
The second I touched it, it came alive in my hand. It sang to me, and I was open to listening. More than open–I embraced it. It spoke to my soul, and I felt an energy that before that, I had only felt while wielding a sword. It’s hard to explain without sounding like I’m a nutter (which I am, but just not in this) because I’m so passionate about it. But, also, how do you explain that something that isn’t sentient, well, it kind of is. I mean, it is sentient to me.
Let’s take the sword. When I first picked up a wooden sword, it spoke to me. Not in words, but in contact. I could tell when I was doing something it didn’t want me to do, and it would be so happy when I did something right. I switched over to my stainless steel sword pretty quickly, and I haven’t looked back since. I think it’s a bit miffed at me because I’m spending so much time on the sabre, but the sword will always be my true love.
Right now, I’m working on the Left Side of the Sword Form, and it’s a good way to feel like a beginner again. I know all the postures/movements, and it wasn’t that difficult to teach them to myself. Funnily enough, the hardest posture for me to teach myself on the Left Side was the Fishing Posture. It’s a simple turn and dip of the sword. I took me two seconds to learn the movement on the Right Side, and my teacher remarked on the truth that something so easy became difficult because I didn’t ever think about it. There’s a posture in the Solo Form, Fist Under Elbow, which gave me fits when I learned it. It was by far the hardest posture for me to learn, and because I put so much effort into it, I had little difficulty teaching it to myself on the Left Side.
I have finished one row of the Sabre Form, and it’s fucking amazing. Instead of simply going through the motions, I was feeling the movements, and I was feeling the energy flow through me. The sword is all about finesse and the delicate slicing of tendons. The sabre is about power, and, boy, do I feel powerful when I wield the sabre. With my sword, I’m dancing, and it’s about delicateness and elegance. It’s the scholar’s weapon, and I will love it forever. With the sabre, however, I feel like an Amazon, maybe like Xena the Warrior Princess, and I can take on anything.
The Cane Form is different for many reasons. One, there’s no blade included, though I do want to get a cane/sword at some point. Two, there are no names for the postures/movements. Three, it feels very tap dancey. Sorry. Had to be said. The cane I bought is for a different martial art, and the handle is too big. I might have to cut off the curved part, but for now, I’m just getting used to it. I love the Cane Form, but I feel like I should be singing, “Hello, my baby, hello, my darling” as I’m practicing.
The thing is, I’m starting to feel burdened by how much I’m practicing. Not in terms of time, but in terms of feeling I have to do everything every day. Doing the Sword drills and the Sabre Form (as much as I know) every day–fine. Doing all that plus the Cane Form and the Fast Form (Solo Form), I start to feel burdened. I will take a moment to pat myself on the back because when I started practicing at home, I did maybe five minutes a day, and it was begrudging on my part. I hated doing it, but I felt it was my duty to do so. I slowly started adding warm-ups, weapons, and other things to my morning routine, and it’s now half an hour to forty-five minutes, and I could easily do more.
I don’t want to get burned out, which I will if I consume it all in one gulp. I know myself well enough that if I keep going the way I am, I’m going to start feeling resentful again. I don’t want that. Practicing my weapons is my happy place, and I want to keep it that way.
*When I don’t, I give up. It’s one reason I’m surprised I had continued with taiji because I don’t do frustration well. At all.