What kumdo means to me by Joey Lynn Monaco

Joey Lynn Monaco

Joey Lynn Monaco, Kumdo&Siljun Dobup 1st Dan, Officer

In the summer of 2001, in the dwindling days of American innocence, I held my first real samurai sword. Forged in the 1500s, it was as sharp and beautiful as a new blade, thanks to the meticulous care of my friend Fred. Although Fred was born inShanghai, he spent most of his life inJapan, and his two great loves were his Japanese wife and his collection of Japanese swords. When Fred handed me his 500 year old blade, I was amazed that he trusted me with something so valuable, without hesitation. As I began to associate with more swordsmen, swordswomen and sword enthusiasts, I came to understand that the love of the sword binds people in deeper ways than more run-of-the-mill hobbies.

Two years before meeting Fred, I had traveled toJapan. One of my favorite places was the temple at Sengakuji, where the 47 Ronin rest. The 47 Ronin were samurai who defied the letter of the law in order to fulfill what they considered to be a higher duty. Even though it ultimately cost them their lives, the 47 Ronin acted on conscience. To me, the sword was a symbol of the resolve and high principles that I’ve always admired in swordsmen. Burning incense at the graves of the 47 Ronin was a turning point for me, and when I met Fred, and he shared his sword collection, it was another step down the path. Fred introduced me to my first sword show. Sword enthusiasts gather each year to participate in panels and educational sessions, view historically significant swords and buy and sell swords and fittings.

Fred also shared a video that was filmed inside the workshop of one ofJapan’s remaining traditional swordsmiths. The video showed in detail how swords are forged, from the selection of the metal to the polishing process. The forging of a sword holds many parallels to the forging of a sword practitioner. Just as the swordsmith chooses the pieces of metal with the best potential, when we train we nurture the best parts of ourselves. The swordsmith works the metal over and over again until he has released its impurities. I’ve heard it said that there are no swordsmen with bad character, because they either quit or their character improves. When I train, I feel as though, by repetition, I confront my own weaknesses and reshape them. If you’re going to dedicate yourself to sword, you must accept that the repetition and refinement of technique are never finished, and surrendering any ideas of mastery or perfection is a necessary step to making any progress at all. You have to learn to trust the effort.

This is another key lesson I’ve taken away from my sword practice – learning to trust, especially to trust myself. As a beginner, I watched more advanced students practice complicated sword forms, and I thought to myself, there’s no way I’m going to be able to swing the sword that way without hurting myself or someone else. Like many beginners, I held my sword in a virtual death grip because that’s the only way I thought I could maintain control. Slowly and patiently my teachers encouraged me to ease my grip, and to trust that I had the skills to keep control without trying so hard. I still have my “death grip days,” but overall I’ve internalized this lesson not only in the dojang but in the outside world. At the time that I began practicing the sword, I felt that my life and career were becoming more challenging, and I found myself struggling for control. I’ve come to understand that I can’t control every situation as tightly as I might like, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t succeed. I trust myself to read the signals of the people around me and respond appropriately. Naturally, this is a belief that will take endless repetitions to fully master.

Kumdo means much more to me than the physical practice of swordsmanship. It means participating in an ancient, honorable tradition which strengthens the mind as well as the body. Every time I practice, I learn a little more about patience, strength and faith. I feel supported by a community not only of my classmates but of all who have come before. Kumdo increases my confidence, my self-respect and my physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Now that I’ve come this far, I can’t imagine my life without it. My friends have told me that kumdo has changed me, in the best possible ways. Kumdo is helping me to become the person I would like to be.

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