I revisit the question “Why do swordplay?” on a regular basis. Many people ask me what my reason is for practising something that is arguably esoteric and a few centuries past its true usefulness.
The answer may not be what people are expecting. At the end of the day, I feel that hundreds of years past its applied art of self-defence or offence, swordplay has the opportunity to become more deeply useful than it ever could have been in its violent history.
In life I am working on becoming the greatest person I can be. Swordplay just happens to be one of my vehicles of choice. You see, it’s actually rather hard to simply target personal greatness. The challenges of one’s life can feel immense and overwhelming. Pinpointing the areas you need to improve as a gross whole is not just daunting, it’s a challenge in perspective — how can one truly see all the areas that they need to grow and plot a course toward them without some kind of context? Pursuing an art like swordplay gives me something tangible I can aim myself at. Something that in and of itself is rewarding.
Through swordplay I have been able to practise discipline in learning, and overcome plateaus and frustrations on the path to mastering an art. I have had to face personal fears through sparring, teaching, and being a student. It has taught me to be humble, as there is always someone out there better than me, and it’s even more of a lesson (and a privilege) when those people are my students. Swordplay has helped me become a part of community, share a common struggle, become connected to my cultural past (as well as the history of other cultures), and has created a beautiful and inspiring excuse to connect with others around the world. There is not a challenge in my life for which I have not found its analogue in swordplay.
You carry your life’s problems with you into every context. This does not mean that you have an inescapable burden–much to the contrary. Each new environment provides a fresh outlook. A problem you don’t know how to solve in one place will have an obvious solution in another, and once solved there the lesson can be applied elsewhere.
An artist friend of mine once said the path to becoming a great painter was to become a great person and then paint. I feel that I have come to learn that the path to becoming a great person is to become a great swordsman, then live.