sword-makerAn ancient fairy tale about two swords made by two masters. Goro Nyudo Masamune is regarded as Japan's finest sword maker.  He made swords in the Shoshu tradition during the 13th or 14th century.  There is a famous tale that illustrates the quality and spirit of Masamune's blades.  As legend has it, Masamune was challenged to a sword making contest by his student Senji Muramasa who was himself a master sword maker.  After working for sometime they both produced what they thought were winning swords.  Masamune's creation was called Yawarakai-Te (柔らかい手) or the "Tender Hands" sword and Muramasa was the Juuchi Yosamu (十千夜寒) or "10,000 Cold Nights" sword.  To test the blades cutting ability, they immersed them in a rushing creek facing the current.  Supposedly this was one method a samurai would use to see how well a blade would cut leaves floating by.  Muramasa's sword cut every leaf as well as every rock and fish that floated by.  Masamune's blade cut not single leaf and many other things that were a drift just gently floated around the blade.  After some time, Muramasa declared himself the victor and taunted his teacher.  Masamune just smiled to himself as he sheathed the sword.  A monk happened to be sitting on the riverbank and watched the entire contest.  The monk politely interceded and declared Masamune the winner and offered this explanation:  "Muramasa", he said, "Your blade lacks discrimination and cuts whatever is in its path and its desire for blood makes it an evil sword."  He elaborated why Masamune's sword won, "Masamune's blade is far better because it has discrimination and does not needlessly cut."  He further stated, "Masamune's blade only cuts when it needs to and not only when it wants to."

The Japanese sword is not only a razor sharp precision cutting instrument but it is also universally thought that the sword has a soul that is instilled partly during the forging process by the smith and partly when wielded by the swordsman.  The sword then becomes a reflection of not only oneself but its maker too.  From this story we can understand O Sensei's theory of "satsujinken katsujinken" or the sword that takes life and the sword that gives it.  We are not wild animals driven by animalistic urges.  We train and develop special skills and with those skills comes responsibility.  An often attributed Voltaire quote is apropos for this story, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required" or as Peter Parker's uncle said, "With great power there must also come - great responsibility."  The sword or the art then becomes a reflection of who we are.  Therefore, because of the great power martial artists wield, they must then be people of the highest caliber.

Sensei used to say, "Aikido is only for the elite" which I misunderstood all of these years.  The elite that he was referring to was not the person who was outwardly rich or opportune, but the person who inwardly was of the highest caliber.