1994: A Sword Odyssey

In the beginning…
I began seeking out sword training in early 1994 as a birthday present to myself. For this birthday, the theme was; “do   
something that I always wanted to do, but for various reasons, I couldn’t”. I always wanted to train in a martial art. For
reasons I can’t quite explain, I was particularly drawn to sword-play so made that my target.  As a kid I was an ardent fan of
any and all movies featuring swords--gladiators, pirates, knights, musketeers, Greek warriors, Chinese, Japanese-I found them all fascinating. The type of sword was irrelevant; any type was fair game. Other than waving around a mock sword in childhood war games, I had no martial arts experience of any sort. Post-high school I had a brief flirtation with fencing at a mid-west university, but found the focus on competition unappealing so didn’t take it up.

The search is on!
   I started by consulting with an archaic oracle called a phone book, and found a few offerings, mostly related to Asian varieties of sword. Lacking the guts to call any of these mystical martial entities directly, I started casually quizzing various people I encountered at work. Since I worked in the food and beverage industry at the time, I talked to a vast array of people on a daily basis, so it wasn’t difficult to root out a few martial arts practitioners for input. The consensus, however, was dismal; you had to be a black belt in “something else” before you would be “allowed to” explore the wondrous world of weapons. Insert sound of loudly crashing machinery here. I was discouraged (more like crushed, actually), and dropped the whole idea. 

Gone, but not forgotten…
     About a year later, a pivotal element appeared; a sword necklace.  Here’s the tale; I used to run a part-time vending business that catered to small businesses. One of my stops was a small body shop. On one of my refill runs, I was chatting with the workers as I always did, when I spotted a sword necklace one of the guys was wearing.  I complemented the lad on his adornment, and he responded that he was really into swords, and trained in a Japanese sword art locally. On a whim, not really expecting to hear an encouraging answer, I asked him the $64K question; do you have to be a black belt to train? He rather chuckled at the question, and said “Nah, not at all” and noted that you didn’t need any previous experience of any kind. He continued by noting that he was a friend of the instructor, and suggested that we (I was determined to get my husband involved too) drop by the school to watch a class.

A brave new world…
It didn’t take us long to take him up on his offer. Our first visit unfolded before us as a surreal realm of peculiar-looking implements on the wall, unfamiliar etiquette, intense demeanor, swift and alien movements, clacking sticks, and unpronounceable Japanese words. I was obviously way out of my element, but challenge and I are old friends so I was intrigued. Further, I recall thinking; “this looks do-able”-an illusion that was promptly shattered after my next visit, my first hands-on class. To say that I felt as though I had two left feet and ten thumbs was an understatement. More like two pine stilts and 10 remotely-operated spaghetti noodle claws. But, despite the more-than-we-bargained-for challenges and the sense of pure overwhelm and utter ineptitude, we hung in, and the rest, as they say, is history.

A long and winding road!
Thus began our winding journey in the way of the sword in early 1995, which became a 15 year long relationship with a particular art (name withheld due to proprietary considerations), This is notable because I silently predicted that, given the difficulty, I probably wouldn’t last 3 months. But somehow we kept at it, and over the course of those 15 years we had a countless number of interesting experiences, profound lessons, and engaging training adventures. After our first year in sword, we also took up training in karate, arnis, bo staff, and martial arts fitness applications with other organizations. After years of exposure to these other, more open forms of martial arts, we began to feel confined by the proprietary nature of the sword organization. Blending compatible concepts of other arts with our sword training was strictly forbidden-never mind the other arts encouraged us to honor, utilize, and even merge all meaningful, strategically sound martial applications regardless of source or culture. To enable us to expand our training and teaching horizons, we have since parted company with the sword organization to present our own unique exploration of Japanese sword principles and martial arts concepts. Join us and start an odyssey of your own! 

Marlene Harris, Sabaku Henkei Dojo
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