Before class yesterday, I was putting my hickory bokuto up on the rack in our new dojo. There was no room left on the rack, so Main-Sensei suggested I take down one of the old red oak training swords which are available for any student’s use. I did, but as I started to carry it off the mats, I handled it and looked it over. The ha-side is positively RIDDLED with dents and cracks and scratches; clear evidence of long and determined use. The finish on the mune appears no less worn, but is comparatively devoid of these marks. This is a bokken which has seen a lot of contact; a lot of cuts. It has served the students of this school for decades.
It made me wonder how many have handled it. How many kata repetitions, how many kumitachi practices, how many tachi-dori techniques has it endured? How many students have bowed to it, and how many has it sheltered beneath their blocks as they progressed through the ranks? I’m still new to Aikido of Charlotte but holding this wooden sword, I can’t help but feel connected to its legacy of dedicated training. Though it’s not what you might call a “fine” bokken, it occurs to me that we should all be so lucky as to weather the years of practice as it has, and continue to serve both our art and our school.
Unlike a lot of pursuits in our modern society, Aikido does not demand that you be pretty or particularly “well-crafted”. It takes you as you come. Neither does it demand that you remain unchanged by life or by the experience of training. It demands that you be consistent – that, like this bokken, you persevere. It demands that, AS you change, you keep cutting straight – that you maintain your balance, poise, and dignity, even when you’re a little worn down.
This bokken might be the last one picked by the newest student in class, still learning how to hold it correctly, but it deserves a place of honor. It’s said that the samurai viewed their swords as their souls. A sword like this retains the soul of its dojo (or echoes of it, anyway). And this one still has some true cuts left in it, for sure.