Monday, January 26, 2009

Let's Katana!

Yesterday Matt DeCoster and I took a workshop on swordfighting with katanas from the very nice people of Byakokan Dojo. When I woke up this morning feeling sore in the strangest of places (left calf?!), it took me a second to remember this is the reason why.

I know more about swordfighting than the average person (because I'm a nerd who's acted in Renaissance Fairs and has taken Dungeons and Dragons TO THE EXTREME) and less about it than anyone who's studied it in a mature manner. And my knowledge of katana-related stuff mostly comes from the woefully inept Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I was psyched to learn some real skillz.

And it was pretty interesting! I didn't know what to expect, really. A class full of martial artists, stunt men and lunatics, taught by either a scary badass or a weird Renaissance Fair guy with a ponytail.

But it turned out to be a lot less disconcerting than that. The most intimidating student was Matt (who, truth be told, is very intimidating), and the sensei and his assistants (I'm sure there's a Japanese term for "assistants," but I didn't catch it. And that was one of the difficulties in this workshop, they'd refer to the different motions in Japanese, and since I speak that language as well as a two year old, I had trouble keeping up) were cool and mellow and my age. They were a lot like me, in fact, totally geeked out about their passion, though theirs was swordsmanship and mine happens to be playing with a cake puppet.

This wasn't about how to look awesome using a katana, and I'm glad. It was just about how to kill someone quickly and cleanly and safely. Usually in one hit. And don't think they were all, "Swords are awesome!" (though they are), they talked a lot about the history and how it's dangerous. Nobody goes around with a katana cutting people up. But it's still cool to learn.

And when they demonstrated, holy crap! Like, they cut up these tatami mats (which they said smelled bad, but either the smell is reminiscent from my half-Asian childhood or I was a martial artist in another life, because I thought they smelled nice) and that was pretty impressive, and then when they'd spar, they would attack with these terrifying, lion-like roars that one never hears in this day and age.

I wouldn't want to fight these guys. I would die. Also, if there was ever a zombie uprising, someone who is skilled with a katana would probably do pretty well. THIS IS GOOD TO KNOW.

Here's a video (of them cutting up mats, not fighting zombies):

So we were given these bokken (wooden swords) to use, and DeCoster and I ended up with these really heavy pieces of wood. Like, the guy told us when he handed them out, "These two are really heavy," and damn, they were. It was like holding a two-by-four over your head for about an hour. Midway through one of the instructors traded me this light, toy-like sword, and I was like, "Whoa, this is what everyone else has been using? Ridiculous!" I MUST BE SUPER STRONG.

Eventually we sparred. Simple moves, obviously, and it was all about getting the form down properly. I partner up with Matt, since we know each other, and I'm more comfortable attacking him than a total stranger. Also, I trust him completely. No one I know is more in control of their body than Matt. But still, it was pretty crazy. The instructors kept telling him to relax, not be so intense, because when Matt gets on his intense face... THINGS GET INTENSE.

They say that most of the fight is willpower and intimidation, and I felt more than a little intimidated seeing Matt DeCoster try and hit my skull with a wooden plank. I like to think even the instructors were intimidated.

Just imagine his eyes bugging out, features contorted into a combat face of deadly concentration, muscles flexed and rippling... and then there's Kirk, the small and the meek, who always leans forward too much and can't get his shoulders out of their concave position, having to deflect DeCoster's bokken before it hits him in the brainpan. And he has to do this 40 times.

Obviously, it went well. No injuries (note that I didn't say my skull was hurting this morning), and a good time was had by all. I wish there was a more exciting ending ("There was blood anywhere!" or "Ouch, my brains!"), but this blog is about the real world, not my fantasy life. It was just a three-hour workshop. And, like any martial art, it's all about discipline, so there wasn't any jackassery or running through Manhattan swinging swords at everyone.

But still, it really made me want to take some sort of exercise-y class. Fencing, maybe, since that's like Dungeons and Dragons. Or tai chi, since that's slow and is with old people and doesn't involve getting hit. I'm scared of pain.


  1. DeCoster with a bokken is a scary thought.

    And you're right, Kirk, if I was better with a sword it would be apart of my zombie survival kit.