Uncategorized, Philiosophy, Martial arts

The Presence Trap

Every one seems to be seeking presence these days.  Its become one of those things that every internet yogi and guru is ready to teach you.  There are literally thousands of self help  books and websites dedicated to teaching or assisting an individual in cultivating presence.  Even I dedicate portions of the classes I lead to this capacity that all humans share.  The capacity to be in the now or in the moment.  To be here and with the world around you.  It seems a simple thing.  Focus and be here, right?  Herein lies the trap.  To be here for any one thing might lead an individual to lose the very capacity that we are trying to cultivate.  Like the child so enthralled in their video game that they fail to see or hear the call to dinner, many people lose themselves in their own quest to be present and in the moment.

During my last Iaido practice I thought for a moment that I would expound on this idea.  After the opening call to mokuso I sought out my breath and realized that as I focused on my slow inhalations and exhalations that the entire room seemed to drop away from me.  The floor and walls ceased to exist.  My eager students and their shuffling faded into the ether and my breath was all there was.  It was at this point that I realized that despite my best intentions, I had become lost in an attachment.  I was grasping at each respiration and the illusion of presence.

When we go to our practice, in my case the way of the Japanese sword, we are indeed cultivating a capacity for presence.  I have spoken of it before in regards to practice with shinken, but to be only with the sword or only with the breath displaces us and takes us away from ourselves.  As we think and analyze to the Nth degree we separate ourselves from all that is actually happening around us.

This is the lesson that Zanshin has to teach us.  When we are in practice we are not just there to be present for the sword or our own thoughts and lessons.  We need to be present for the floor as we move across it and our aching knees.  We are there for the sword but also for our hands and each finger as it grips the tsuka and saya.  We need to be there for our hakama and obi.  For the sweat that pours down our face and for the students and class mates that participate with us.  Calm and aware.  We are there not just for a single aspect of any particular moment or task, but for every aspect of every action we take and for each beat of our heart and the love for this art that we share.

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Martial arts, Uncategorized

Iaido and the Ronin Dojo Pro

Last night I was packing up my bags for another night of iaido practice.  Into the bag went my hakama, gi, and juban along with my obi and tenegui to mop the perspiration from my face and hands.  I check my sword bag for bokken, and sword cleaning kit.  Then I look to my sword rack and start to ponder, what blade do I take tonight?  Each one has its place on the rack and each will eventually be reviewed here.  Two iaito sit in the lowest rungs of the rack.  My trusty Minosaka basic series iaito is always a good choice.  I call it tombo and despite its basic style and fittings, it has held up to hundreds of hours of kata practice.  It is light and nimble but I haven’t used it in practice for some time now.  Next up is my Sword Store Iaito.  It’s a long 2.55 shaku blade and was the result of a very fortuitous craigslist purchase.  Poor fellow bought a very expensive iaito just to turn around and sell it to me for pennies on the dollar.  It is a spectacular practice tool.  I’ve named it Bean Pole due to its length and bean pod menuki.  It is my go-to blade for seminar and testing having struggled with me through several years of dedicated practice.  Tonight, however, my hand drifts higher on the rack to the shinken that occupy the higher rungs.

The shinken, or sharp sword, sit higher on the rack. Not because they are used any less than the iaito, but because they demand a higher degree of presence to wield than the iaito.  I question myself each time I take one up just as if it were a firearm. My hand gently flows from one tsuka to the next until it comes to rest on my oldest and most reliable of sharp swords.  My Ronin Dojo-Pro Yama Kuma, purchased through Sword Buyers Guide, has been with me since 2008 and has been through enough suburi and kata to rival my old bokken in terms of usage and familiarity.  This was my first shinken and has served me very well for the last 8 years.  As I took it into my hands I realized that this sword is truly exceptional at least from my point of view.  It is an old friend and I can trust it as I trust myself.  In this unconventional review, I’ll tell you why.

The first impression of my Ronin Dojo Pro was good.  In fact, I was ecstatic when I first held the sword.  I had owned a couple of lower priced swords of various makes that never quite felt like a real pillage and plunder sword.  As for exact measurements and details, I’m not going to put you through all that.  If you want that info, go to the manufacturer’s web site as they have it all there in its boring and tedious glory.  What I will give you are my impressions and experience in the actual, daily use of this blade for my practice of Eishin Ryu Iaido and cutting from various other ryuha.

I appreciated the Spartan aesthetic of the all iron koshirae and the soft but warm buffalo horn accents on the saya that combine to produce a shinken that I was truly excited to use in kata.  The only out of the box imperfection I could identify being that the ridgeline that runs the length of the mune deviates slightly to the right and does not continue all the way to the tip but veers to the right just a centimeter or so from the tip.  Also the saya, while very pretty, leaves a lot to be desired.  There is a lot of rattle when the sword is sheathed. Worse, it came practically filled with sticky grease that despite multiple cleanings with various implements, never seems to end.  It’s like the saya is a cosmoline fountain that was intended to house a monkey wrench.  It is the only truly inferior aspect of the sword and needed to be replaced if I intended to use the sword in my practice.  After several frustrating attempts to work with the manufacturer, I replaced the saya with one from Cheness Inc making the system fully serviceable as a kata sword.

To date this sword has been through the performance of many thousands of kata and even more suburi.  The koshirae has never loosened or been any cause for concern.  I haven’t even had to deal with the tell-tale rattling that occurs where the tsuba and tsuka meet that seems to affect most swords used in iaido.  While each of my iaito has developed the faint click that is usually an indication of substantial use, my Dojo Pro remains silent as I complete my cuts.  The ito wrap has taken the use well and hardly seems worn.  The only indication of the actual age and use to which the shinken has been subjected is the discoloration of the tsuba and fuchi where my fingers make contact and the faint scratches on the blade that are evidence of my learning to cut dry bamboo.  The sword has cut dozens of tatame mats, dozens of bamboo poles and more pool noodles, rolled newspaper, and water jugs than I can count.  My last cutting took place several months ago with a few good friends where it met with some North Carolina bamboo for the first time.  It cut very well and still produces good cuts and has a keen edge despite my developing technique.

In regards to Iaido kata practice, the sword feels very much like my Sword Store Iaito.  The weight is nearly identical although it is shorter by about 3 inches overall.  The point of balance is slightly forward making it very eager to cut but also responsive to tenouchi and very agile.  The slim, wasted tsuka is double pinned and wrapped with silk or silk like ito, is very comfortable in the hand.  I never flinch while considering a two to three hour practice as it is as comfortable a sword to wield as any after a long night.  There is no bohi or fuller in the blade making it more ideal for cutting but as a result there is very little audible feedback for cuts.

When I purchased the sword it was with the idea that I would use it as an aid to my Iaido practice and eventually learn to cut tatame and bamboo with it.  The construction of the Dotanuki style 1060 carbon steel blade was supposed to be rather forgiving of botched cuts, which it has thankfully been.  What has surprised me to no end is the fact that after all these years and after thousands of kata and suburi, that the simple iron fittings and silkish tsuka ito have remained solidly attached and only slightly worn with use.  This sword which nearly didn’t make the cut while I was shopping has never failed to impress and even when inspected by those practitioners who aren’t fond of Ronin Swords or their management,  has always comported itself with grace and a razor sharp edge.

If you are on the market for a good low cost shinken for iaido that can do double duty as a cutter, and can deal with the need for a new saya, the Ronin Dojo Pro line of Dotanuki style shinken may be just what you are looking for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Discovering Zanshin

skuldthevalkyrie's Blog

Zanshin – described to me by my sweet husband Abel as a state of calm awareness. When I first saw him demonstrate and describe zanshin, we had taken one of our first bokken walks in Mine’s Falls Park in Nashua, NH. Now, to set the stage, here we are – newly dating, taking a spring walk through the woods. With our wooden swords. We meander a while until we reach somewhat of a clearing. Abel takes out his bokken and swings it a few times; I assumed he was checking for branches. He then scans the ground and picks up a few twigs, brushing the forest floor covering of browned pine needles aside. “This is the spot.”

We began our walk with the Ipponme Kendo Kata. Ipponme means “number one” or “first” in Japanese, and as Julie Andrews put it, starting at the beginning is a very good place to…

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The Blackout?

What ever happened to that blog, The Broken Covenant?

Well, contrary to popular belief, we are still here and still writing albeit we aren’t posting anything.  We moved physically from New Hampshire in the United States, south down the coast to the state of North Carolina.  Having started a new job, (blogging and swordsmanship don’t pay the bills) we found ourselves inundated with new responsibilities, new opportunities to learn, and new passions to pursue.  The Broken Covenant had to take a back seat until all the chaos settled.

So, What have we been doing?   I’m happy to say that with the blessing of my Sensei in New Hampshire, Cape Fear Doshikai is now a reality.  Our classes are very small, but we are hoping to see an increased interest in Traditional Japanese Swordsmanship as we make our presence known.  We have also joined with the Myrtle Beach Kendo Club and have happily taken part in many practices and lost gallons of sweat practicing with the great and knowledgeable Ariga Sensei.  His patience and knowledge are invaluable.

There are many many drafts that have been written for the blog that have unfortunately, not met my standards.  These are my own drafts and in my opinion will never be as good as I hope them to be.  Our other writers have been working hard as well but without my leadership have fallen into the same rut of writing without posting.

I would like to thank SkuldtheValkyrie and Rev.Grim for keeping the site from being a complete ghost town.

Look forward to some new material to be posted forthwith and as always, be safe and be love.

 

https://www.facebook.com/Capefeardoshikai/

https://www.facebook.com/myrtlebeachkendoclub

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Red Tidings of Great Ploy

With all credit to Rush and especially Neil Peart, to the tune of ‘Red Tide’ Sorry guys, I can resist anything but temptation.
Media has some new plague to run in our feeds

An ombre’d meme we are doomed to repeat

Facebook feed, becoming a bore

Thirsty travelers – find an open store

Frothy drink leads to open war

And the red cup crashed to the floor

THIS IS JUST A PAPER CUP

THIS IS NOT OFFENSE

Stay out of that star, it only bucks my skin

Lattes full of poison, baristas named Satan

Where’s the Sun that Mary bore?

Where’s the snowflakes like years before?

Black gold’s sipping is nothing to abhor

But my red cup’s crushed to the floor

THIS IS JUST A PAPER CUP

THIS IS NOT OFFENSE

No way will we redesign!

No way we will bend!

Is this conspiracy, or is this just a test?

Bottom line approaches, for the weary man

We used to be frothy, now even McD’s has head

Too late to change, to loud to ignore

Use social media as our coffee whore

Christmas tidings, let the profits soar!

And the red cups arrive at the stores

Now’s the time to make some sense

Let’s turn on the light

Let us not fall victim to this corporation’s hype

So ubsurd to think a travel mug could change a silent night

Let us not fall victim to this corporation’s blight

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Politics and the Two Great Ideologies

It has been noted before that the world is a battleground between two great ideologies. America is an extremely visible description of this war. The revolution was not a war against an oppressive monarchy, though lives were certainly lost in that endeavor. It was really a war between the concepts of ruler-ship and autonomy. It was a war between preservation of the status quo and the enlightenment. At the time the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was given free reign to use his gift with words, his philosophical leanings, and the dream of enlightenment ideals to stoke the passions of the citizenry towards the establishment of an independent nation. But there the single minded unity of the appointed delegates ended.

Two camps soon formed. One camp was dedicated to the establishment of an idyllic society in which everyone was self-sufficient. To do this, the population needed to be educated landowners who were involved in the political process and who were not dependent on any entity for their survival. If everybody had a stake in their society and had the education and means to do so, they would build a nation of unity, strength, and resilience. Everyone would have an equal voice and, through cooperation and debate, would set policies that ensured the strength and endurance of such a society.

The other camp was a hold-over from the days of empire building. They wanted to appoint a new king. They operated under the notion that people are incapable of ruling themselves and need an agency to dictate behavior, ethics, and morality to preserve the social structures of a nation in order to create wealth and maintain control of the population. They held that wealth and power were bestowed on specific agencies by God, and everyone else was there to support the will of those appointed few.

It is fair, of course, to point out that neither camp was primarily formed by men who had created their own wealth; they were not self-made men, they were men who were born into wealth. Certainly, none of them sacrificed their wealth to ensure freedom. They did gamble their freedom, but ridding themselves of British monarchy was largely a financial consideration. The difference revealed itself after the yoke of monarchy was cast off.

Today this battle is still being fought. The titles of the entities at war have changed, but not the underlying ideologies. On the one hand are corporations and corporate government and on the other, social programs and individual freedom. It has always been an uneasy alliance. Our most prosperous periods as a nation have been those times when our nation leaned towards Jeffersonian ideals at the expense of those of Hamilton. Our darkest hours are always at those times when we have allowed Hamilton’s perspective to run unfettered.

Historically, when we allow the wealthy and corporate entities to horde wealth, they horde it, they do not take the bulk of it and spread among the population. When we spend more time legislating against the individual and relax the regulation of big business, they take advantage of relaxed regulations of relaxed oversight and behave badly. Corporations are formed by individuals. Why we expect more restraint from them than we do from ordinary citizens is beyond me.

Relaxing the regulation of big business and the banking industry allowed for the Great Depression and the Great Recession. Under the New Deal, we place the brunt of taxation on those who gained the bulk of the wealth. We promoted social spending such as jobs programs, housing, nutrition, and education and we saw our strength, unity, and wealth as a nation grow. I think we sometimes forget this important lesson of history. I think we forget why we are here and what we did last time we got to this place. I think we have forgotten what’s important and what works, not for the upper 5%, but for our nation. We have forgotten the Great Idea, the same one espoused by the central figure of Christianity as we run wholeheartedly to the one espoused by the medieval church, by monarchy, by corporations, and by the state. The two are very different.

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Gun Violence in the Cyber Age

I am tired. I am tired of reading about our problems with mass shootings and gun violence. I am tired of reading about how the evil left wants to take away guns so that the government can institute marshal law and turn us all into slaves. I am tired of division and divisiveness, derision and poor decisions. The truth is that we have forgotten how to solve problems together—thoughtfully, constructively and cooperatively.

No one on the left is saying that you have to give up your guns. What they are saying is maybe we should make it harder for people who want to go out and kill ten random strangers to get the guns they need to do it. On the right, I hear a lot of talk about how guns make us safer; allow the common man the ability to stand up to government tyranny. I hate these arguments. Having a gun means you are actually more likely to die in an act of gun violence. All of the .45 magnums in the world offer you as much protection against government tyranny as a blade of grass against an elephant. Our government have nerve gas, biological agents, microwave weapons that cook off the outer layer of your skin and, need I mention nuclear warheads. If the government wants you neutralized there is no hope for you.

To those on the left who think that we should melt down guns and build beautiful works of blue steel art, I say: even if no one in the U.S. Had a gun, people will always find a way to kill each other. Sword attacks, knife attacks, golf club attacks, and attacks with dumbbells take people’s lives, sometimes in greater numbers than you might think. Getting rid of guns isn’t the answer.

Well, Rev. Grim, if no one is right then what IS the answer? Honestly, I don’t know. I have a few suggestions, but you probably won’t like them. Since you asked I will share them. First, we need to tone down our love affair with violence. Get rid of sports and the semiotics of violence from our schools. Teaching our children to steal when they want something (like bases or balls), to kill their opponents or to kick their asses, and to cheat as long as they don’t get caught is ruining us. These are all activities they learn playing sports and is probably why high school football players are more likely to end up in prison than any other single demographic in our nation.

Second, we need to realize and freely admit that EVERYONE is crazy. We all have a psychosis, a neurosis, or a personality or behavior disorder of some sort. The great secret of psychology is that there is no meaningful definition of sanity, only explanations of insanity which everyone has at least some attributes of. We need to make it okay to admit that we are crazy and we need to make sure that people feel okay getting help before they lose it and walk into a public place and kill a bunch of other crazy people who aren’t hurting anyone, really. I like to say that admitting that you’re crazy allows you the opportunity to make concessions so that the rest of the world doesn’t have to deal with your insanity; the truly dangerous ones are those who refuse to accept that they’re crazy and push off the effects of their insanity on the rest of the world.

Finally, we need to put down our tech. We are so isolated as individuals that it is no small wonder people relate more to characters in video games than they do to each other. Humans are social creatures by nature. We have evolved, over hundreds of millions of years to interact with each other. Our brains work off of social cues and non-verbal gestures, off of pheromones and touch. People who are isolated from human contact for extended periods break, and yet everyday, all over the country we are replacing communities with social networks; we are trading friends for facebook, and we are trading social gatherings for dating sites and tinder. Guns are merely tools. If we want to stop mass shootings, we need to address the real problems. We are a nation of isolated individuals, taught that violence is acceptable when we really want something; we are isolated and alone and lonely and breaking apart because we are trying to live an inhuman life while maintaining a facade of humanness in this very cyber age.

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