Dressed to Kill

Samurai Sword Fighting: Part II

I’m in a cavernous garage, stamping my feet in a vain effort to warm up while waiting for samurai sword-fighting class to begin when Sensei Vitold Jordan arrives with a flourish.

Jordan is a black belt (5th Dan) in both Aikido and Laido/Ken-jutsu. He is also the founder of the “Yeshua-Do” school of martial arts. Of Polish descent, he radiates an energy that belies our rather grim surroundings as he greets the class enthusiastically and advises me in his distinctive accent to “make myself ready”.

I’m troubled by this advice because, naturally, I have no idea how one makes oneself ready to do some samurai sword fighting. How to prepare? Mentally? Physically? Is there some kind of protective equipment I should be donning?

I settle for some lame, half toe touches, keeping an eye on my fellow participants for further clues but receiving none because most of the others have gathered around Jordan for the unveiling of the swords.

Curious, I press in and quickly appreciate the fascination and considerable respect that these ancient weapons inspire.

From a long black case, Jordan unsheathes an elegant, razor-sharp sword and wields it in front of him. Reflexively, I take a defensive step backwards and cast a slightly alarmed look at photographer, Ben, who has tagged along to capture the event on film.

Real swords? my expression says. Nobody said anything about real swords.

Jordan proceeds to explain a few things about the swords, themselves, and about samurai sword fighting, in general. First off, he makes it clear that sword fighting is “not a sport, but a form of warfare” – and, in case there was any confusion, “Samurai swords are for cutting, not for striking.”

To emphasize this point, he describes how a typical sword can slice through wood and demonstrates with an earnest matter-of-factness some of the typical cuts that can be inflicted on an opponent: “Shoulder to hip, top of the head down, across the back of the neck …”

Clearly, none of this is news to the regulars in attendance who nod their heads solemnly, but it all leaves me feeling grateful for having the bitter cold to attribute my chattering teeth to.

Eventually, swords are distributed and, to my great relief, instead of a real sword I am handed a wooden practice one known as a “bokan”. I admit to having lingering concerns about those around me who came pre-armed with their own very-real swords, but my apprehension is somewhat assuaged when Jordan reminds everyone to spread out “because you could kill someone”.

The rest of the hour unfolds in a pattern of Jordan demonstrating a typical move and then the class slowly trying it out, in unison.

Jordan is spellbinding to watch: it’s no wonder the whole class, including me, seems mesmerized when he does his demonstrations; his blade, making an intoxicating whooshing sound as it slices through the air.

Equal parts dancer, boxer and ninja, he moves with the graceful, lethal elegance of a matador. Each demo ends with a short, sharp whip of the blade before it is smoothly re-sheathed.

Turns out this finishing gesture has a genuine and quite practical purpose: “These blades are made of the finest steel,” Jordan explains, “so it’s important to remove the blood [though there is none here, of course] from it before you re-sheathe it. Otherwise it could rust.”

He goes on to demonstrate some of the most common ways to remove the blood from your blade (my personal favourite being the one where you wipe it off on your vanquished foe who could be lying prone on the ground, having been sliced from shoulder to hip).

Like other martial arts, Yeshua-Do promotes not only physical challenges, but also an attendant philosophy that Jordan imparts in memorable sound bites that further animate and give context to the deadly moves being practised.

“Sword fighting unifies the body, mind and spirit. The best way to focus the mind is through the sword,” he asserts. “The greatest enemy is within, so each cut is cutting through your ego.” Which is cool, because this way my “vanquished foes” will not have been slain gratuitously – they’ll be helping me work through some personal stuff.

Turns out ol’ Vitold Jordan is not only a highly accomplished Sensei, but he’s also an ordained Christian minister. A peruse of his website revealed a distinct religious slant to many of his teachings and philosophy. The term Yeshua-Do, itself, translates roughly as “Jesus’ Way”, “The Sacred Path of the Christian Warrior” or “The Art of Peace”, depending on what part of the site you’re reading.

But, in class, Jordan gave no reference to this aspect. Nor did he indicate any preference for a particular religious stance. Indeed, the only time he mentioned faith at all was to point out that it doesn’t matter what faith you adhere to, if any, but that the important thing is that “your mind is always at peace”.

Recognizing the absurdity of the statement I am about to make, samurai sword-fighting class was one of the most quintessentially “Yukon” experiences I’ve ever had (that didn’t involve Yukon Brewing Company products … at least until afterwards). It was cold. It was great exercise. It was quirky. It was shared with unique, friendly people. It was definitely hard core … and, as far as I know, not one sword got rusty from blood getting caked on it.

To find out more about samurai sword fighting and other martial arts training offered by Yeshua-Do, check out www.yeshua-do.com.

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