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
- THE TASSEL – Tai Chi Sword 33
- THE SWORD FINGERS – Tai Chi Sword 32
- Cheng Man Ching Photographs
- THE JOINTS – Tai Chi Sword 31
- THE GRIP – Tai Chi Sword 30
- SWORD MOVEMENT – Tai Chi Sword 29
- ON ALIGNMENT – Tai Chi Sword 28
- CONCERNING THE CENTRE – Tai Chi Sword 27
- EQUATIONS – Tai Chi Sword 26
- HSIN AND CHI – Tai Chi Sword 25
- On studying – NINE QUOTES – Tai Chi Sword 24
- THE SWORD MAIDENS – Tai Chi Sword 23