Since they were first fashioned, swords have been surrounded by a special magic. No other weapon throughout history was routinely given a name and a spiritual identity. Gilgamesh* wielded the ‘Blade of Eight Talents’ . In “The Song of Roland” it was named ‘Durandel’ (Enduring). Musashi’s greatest opponent, Kojiro, named his long Katana ‘Swallow’. Charlemagne called his ‘Joyeuse’. The most famous sword in western lore is King Arthur’s ‘Excalibur’.
In 12th century Japan swordsmanship was elevated to a sacred and artistic status. The father of the Deities, Izanazi No Mikato used a sword called ‘Tatsuka No Tsurugi’ in order to kill the fire god. A sword called ‘The Grass Mower’ is one of the three divine symbolic treasures, along with a jewel and a mirror, that have traditionally, and to this day, rested beside the Emperor’s throne. The sword stands for strength, the jewel for mercy and the mirror for knowledge. The Chinese double-edged sword, the Malay / Indonesian Kris, and the Vikings’ swords were similarly honoured, deemed to have a spiritual component, and given magical names.
The firearms that came and made swords obsolete in warfare have never achieved the same magical status of swords. An exception would be for a short time between 1850 and 1900, in the American west when the quick-draw and sure-shot captured the imagination of a large part of the world through books and later in cinema.
It is interesting to note the proliferation of sword-driven films that have been produced and very well received over the last few years. Perhaps it all started with the “Star Wars” series, where the ‘Light Sabre’ was the weapon that was used and respected by the highest tier of warriors. Then, along with “Gladiator”, a rash of sword flics came out, including “Ghost Dog”, “Spartacus”, “The Last Samurai”, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, “King Arthur”, “Kill Bill”, “Hero”, “Zatoichi”, plus the TV series “Highlander”.
In all of these works the swords were shown to require great skill in their use, as well as noble and spiritual qualities, while firearms and ray-guns were looked down on as being without honour, ineffective or crude. In any case swords and swordsmanship seem to have inspired the imagination of the public once again, and the sword appears as the ‘Once and Future Weapon’.
* The “Epic of Gilgamesh” was written at least 1,500 years before Homer. This earliest of tales was preserved on clay tablets and was deciphered in the last century.
Author and image: Kenneth van Sickle
- ON BEING A MASTER – Tai Chi Sword
- STRANGERS – Tai Chi Sword 52
- PADDED SWORDS – Tai Chi Sword 51
- SAFETY – Tai Chi Sword 50
- PARALLELS – Tai Chi Sword 49
- Swordsmanship – SEVEN QUOTES – Tai Chi Sword 48
- TI FENG & FA JING – Tai Chi Sword 47
- SUPPOSITIONS – Tai Chi Sword 46
- LAO TZU (Laozi) QUOTES – Tai Chi Sword 45
- ETIQUETTE – Tai Chi Sword 44
- FENCING PROCESS – Tai Chi Sword 43
- STRATEGIES – Tai Chi Sword 42