Satsujinken and Katsujinken, by Dane S. Harden


“Sometimes the movies get it right…”

“Go seek balance Daniel-san”…these were the words Miyagi Sensei spoke to his pupil at a time in Daniel’s life when he needed help. All of us face challenging times in our lives. Those times require fortitude, discipline, persistence, bravery, and a balanced approach in order to properly address our difficulties. The swords of life and death are a metaphor regarding balance, center, and free will. In the old film, “The Karate Kid,” this idea was exemplified and ultimately proven in Daniel’s personal realization, “that you train so you do not have to fight.” It was poignantly emphasized by his teacher’s response: “Ah, Daniel-san, Miyagi has hope for you!”

It is an interesting reiteration of O’Sensei’s teachings and relates well to the discussion of balance and its relationship to the two swords. Also, interestingly enough, whom we choose to study under and learn from will affect what we will ultimately become as we shape our own destiny and sharpen our swords through our training, study, and teaching. This was clearly demonstrated by the protagonist in the movie who advised his students that “there is no sympathy in this dojo” and that “mercy is for the weak.” O’ Sensei would take the more benevolent approach, but only after a lifetime of learning through challenges, struggles, and uncommon life experiences. The challenges we face are like a forge and anvil. We are shaped in the sword smith’s shop of life experience. The yin and yang concepts—in all evil there can be some good, and in all good there can be some evil—point to this duality of natural law as it can be related to our choices. This then is a discussion of my life experience and my relationship with the concept of the two swords.

The highs and lows of our lives balance each other and give us strength and depth. This is as true today as it ever was in ancient Japan. Munenori Yagyu wrote of these concepts in his treatise on the swords of life and death. He spoke of the existence of these two spirits and that they often coexist, even in the same individual. Ultimately, this duality of nature is seen in everything and everyone. O’Sensei recognized it on his martial pathway through life and his experience with war and peace. I can relate deeply to the healing aspects of martial ways, particularly from the unique view of an old soldier who has spent many years witnessing the very best and very worst that human nature has to offer. The very real effects of which sword was chosen for use! This was a reason for my resurgence of interest in the art of peace, Aikido. I was drawn back to these foundations specifically because of life experiences from war-torn Bosnia. It was in that crucible that I began to search for a higher meaning to the warrior spirit, the idea of bushido and honor and the martial values of strength through true benevolence and love for humanity, rather then striking, kicking, or destroying. In Aikido, we guide the attacker to a point of control and hopefully understanding through a position of strength and resolve. In essence, we use both swords simultaneously, and in balance with each other.

It is a universal idea that my Taekwondo instructor (Jhoon Rhee) often referred to as “might for right.” It relates to many difficult philosophical concepts like “takemusu aiki,” which I rather loosely interpret as “Aikido can be found in everything we do and say.” It might well be related to these choices that an individual can find balance in their life. O’Sensei referred to this as “standing on a floating bridge.” Based on our choices, we determine the direction in which the bridge will tip and the direction our spirit will follow. By keeping the bridge in balance, we have the key to bliss, true aiki, love and benevolence at the center of our lives. These are the true swords of the human existence.

The westerner in me cannot help but think of Christian scripture and its relationship to this balance between the swords of life and death. In Genesis, 1:26, verse 27, we read, “Let us make man in our image, after our own likeness, and we were created in his image” (a sword of life?). In Romans 3:23, we find that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Essentially, I think these scriptures refer to our ability to choose a sacred path, or the profane. The two swords of life and death are the duality argument and our freedom of choice is part of this universal wisdom. It is not isolated to oriental thought and philosophy; “takemusu-aiki” can be found anywhere you choose to look for it, even in Old Testament Hebrew verse.

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