Bit more drinking than expected this weekend, starting with bumming around Berkeley yesterday and whimsically deciding to hit up the Takara/Sho Chiku Bai sake factory, where they give you free tastings of various sakes and plum wines, and you can buy products that, if not rare, aren't in most stores (I got small bottles of the unfiltered and organic-unpasteurized). Drinking continued at a party last night and barbecue today, and will let up after a visit to Naomi Sushi's Beer and Sake Festival. W00t.
Thinking more today about what I wrote yesterday about fencing, and the conversion of combat arts into sports. How do I perceive all these things that I enjoy--aikido, and the making and using of weapons--which deal so intently with death, to support life? Aikido makes more immediate sense as far as that goes, being a death-dealing form that underwent a profound transformation in technique and philosophy. But swords? Phallic Freudianism aside, why do I like swords?
In Buddhist teaching (it varies widely whether this is considered belief structure, allegory, or [Zen] it doesn't matter), Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, carries a diamond sword to cut through illusion. The cutting is not a disillusionment in the usual sense: we do not identify our illusions and then cancel them out through reason. The Buddhist idiom of "cutting off" is a training towards the pre-rational: we learn to see the world as it is before we form the illusion, before we introduce our words and connotations and judgements into our perception. Each moment becomes shimmering clarity and presence, endless explosive possibility of life and death. Life and death is the key. Zen talks about "this great matter of life and death", which for me is just "How are you going to deal with being human?". In each moment, full of itself and nothing else, life and death are the same. Actual death and ego death get mixed up somehow, because our ego tries to convince us that our ego is our self. When I do weapons in aikido, I have fear: I can feel, deep inside, when someone has a wooden sword pointed at my chest. In a moment this person is going to attack me with that sword, and because he is my friend and he attacks with integrity, if I don't move, I am going to get hit in the head. I pay attention, I move at the right time, I parry his attack or take the sword away from him. Our training develops that awareness, brings us up against our fear of death and injury in a way that doesn't happen when you're using foam-covered whiffle-bats. The fear doesn't go away, but it loses its power over us, becomes less of a concern than dealing with the imminent attack. We lose the deer-in-the-headlights reflex in favor of a more relaxed awareness and ability to respond and adapt.
I dunno. The awareness engendered by the discipline of using weapons leads to a rich appreciation of living life. The artistic side of the Japanese samurai isn't a contradiction to me any more. This is apparently true elsewhere: a friend of mine in the SCA says that the best fighters don't go around bragging about what good fighters they are. Everyone knows who they are because they always win, and no matter how big they are they're generally quiet and kind.
Plus, it's fun!