How to Hold a Sword

ONE THING I LIKE MOST ABOUT AIKIDO is that I learn something in every class, whether it’s something entirely new, or a way to improve a technique I know. Well into my seventh year of training, I have yet to finish a class without my body and/or mind being stretched in a way it hadn’t been stretched before. Perhaps part of that experience is due to wanting and expecting to learn something every time, but that wouldn’t be enough unless my instructors and training partners were also doing their best to help me.

Okay, pop quiz - do I live, or die, with this grip?

What I learn could be anything from an advanced and complex technique to a basic principle taught to beginning students. Monday’s noon class was the latter. I was going over a bokken (wooden sword) technique I’ve practiced many times. My partner was a black belt I’d never trained with before. After we’d run through the technique a few times, he pointed out a small but significant flaw in the way I gripped the bokken with my right hand. He showed me how if he struck my bokken in a certain way, it could fly back into my face; the proper grip prevents that from happening. That particular scenario hasn’t happened to me yet, which is why I still have a nose (*). But of course that wasn’t the point.

The bokken techniques we study are based upon those originally used with real swords, where a correct grip could have literally meant the difference between life and death. And for training purposes we treat wooden weapons as real ones. For example, we are not supposed to wrap our fingers around the “blade” of the bokken, because if it were real, we’d lose them. And we (advanced students, anyway) are supposed to strike hard and true. When my partner attacks it’s up to me to block or get out of the way; otherwise it’s going to hurt, wooden sword or not. And grip, like timing, distance, and focus, plays an important role in performing a technique correctly and safely. Now I just need to practice using the proper grip. My instructor recently said it takes about 1,000 bokken strikes a day to get really good at it. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t kidding.

Gabby insisted on critiquing my form while I was setting up the other photo. Aren't I fortunate to have such a versatile live-in coach?

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(*) That, and because the door in Marvin’s office was made of safety glass.

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