Swordsman. Seems like such a proud word, sometimes. I would have killed to have able to refer to myself as such when I was younger.
I used to take the skytrain past a graveyard everyday. Rain or shine, I’d zoom through the air, looking down on all those chunks of stone. Everyone of them had a name and dates carved into them, and a few words to sum up their lives. For the first few years, those words probably provided some comfort to loved ones, each word filling them with memories of that person. With those people gone, the stone slabs become the only thing left of that person, and those words only serve now to create a fantasy in the minds of people wandering by. No connection to reality.
To be a Stoic means to live in accord with your nature, but nature doesn’t mean the same thing to a stoic as it does to everyone else. Nature is only something you attain when you die, when you have finished your life. The nature of a tree isn’t seen in a warm and lovely portrait of late summer abundance, but in the completeness of all the cycles of it’s life. It’s nature is bitter winters, broken branches, pests and disease, animals sheltered, growth, families of trees and the desolation of harvesting. All of those things together make up the nature of a tree. It’s the same with people.
We say we do things because it’s in our nature, but that’s a cheap lie we tell ourselves and others. I’ve lost a lot of loved ones over the years, and I do take some solace in examining the nature of their lives. To see a whole life in totality…from childhood to adulthood, age and death…is to see the true nature of a person. It’s the nature of some people to hide in a hole and never do anything, always subject to the whims and wills of others. Some people are nothing but consumers, grazers of life and lives. It’s the nature of others to make their lives a perfect work of art, a statement about the entirety of life and potential.
We can’t know our true nature until we are at the moment of death, but we are given the opportunity every day, every moment, to move towards the nature we want for ourselves. All that is your past can be re-interpreted in the light of what you do now and in future, if we are blessed with time and opportunity. It’s your life, and it will only every really matter to you, so it doesn’t matter so much if you have one moment of life left, or a hundred years. Be in accord with your nature as best you can.
Swordsman. It seems like such a mean goal now. I watch and listen to people who put so much effort into tiny little goals, small improvements here and there at best…small attempts to be a step higher than someone else on an imaginary ladder at worst. Some people are like donkeys charging hell for leather towards a cliff, in the vain attempt to perceive the carrot that should be somewhere in front of them.
The Japanese concept of “Path” or “Way” as opposed to “technique” has a special appeal to westerners. It’s a truth we inherently recognize and romanticize. It has the same meaning to us as the stoic “Nature.”
When we start out in swordplay, we need to work hard at the technical details. We need to make ourselves fit, agile and strong. We need to worry at the niggling details. When we have those basics down, we need to move past them. It’s true that as we hit mastery, we go back to only the small details, but we do it in a way that is not accessible until you have first moved past them. The time with a mask on and sword in hand needs to be time spent working on your nature, spent more on the moving practice of Virtue than anything else.
I don’t want “Swordsman” on my tombstone. I don’t want a tombstone at all. I want my nature to be a living thing. What I do today is far more important than what someone thinks of me tomorrow.