I discovered that practice meant giving up trying to achieve perfection. What it really gave me was a calm, quiet belly.

Practicing with my buddies . . .

Many long years ago, I practiced Tai Chi Sword, and Naginata, a women’s sword-fighting art, where the sword is bound to a six-foot bamboo pole that extends the reach of the sword.

There was a famous battle in Japan in an earlier century — I can’t remember which — where all the men in a village had gone to war, and the women saved their village by fighting off marauders on horseback by binding their husbands’ extra swords to long bamboo poles.

They could now not only reach the marauders and still not get hurt themselves, but they could cut the horses’ legs out from under them. Thus began the traditional martial art of Naginata.

Originally practiced only by women, men are increasingly included. I first learned of it in Honolulu, where I practiced Jiu Jitsu, and then Tai Chi sword. When my left hand was damaged in a practice skirmish, a fellow student suggested Naginata. I took one look at the practice and was enthralled.

There was something about it — being led through our exercises, slow, methodical, feet this way, feet that way, spine straight, hold sword like this, keep fingers in, elbows down — sensei calling out the moves in Japanese, the echo of her voice filling the gym — something about it touched my heart in a way no other discipline ever had, or has, ever since.

After we got warmed up and started moving and flowing as a group, there were moments when I felt like the energy of the entire cosmos entered the top of my head, rippled down through me and exited from my feet into the very deepest parts of the earth.

On the way through my body, the energy spread out, filling my chest to bursting, slithering down my arms, my hands — my thighs and knees and calves tingling and effervescing as if I had funneled buckets of some fizzy soda drink into them, even my toes.

At the ends of our sessions, I was not only grounded, but floating light as a feather. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I occupied every cell, every hair, every last part of my body.

It was like being the power and hugeness of the Hulk, without the rage.

One time I flew from where I lived in New Mexico to California to partake in a competition. I had my staff broken down, the pole and sword in a hefty, flat cardboard tube. When I went through security, the guy on the x-ray machine threw his hands in the air and exclaimed, “She’s a warrior! Look at that sword!”

He was laughing, because he obviously knew what it was, and was delighted. We were about to have a conversation, but his cry alerted every guard there. Five very serious, very big guys crowded around me and shuffled me off to another little side space. The x-ray guy grimaced and mouthed, “sorry!”

It was all I could do to get them to let me carry the tube on board — “It’s made of wood! It’s not a real sword! No way could I even get it out of there on board . . .”

They finally let me on. The stewards were so curious, and were kind enough to allow me to put the awkward tube in their own space. I got to play ‘warrior’ with the people who had seen the scene. They oohed and ahhhed over my photos of my classes and the really good masters. I think it was the funnest flight I’ve ever been on.

My sensei put me in skirmishes with advanced people who were so far ahead of me it was pathetic — like a new (terrified) kitten fighting a rampaging wild boar. I lost all of the games I was in — after three, I could feel the bruises and bumps I’d gotten turning black and blue under my padding.

I told her I was going to observe from now on — I could just as well learn by watching these amazing athletes. I could tell she was disappointed in me, but it was never my intention to fight for prizes. I just wanted to parry during breaks and hang out in such a great space.

I’m wasn’t too good at any of it — I just loved how alive the practice made me feel. Like I was solid. Like I belonged to the world.


Image: Swords
© Angela Treat Lyon 2024

More info on Naginata (funky English!):

Thank you to Norcal instagram page with great pix:


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