The Samurai Blade: Respect or Worship?
April 27, 1997 · 6:05pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
There is a comic book in Japan called Ruro No Kenshin that tells the story of Himura Kenshin, a warrior that belonged to an anti-Tokugawa group from 1864 to 1868, and killed many people in battle. Kenshin was an able swordsman, a feared man, but Kenshin suddenly came to realize the value of human life and changed his ways. He began to wander all over Japan, except Kyoto, helping the downtrodden. He carries with him an unusual sword: it could not kill. Kenshin always achieves victory without ending a life.

Although Kenshin is a fictional character, his story reflects a sentiment that has more to do with the highest level of Japanese swordsmanship than the actual slaying of an opponent. Many master swordsman, particularly those of greatest skill, became reluctant to kill as their spirits matured. Some went so far as to ignore challenges.

The prayers offered by master swordsmiths when making a new sword includes the request that the blade would never take a human life. The prayers are centuries old and have not changed to this day.

When a true swordsman holds a sword in his or her hand, technique alone is not the motivator. There is a philosophy behind it, a particular spirit. If the spirit is right, killing is not the reason that moves the blade. This is not a paradox. The art of the sword was indeed born in the battle field, but evolved into a spiritual discipline, without losing its potential to protect life.

Today, students unfamiliar with the significance of the Japanese sword, or any weapon, question the traditions that dictate that we bow before taking a blade from the stand, and when placing it back; or that a sword should be carried in such a way that it presents no threat to others, and its cutting edge never faces those who might receive the sword from us.

Respect for the weapon means respect for human life. It means to be always aware that its improper use means death; that we are responsible for our actions, and that becoming contemptuous about a weapon develops into carelessness.

The proper etiquette when handling a sword is not an act of worship, nor is it an outdated unnecessary ritual. It is part of the training, and when performed sincerely, it keeps our spirit from turning our skills into fuel for our egos, a crude expression of our aggressive impulses, the sword into a mere cutting tool. Such an approach would turn every swordsmanship skill, technique and form into little more than a circus act.

Many current texts quote the phrase, "The sword was the soul of the samurai". Few students understand the significance of this statement until they learn to respect life, their own and the lives of others.

Once this respect is learned, zanshin is not a mere posture, raising the sword for a cut is not just a preamble before the attack, and the actual cut is not a merely physical action. The spirit behind the form justifies the respect paid to the sword. Neglecting that, in fact or in sincerity, is neglecting to respect life.


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