THE SWORD-WIELDING SAMURAI, AS
SEEN IN THE MANY AKIRA KUROSAWA
MOVIES, IS ONE OF THE MOST
PROMINENT IMAGES OF JAPAN.
ALTHOUGH THE DAYS OF THESE
GREAT WARRIORS HAVE LONG GONE,
THE SPIRIT OF THE SWORD HAS
NOT AND THE PRACTICE OF IAIDO
IS STILL ALIVE AND WELL.
Masato Tabata, age 24, is a native of Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture, and he’s studied martial arts since he was 3. He practices the way of the samurai (Ken Zen Sho: Sword Zen Calligraphy) “It gives me balance in life,” he said. Tabata runs Samurai Experience that offers visitors to Japan a chance to experience the spirit of the sword (ritual) and Zen (meditation). A great customer proposition.
We enter the 250-year-old building with respect. This is where Tabata runs his businsess. A residence in central Kyoto that previously was a samurai facility.
In a small courtyard inside the building, Tabata demonstrated the sword ritual for us, wearing a formal kimono and hakama (split skirt). He started with a formal bow. Then without warning he drew his sword and with three 45-degree-angled swooshes, he sliced his “enemy”, and a rolled-up tatami (straw) mat fell into pieces on the floor before him. With the same fluidity, he sheathed his razor-sharp sword without breaking concentration.
We asked him what was going on in his head during the ritual. He made another bow, and then slowly turned his head to us and answered calmly:
”I don’t think about anything. It’s important to clear your mind – to be focused – just like you do in Zen meditation.”
When teaching the ritual to his students, Tabata explains proper etiquette and sword-management and asks them to practice with a wooden sword. Once he’s satisfied with their skills, they may use a real katana (sword), which is yet another experience. A real sword is light and weighs about 1.8 kilos. Many students aren’t successful the first few times they use it. But true to Zen philosophy, small details within the ritual are more important than a highly successful end result.
“I don’t think
to clear your mind
– to be focused.”
After the sword-wielding lessons, Tabata leads a Zen meditation session; steel bowls ring gently throughout the session to calm the body, mind, and spirit – a technique he learned from Tibetan Buddhism. The sounds, combined with breathing techniques, guide students into a meditative state. Then Tabata brings them back to reality by playing soothing Shakuhachi (bamboo flute) music. Rino, Tabata’s sister, gives guests a cup of green tea to mark the end the session.
Our short visit with Tabata taught us the importance of constantly being in the present, and it proved to us that the journey is more important than the goal.
Living Zen means dedication to details
Why not dip into this Zen toolkit? Do one thing at a time. Do it slowly and deliberately. Do it completely. Do less. Put space between things. Develop rituals. Designate time for certain things. Devote time to sitting. Smile and serve others. Make cleaning and cooking become meditation. Think about what is necessary. Live simply.