A Sword Collector

by Toru Shimoji (1998)


At a recent Traditional Karate seminar held in Washington D.C. by Master Hidetaka Nishiyama, the renowned teacher closed the session with profound advice to all of us.

He related a humorous ancient story about a group of samurais bragging about their skills in swordsmanship.

One bragged to the others, "I have a beautiful sword." Not wanting to be outdone the second samurai said, "Oh yeah, I have two great swords!" The third swordsman jumped in exclaiming, "That's nothing, I have three!"

This went on until finally, there stood a samurai completely encased in several hundred swords. Nishiyama Sensei chuckled, "many swords, but he didn't know how to use any."

Sensei's message was clear. Rather than accumulating multitudes of styles and techniques (he refers to this as the "ornament style"), the true path to Budo is to master one. Then all else becomes clear and one can truly understand any technique and style

His story concluded a weekend of intense training in the fundamental principles of Traditional Karate.

Sensei's training challenges the student at a gut level, forcing self-reflection rather than ego stroking. Instead of giving each participant a "new sword" to add to their mental collection, Sensei's training dwells on the core principles of Budo- centering of the mind, body and spirit, and moving w ith the minimal effort and maximum efficiency.

Everything in kihon, kata and kumite falls within these fundamental ideas. In fact, our kata session was spent mostly on Heian Shodan!

In the introduction of "JKA Karate-do Ranking", Nishiyama Sensei remarks, "The martial art of karate-do has no limitations to offer its practitioners. Karate-do is the unlimited development of the individual's physical and mental powers." And he concludes, "And yet, it is all relative, for the fina l goal cannot be reduced to the mere attainment of one level. The objective is rather to progress, to advance, and to achieve in the context of continual training and seeking of karate-do."

Nishiyama Sensei's advice is not easy to follow living in our "fast food" society where everything and anything is instantly accessible. But the level of excellence that can be attained by seeking perfection of one form far outweighs our desire to stray and follow another path.

It is interesting that as you seek the depth of Traditional Karate and the more you understand the art, the less you know, and there simply isn't enough time to collect another sword.