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The Incurable Hobbyist Three: The Sword And The Pen, Mighty Together

Posted by Christine / September 1, 2011

20110901-sword.jpg The Incurable Hobbyist is a highly subjective monthly series that examines various hobbies and the areas of the city that offer means to facilitate their practice. The goal is to inspire curious readers to develop hobbies they'll grow to love dearly, filling their hearts with the singular joy that comes with learning something special, something new.

I was sixteen years old and an ungainly, odd thing to the rest of the world. To myself, I was a warrior, an old soul yearning for more adventure than what fantasy books, video games or D&D could offer. It's clear that I took myself a little seriously. Maybe that's all I could do considering the laughable state puberty had left me in. Sickly pale, a round acne-speckled face and braces that kept me tight lipped and scowling in photos for a year or two.

I had visions of myself, arm placed firmly behind my back as I, with a cat-like grace, sashayed around my faceless opponent arrogantly. It was fencing lessons I wanted above all. A gentlemanly sport that would compliment my then obsession with dandyism. If you must know, this particular sartorial stage of my life was a whirl of velvet blazers, pinstriped pants and lace cuffs.

A friend privy to my mission informed me that, while she could not find any fencing classes, she did find Japanese sword-fighting lessons at the YMCA.

"Ok."

While Kendo classes no longer seem available at the West Island YMCA where I was taught, one may take lessons at Shidokan Montreal. The next session will occur September 12th to December 11th, Tuesday from 6:00-7:20 p.m. and Saturday from 11:00-1:00 p.m. The classes cost $50 to $65.

Alternately, lessons are offered by the McGill Kendo Club. The next session will occur September 15th to December, Tuesday from 8:00-10:00 p.m., Thursday from 8:00-10:00 p.m. and Saturday from 9:00-11:00 a.m. The classes cost between $80 and $130.

Kendo is translated as the "Way of the Sword". Yeah, that pretty much sold me on it too.

Its a modern form of Japanese sword-fighting that's based on traditional samurai swordsmanship. One is taught by following the kata, a collection of fundamental techniques consisting of attacks and their counter-attacks. For safety purposes, they're commonly taught with wooden training swords called bokkens. Mine is currently mounted on my apartment's wall.

Bokkens may be acquired through a variety of sources. The simplest it seems, would be via one's instructor or sensei, as was my experience.

My instructor began every session with a hearty, "Rock 'n roll babies!" In his early 30's, he might have been referring to the relative youth of my friend and I. He also provided us with the gory, medical implications of each move while speaking excitedly, eyes and teeth flashing. I loved him instantly.

In the meantime, our sensei sat silent and observant. I thought him mute until I heard him once in full-bodied laughter at a gathering of peers over sushi and sake.

Aggressive kata moves comprise of both strikes and thrusts. Defensive moves consist of blocks and avoidance. With this cutting through space, there forms a sublime death dance between sword-fighters. Terror and awe gather here.

I was taught that brute strength mattered less than the precision of one's angles. There was a beauty in that. These angles could only be achieved when one's mind was focused. And so, only with a disciplined spirit could one become good at sword-fighting. This was a simple fact that was not so simple to grasp.

With its bustling hallways, academic pressures and misplaced crushes, high school was anything but peaceful. It was with some frustration and much effort that I was finally able to allow the cacophony of teenagehood slip from my mind.

If only for that brief passage of time, sword-fighting became for me something very special. A quiet place where I could glide through the world, thoughtless and at peace.

The next year I had to quit due to inflexible hours at the office as well as impending CEGEP, and all that that brought. I still think of picking up the sword again, but its a passing thought, as fleeting as anything else.

So said the maestro:

"Victory goes to the one who has no thought of himself."

-Shinkage School of Swordsmanship

Image of The Blind Swordsman from: http://criterion_images.s3.amazonaws.com/current/ZATOICHI_current_splash_image.jpg

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