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'How'd You Get Into the Sword?'
Crackpot Mailbox: Samuel Finlay and James Discuss the Sword
Checking In / Sword Tips
Samuel Finlay
Sun, Aug 25, 9:03 PM (2 days ago)
Thanks for the tips and the link. I've been looking for stuff I can drill on my own, and I think you've given me some great homework. I'd really like to work on my fundamentals, but they've been having us do more sparring than anything lately. As a result, I feel like I'm flailing about with bad habits. I'm learning, but I know I'm missing something (s).
Glad to hear you're well and Lynn's not in trouble. The people of Earth are gonna need y'all.
By the way, how'd you get into the sword? I remember you talking about how you got into boxing, and that time you almost cleaved that one kid in twain when you were a boy, but I wasn't sure how you took it up as a study for itself. I like to think all this is leading to you waking up in Barzoom or wherever one of these days like John Carter, and all this will have just been training.
Watch your top-knot out there, Brother James,
The Sword Master
Previously Sam and I Discussed the Sword in Time And Measure.
Sam, to cap off our discussion of sword training, sparring is very necessary. But this should be coached sparring with an instructor or supervised sparring where each round is used to develop or review a coaching point. The worst kind of training is every body doing this move, then that move, lined up or spaced out like karate students. Also, the biggest blind spot in sword training is to neglect the knife and the stick and the small sword, all items often used in combat, the stick being generalized to the club, board, bat etc.
I recall well spending a total of 14 hours having my hand smacked, arm brusied and my throat touched with hickory katanas as I sparred and drilled with a kenjitsu instructor. He was so much better than I and used two katanas at once, which I could not do. This grew from him observing us stick fighting and sparring with wax wood clamores [5-feet 5- pound monsters] and wanting me for a sparring partner. He was, athletically, every way my superior as well as in technical form. After we had miscommunicated about meeting for a training session he called my wife up and cussed her out. So Chuck suggested I spar him without granting him supervisory control. For this, he used his hickory katana which could have snapped my neck or arm in one stroke. I used an arnis stick with a turkey baster taped to the end to safely replicate a stone age war club and a small shield made of Dixie 7-inch plastic lunch plates and duct tape with a bailing wire handle.
This session occurred at Riverside Park on the ball court across from the Maryland Center for the Blind in, I think, 2001. This guy was a light heavyweight about 30 and I was a welterweight about 40. Chuck told me to "press him" and "bum-rush him" sick of this condescending asshole. I banked my anger over his treatment of my wife and just used it as fuel. Thinking I would have to lunge with abandon at some point like some Ainu savage against a Samurai, I was cautious as I stalked him. It soon became obvious that this man had never faced anything but a sword that was the same dimensions as his sword and he failed to achieve time and measure even once.
The hunt was on!
As I walked this guy down with nothing but modified boxing footwork of the kind used by Fitzsimmons circa 1897, Chuck was snarling in anticipation of the bum rush and beat down. Then the Kenjitsu Master, employed at a school of traditional Japanese arts as an instructor, lost all sense of space and time as he was cornered against the fence and caught his bottom pants cuff under the bottom of the wire fence and became stuck. As Chuck urged me to KO him, I instead saw the tears in the eyes of my quarry and saluted, helping him get free of the fence, as he was so addled by the encounter with my soft stone age weapon replicas that he could not even free himself as he stammered and misted.
We parted with a handshake and never saw this Neo-Aristocrat of the sword again as Chuck snarked and griped that I should have beat his ass, all the while the Master regarded Cuck with abject terror over his shoulder, as if I held him on an invisible leash as some kind of cannibal hound in human form. Ironically, the Mexicans who watched us in the park called Chuck Loco Lobo and me Devil Hand. They disliked me intensely.
Sam, the point of this story is that, as we prepare to defender us and ours in the coming Hunt for Palefaces across the land of our birth, we must train with the primitive weapons of our hunters and the improvised weapons that might happen to be at hand when we are attacked in the bowels of a nation that hates us and forbids our bearing a sword.
This brings us to the seduction of the sword.
My Time Machine
I was a semi-retarded, anger-filled boy of 13 who had just become man-strong over night when hitting puberty at 11, after six years of torment by boys, youths and men. I wanted to escape from or kill the world, knowing that every hand was against me except for the deluded fantasists who were my unlucky parents and thought the life of a boy in a society of hierarchal invalidation was somehow bucolic and I a devil-child.
I had only moved with my family from Baltimore County, Maryland to Washington County, Pennsylvania on the condition that my father let me box and find me a coach, which he and my mother had barred me from doing, perfectly content to have me continue to be beaten up by young men and older boys.
The first order of business was a fight between me and an 18-year-old football player which would come of my war against the neighborhood. So the first order was pushed off. I first took the challenge of a 13-year-old wrestler who fought me in front of the two 18-year-old patriarchs. This was an adolescent boxer versus wrestler match, as I was pre-hated for being a boxer even though I had yet to get my first lesson! I had wrestled for two years, never winning a match against the older more experienced boys my weight, but never being pinned, just being rode for points for all six minutes as I shrimped around the mat. So, as Jeff probed for a collar I shot the double leg, and instead of taking him down, straightened up and power bombed him, knocking him the fuck out on the grass as his older brother and the football player watched.
Looking at the football player, strong enough to pick up the end of a car and move it and knowing that it would now be on, I decided that I wanted to fight him in the woods, where I could smash him with stuff, knowing that wrestling him would be a disaster and that I had yet to lace on gloves in a gym.
I had never been to woods before, and these woods were surrounding the dead-end road called Moger Drive where we now lived and I was wonderstruck, wanting to be a barbarian like Conan and battling foes in the forest—preferably Pictish warriors. I looked at the expansive wood known as "Bush" by the locals and said, "I want to go there."
To this the elder boys answered that they only went their with their guns in hunting season and their motorcycles after school.
My brother and I were true paupers in this rural-suburban society of teens, with no guns or motorbikes.
I then said, "I want to run in the woods."
The boys all told me that a pack of wild dogs roamed there and it was unsafe. My mind set fire and I spent the next week making a spear, a war, club and a throwing stick out of maple saplings with a knife my father gave to my brother and I against my mother's wishes. Ready for battle, I went at dawn and dusk looking for the pack of dogs, running along the motorcycle trails, to my utter disappointment, finding no heroic battle to forge my wannabe Conanesque identity. I was painfully stupid but determined.
I then began caching the heavier weapons in some tree Y's and only ran with the war club, a heavy maple tree limb with 10-penny nails driven through the head for spikes. After these rusted, I traded it in for a shaped cheery tree limb that had—I fancied—the curve of a cutlass at its knotty end.
While taking my dawn and dusk runs I ran into a large buck deer on numerous occasions, pheasants, a hawk, possums, raccoons and other creatures I had never imagined as a child of the concrete and asphalt negation matrix. I called up Jeff, the kid I had power-bombed, who had been put in charge of keeping tabs on me by the older teens and declared, "There are cool animals living down there in Bush. You guys are no longer allowed to ride your bikes in the woods, or the woods above Grumicks Green House. These are my woods and I'm declaring war on all of you."
I then allied with Rick, the big read-headed kid that was unliked by the other kids. We made bigger, heavier spears, including out of steel fence posts, which I could drive into a pine tree three inches deep from five paces, and patrolled our domain, destroying the bike ramps, bank turns and jumps, felling trees across trails and otherwise being real big dicks. This would eventually result in me fighting and defeating the oldest kid, the 18-year old football player, breaking my hand on and becoming friends with him, and in Rick and I later using a fence post spear and a real axe to capture two trespassers, a boxer and a karate black belt a few years older than us. Rick cut down a double-bladed axe and could throw it like a tomahawk, one of which I soon bought with unspent lunch money.
I had managed to make my own space and earned a lifelong friend, yet remained an idiot dreamer. I decided that I would patrol these woods through my teens, and then when I was old enough to quit school I would work for a year or two to save money for a walk to Tera Del Fuego and hopefully be killed heroically along the way. In the meantime, I found a solid 1/4-inch thick, 4-inch wide, 4-foot long angle post and forged it on a coal fire in the woods, cutting a point with a a hack saw, rounding the back end into a handle and sharpening it on a grinder in my dad's workshop. I made a shield from the carborator cap of an Impala and went every dawn and many dusks into the woods hoping that I would be attacked by feral dogs or whisked away, literally, like my favorite character in fiction, Jon Carter. I made a crucifix combat dummy of two-by-fours and 16-gage sheet metal in the yard and practiced using a martial arts video titled Budo. That is it as far as committed sword training until I became a stick-fighter in 1998, 22 years later.
My experience since then was applying stick-fighting methods to dueling with dull machetes and using drill methodology to develop survivable habits, meaning I am self-taught, as I am as a stick-fighter. The only formal instruction I have ever had is in boxing, by three coaches. I have attended many martial arts schools and seminars as an observer, but do not submit to their money-making schemes. In my mid 40s I did pay for a few stick-fighting lessons at the hands of a guy who had beaten me 35 out of 34 times.
Hilariously, during one of our only lucid conversations, after having dropped out of school and bought with my first three pay checks: boots, a bowie knife and a Spanish saber, my father looked at me while on the basement stairs beneath which I lived and said, "Well, you can quit working now. You already have everything you need according to your conception of the world."
I was happy that the ass-kissing pussy who was my father understood me, even as he laughed harshly at my refusal to accept our sick society. Even the slight pain stemming from the realization that Ted saw no value in me, was damped somewhat after the gas company meter reader had been making passes at my step mother while Dad was at work and I was sitting beneath the very basement stairs where they stood as the creep told her what a nice ass she had and I sharpened by bowie knife in anticipation of a call to duty. My step mother never knew I was there and fended off the advances verbally. Then, after Ted came home from work, she spoke with him in the kitchen at the top of the stairs while I laid in bed underneath reading and she asked what she should do if such a visitor did not take no for an answer and he laughed, "Call Jimmy—for Christ sake, you feed the kid..." I never have been able to recall the rest of what he said except, "...I'd never want you setting him on me!" and they laughed and she fed me the better in the days after that, still does when I come to visit, my residual human identity particularly proud that neither of them ever asked me to protect her, that they just knew I was looking for an excuse to strike a blow against the evil world.
Aliens never came to the Bush hollow to pick me up to battle for them on some fantastic planet, much to my disappointment. I did use the homemade sword at 18 and 2 months to hack up a large friend of mine who I caught beating my little brother up, who was giving away exactly 175 pounds. Once I avoided felony prosecution through no credit of my own, I moved to Baltimore to find work enough to carry me to the Rio Grand...and then got seduced by an older woman and ended up trying to make a living for her and our sons in the worst city in America, and thus discovering that the world of brutal tribal adventure I had dreamed of existed, in real time, among the ruins of that once great city. I survived as a paleface hunted by ebon warriors and paleface cops and creeps for 38 years, before becoming too old and infirm to survive other than by the goodwill of my hunters.
Realistically, Sam, if I ever get to use my hard-won ability with sword-like weapons, it will probably be poking some hoodlum in the eye with an umbrella just before his bros stomp me into ICU pudding, and I'd be pleased with that. It's funny that to this day, my entire family reviles me in normal times, but anytime violence looms or horrible shit happens, I'm the one they call. This all stems from them knowing that I've always hated this world and unthinkingly wanting me there when it turns against them.
That's strange I know, but this is what comes to mind when I think of the sword, because it represents a willingness to face the foe at arm's length, but with enough of an edge to deal with more than one attacker, which is the fate that awaits every pale one of us as we are dispossessed in the very land of our forefathers and our replacements stream across fictional borders in their teeming millions, thirsty for the very air we breathe.
Being a Bad Man in a Worse World
Fighting Smart: Boxing, Agonistics & Survival
Twerps, Goons and Meatshields: The Basics of Full Contact Stick-Fighting
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