A meditation that blends swordplay and hard rock.
|Stand and fight, join the light
Into the battle with power and might
Sound the guns
Raise the cannons of war
With the north star to guide us we ride on the sky
Blazing up through the heavens like eagles we fly
And the horsemen shall come they will judge all your lives
Revelations will now be unveiled...
Battle music blares through my headphones, shutting out all other sounds. The drums thunder, mingling with the soaring vocals and the resonance of the guitars. Go deeper, losing yourself in the fierce rush of joy and freedom. Concentrate. The wind tickles the back of my neck, tossing my short hair into relative disarray in its playful mood. Sunlight filters through the trees, and I follow the dance of light and shadow with my eyes. I am in a park, or a back yard or far up into the foothills. Anywhere that I can be alone, to commune with myself and all around me. There is no consistent place I do this work because there is no place that is strictly mine. Every moment I do this is a risk; it gives it that much more of an edge, bringing the world even sharper into focus.
The reason I am here is one that many people I know disapprove of. Even my own family doesnt understand the power of music and tempered steel. But here and now there is no one watching, trying to tell me that this is wrong. How can peace like this be wrong? There is nothing but me, the music, and the wind at my back. I am one with it all. I allow the musics power to fill me, channeling it through the length of steel in my hand. Still sheathed, but ready to fly as soon as the right moment comes.
There is something about a sunny day with a touch of wind its only more perfect when you are holding a sword. Even if you are just standing there, focusing on it there are few sights like it. And actually doing it is better still: the blood pounds through your veins, but you show no signs of adrenaline on the outside. I stand absolutely still, calmly reflecting on the feel of the steel in my grasp. Picturing how I want to move in your head, reviewing how to step for each slash and thrust. I am still just learning, so I handle it gingerly and yet I trust this blade far more than I would most of the people I know.
A prized possession, this sword a battle-ready ninja-to, specially ordered. I named it Reika, and bound it with blood. It was only right for the sword to have a name; it is my partner, a friend who can be trusted far more than most people. The name itself is Japanese; I came up with it randomly on my own. It was only recently that I discovered that the literal translation for it is sub-zero. I have to admit that it fits when you think about it; the sword helps me to release the icy anger that builds up in me from living in society, having to deal with people day in and day out. Owning her takes on a whole new level of meaning when you consider that she was one of the first things I truly bought for myself, with money that wasnt on loan from friends or family. Above all else, it is mine; no one can take it from me as long as I am careful and harm no one.
Most people look at me when I have a weapon to hand and see only a threat: a dangerous, obviously homicidal individual who would kill another as soon as look at them. But the truth of the matter is far simpler: I like weapons. Ive always liked them; not just swords, but knives and shuriken as well. Even guns manage to catch my interest, though they dont have the same poetry as steel cutting through the wind. I have a set of usable throwing knives, and a small collection of throwing stars as well. My family doesnt understand; they equate my enjoyment of munitions with the desire to kill and that is not necessarily the case. A weapon is good for more than just death. Learning to wield one properly takes skill and discipline; it can aid in the mastery of ones impulses, or even simply assisting you along the path to truly knowing oneself. Just because I own a sword or a gun doesnt mean Im going to charge into school and start killing people. To me, this is freedom the releasing of the bounds of societal norms the ability to be who I was intended by the higher powers. Not a threat just a dreamer with a length of steel, trying to focus on something beyond myself. This is my ticket to the higher planes of existence--my meditation. My channel.
Who can cure my emptiness inside for this time?
Suffering from loneliness my dreams and hopes will die
No more feelings left inside my blackened heart I cannot hide
Time after time our souls divided on we cry
Fly far away don't leave your own past behind
Live for the day another year passes by
Now we turn to face our fear there's nothing more to say
Still your dreams and my nightmares remain
Silent fields of despair my tears in the rain
Pain in my heart bleeding through
One day we'll be back for one moment in time
Endlessly searching for you...
I live at home still. My family is, for the most part, fairly liberal--but for some reason my mother strongly disapproves of weapons, even though my father is a hunter himself. They do not know that I own a sword; I am having a friend keep it for me until I can rent a place of my own. I do not know what they would do if they found out I had wasted my money to buy one. The smaller things I can keep with me: the shuriken and throwing knives are easy enough to hide. And theyd known that I had a shinai (a bamboo sword used in kendo) until recently. They didnt seem to mind that as long as it wasnt an actual weapon and they didnt see me using it. I dont think that they classify a weapon of wood as dangerous, at least in my hands. My father has stated more than once that he does not feel Id ever be a threat to anyone; whether he actually meant that in the scornful way it sounded or was merely trying to convince himself of that, I have no idea.
My issues with my family--and society in general--go deeper than a misunderstanding over the use of weapons. My parents love me, and I know it but I have never felt understood by anyone. If I ever needed help, I doubt there would be anyone there for me; people dont seem to stick around much. Friends, family they all seem to pass me by in time. Often I feel that people merely pick me up when they need me or want something much like a child would their favorite toy. As soon as I cease to be useful, I am dropped again until they require something else. I have no contact with the people I knew growing up; theyve all left me behind. And I dont make new friends easily; some of the experiences of my early childhood make it difficult to trust or open up to others. This world feels cold to me; aside from what I am doing here and now and a very few other activities, there is no peace to be found for such as I.
I have always been different; Ive known it since I was little. Even I am not certain how or why this is so, and Ive given up on trying to find a reason, a deeper meaning behind it. I couldnt handle the pain that resulted from having no place to belong when I was a kid, and Im not sure that its gotten better since but I am still alive, and therefore must endure. All I have ever wanted was for someone to see me as I am, not what they want me to be. My parents persist in thinking that my personality needs to be fixed; they blame it on the trauma of the past, failing to consider that I may have been meant to become as I am. Its interesting; in a poetry class I am currently taking, they tell me that they dont see my personality in my poems. Yet when I give them what they want, they say the same or tell me that I dont know what Im talking about. Or simply that its not too late to get help. In the end, they dont want to know whats going on in my head, though they claim to desire it. Why cant people understand that being different is not necessarily a bad thing? So what if Im dark? It has its place, and a set of benefits all its own; if I did not have this attitude, I doubt that I would have survived to this point. This world could easily have driven me into madness; it is not kind to those whose views of life and reality are different from the mainstream. I have yet to find a niche here that I can inhabit, and I have all but given up on doing so. Working with Reika like this, or escaping into books or music, have sustained me. Others want to see me join the greater world, but all it seems to offer is pain and belittlement; why would I want to participate in a society that seemingly has no regard or respect for anyone who does not fit the mold? All I want is peace and freedom to be who I truly am, but I no longer think I will be granted such. If I have not received it by now, I doubt it will change anytime soon and all of my efforts to carve a place for myself appear to have failed.
Perhaps the aforementioned concepts are why I resonate so strongly with hard rock, with music that most would not listen to because it reflects anger and despair. I cant synchronize with classical music or pop; its the screaming anger and sorrow that puts me to sleep at night, not the traditional music that works for most people. Ive tried listening to the calmer stuff, and it just doesnt work for me. On the surface, I appear calm but there is a maelstrom inside that few people see if anyone even does. Hardcore music externalizes much of what goes on within me it makes my world real, gives it substance for a short time. Maybe if I had people listen to what I do, they would understand me just a little.
Stay here with me together we'll be stronger
Side by side we've conquered lands and stormed across the seas
Die here with me we feel this pain no longer
For now and ever we will be
In my heart, in my soul, I am out of control
Fly across the mountains and towards the distant sun
Tears evermore we cry like before
Feel the breakdown of my body - set me free!
The iPod plays on, and I hear the music even in the haze of focus; the thrall of wind, sun, and steel. The still point of concentration has been reached; I am ready to strike at any moment. All I need is a sign that the time is right, for the words to trigger the urge toward combat. The pull of speed and force is strong, and growing every second. The pull towards violence is alluring; in these moments I can understand the powers unleashed on a field of battle, or the sense of power many serial killers seek so assiduously. While I will never become a monster like many of them, I can understand the impulse to harm, to kill. It is almost impossible not to feel the surging adrenaline, the intoxicating rush of power the momentary impressions of invincibility. I understand it all in the moment before I strike, but I do not allow it to control me. Never lose yourself to the battle fever, or you risk becoming a monster yourself. I prefer to keep my swordsmanship pure; I will raise my sword against another person only in defense of myself or someone I care about.
But just in case I do face an actual person in the future, I need to be prepared to do so. I close my eyes, constructing an opponent in my mind and projecting it outward. I can almost see him, it is so real--a man taller than myself, powerfully built, wielding a European broadsword and wearing chain mail. He grips his sword and both of us sit back and wait for the right moment to lash out with our steel.
Stand now and break the chains
In unity we feel no pain
Forever torn apart from the haunting fears of my heart
Rage and fear from skies above the fire fuels my veins
Destruction of humanity the everlasting flame
Cast away no turning back from long forgotten shores
We'll show no mercy as they fall
The fire burns inside now prepare for war!
Now! Shifting my weight forward, I draw Reika, slashing the air in a controlled swipe. Thrust, intending to impale. Dodge the return slash; try not to block it. I dont have the physical strength to go body-to-body, so its better simply to get out of the way. Besides, I cant have my partner in arms getting damaged; a sword like this is meant to strike flesh, not steel. If I must block, never do so with the edge; use the spine of the blade only. And no cheap movie tricks allowed here; so much of the swordsmanship you see on TV is fake. The only thing its good for is breaking a sword. What a waste of poetic potential better to see the battle dance the way it was intended to be used.
The initial style I use is called iaido;the art of drawing and sheathing the blade. Also known as battojutsu, it consists of one- and two-strike moves intended to incapacitate the opponent. For the most part, I prefer the Eastern sword styles to the European I am particularly fond of the Japanese schools. With iaido, speed and accuracy are key. Envisioning an opponent in front of me, I strike at where their chest would be. I try to maintain my balance without sacrificing accuracy or power not that I can put much behind the blade yet. I havent practiced enough; Ive gotten sloppy.
Follow the initial strikes up with a pattern of slashes, thrusts, and parries against the invisible blade of my adversary. The moves are not from any particular sword school, mostly moves I came up with by feel or saw other people using--I have no formal training in the sword. Its a furious dance; choreographed, controlled as finely as any ballet dancer being lifted from the stage by a trusted partner. And the best part about it is that its fun; you can let go, let out the anger and aggression that society cant accept. It becomes power, a purity of motion and intent that grants clarity at the end. Its a clarity borne of violent fury, but it has its own value. You can lose yourself in this moment let the battle fever carry you away. Thoughts leave you all is consumed by the motion of your body, free from the influence of mind or emotion. This is pure physicality. I view the world in a new light after one of these sessions I am exhilarated, breathless, and ready to take on anything. Anger sustains me until it burns away; the release of tension through movement will tire my body eventually, but for now I can dissolve into the red haze as I hack my insubstantial opponent to bits.
Search the darkness search the light
Fierce resistance what a fight
Glory for unholy seal
Lies all cast in steel
Fly across the high seas and mountains
Rise above the golden horizon
Far away beyond the gates of space and time
Through the wastelands forever and on
Still we fight on for our freedom
The cry of the fallen souls bleeding
Forever journey through the lands of ice and snow
Will we face all the fears of the world?
The cry of the brave
The fuel of suppressed anger is nearly depleted; its time to slow down now. Get back in touch with the blade; rejoin the rest of your body. The time for wildness has passed; the first fury of the dance is replaced by a steadier pace, a renewed composure. Always draw yourself back before you are lost to the anger; its hard to come back from that. The music slows too; it is calmer for the time being. Its time to work on control and technique.
The motions are similar to the ones that I did before, but with a greater emphasis on control. Everything is moving in slow motion; no more lightning speed, just a sedate series of motions that is its own form of exercise. And as I do this, I am free to think--about life, about all that has happened and all that may occur. This is a time to reflect on anything I want; a time to see where Im at, and envision where I should be as I progress. And through it all, I am splitting my attention, reviewing my thoughts and listening to the messages of my body. It tells me when something doesnt feel right, sometimes making its opinion clear quite strenuously--a frozen or wrenched muscle here, blurred vision there, sometimes even a loss of hearing. I can take stock of physical problems this way--and they dont have to be related to what Im doing with the weapon. While Im focusing on how Im moving, I can read the flow of energy through my body I can feel where it falters. My heart, my breathing any blockage can be identified and fixed at this time. Awareness is heightened, but the mind is relaxed; the clouds of life drift away for a time, leaving me at peace. Its one of the few times that I find any. Yet it never lasts nearly long enough; the unpleasantness of the mundane world always manages to shatter the feeling, and its almost impossible to find it again in a so-called normal fashion. But Im not done yet I dont have to go back to the real world yet. And maybe this time the high will last longer.
I pick up speed; this is about technique development, after all. These moves are intended to be fast; the muscles and the mind must be trained in the motions before they can be performed reliably. In time, this will become instinctive; I will know what move to use in a given situation. But that moment, the pinnacle of a swordsmans life, is years away. This is a commitment, a way of life; if I want to succeed, it has to be more than a hobby to me. If I want to truly find myself in the blade, it may take a lifetime. The image of a sword master: grace and power combined with a ruthless efficiency. Body and mind honed into something like the sword itself. Sharp and aware of everything around them. Quick thinking and with rapid reactions, but the control over your faculties is absolute; there is no excess motion, no more of anything than is absolutely necessary. Able to stand up and endure, continuing on no matter what a person that never gives up. All of these qualities can be linked to the sword if you think about it--strength and temperance, humility and conviction. The marks of a great person are there to be emulated, if you but have the will to persevere.
Can't you see the history, the suffocating madness
In the land of fallen souls there's nowhere left no place to go
I have traveled far and wide across this wasteland
Still searching for the answers for the right to understand
Burning fires burning lives on the long distant roads
Through the lost mountains endless so far away from home
Warrior soldiers forever we fought long ago
We're all lost in the darkness so far away from home
The journey through the paths in my mind continues. As I traverse the gateways of space and time to find my center again, I think on this choice of music; why does DragonForce music relate to the blade arts so well for me? The lyrics are mostly dark and depressing most are surprised that I listen to such things. But hard and gothic rock speaks to me more than anything else. When people arent there for you, music can be. When you need to feel and cant, music can do it for you. Right now, this music, with its fury and pain, connects me to my sword. It brings my awareness to a soaring peak, letting me flow with the motions instead of fighting to control it. I meditate with my sword and hard rock because I can do so no other way--without a reason to let myself drift, I cant do so.
Music can teach you how to let go, allowing instinct to take over and guide you. Ive found that DragonForce music in particular makes me feel a part of the picture. If you follow the music--let it speak to your inner self--there is no way to determine how far from your normal place it will take you. We all need to escape from reality from time to time, but I am almost always trapped here. Without a definite medium like music or a fantasy story, I would have been lost long ago drowned in the sorrows of life, feeling trapped and alone. The first time I held a sword, I knew that if I could combine it with the music, I would find my freedom again.
I started listening to DragonForce only recently--within the last six months. A friend that I spend a great deal of time with had a few of their songs on her computer. It took me a while to notice that I liked the music and ask what it was, but I dont think I will ever regret it; I havent been able to stop listening to it since. On the deepest possible level their music speaks to me. It allows me to harmonize my emotions, the raging fury inside me, with my external surroundings. Whether it is simply screaming along with the music or using it as a channel to connect to Reika, it fills me with a feeling of power and control that I cant seem to find anywhere else. Control is important to me, especially since so much of my life seems to be out of my hands. DragonForce is not the only hard rock that I have on the play list I use for sword work, but its probably my favorite band for sword work. Its definitely in my top five favorite bands of all time.
My parents tell me that I hide in books and music, and to an extent its true. Without them, I would likely have killed myself years ago or gone insane. They saved me when there was nothing that could when the world around me seemed dark and dead. Life still seems lacking, but with a place of my own to escape to it becomes bearable. When everything around me is falling apart, I can let the motions of sword slicing air, the concentration on the feel of the steel in hand, take me beyond the confines of my body. The music can then take me even higher. With these two things, I can fly for a few moments. Everything else fades until life itself is insignificant--youre connected to everything, and are able to see where you fit into the picture. Things that are usually muddled by self-delusion and societal indoctrination can become clear.
It is dark here in my center the world is stark, all brutally black and white. There is no room for deception here, no place for false hope to hide. The only time I can ever reach this still point is during the focus on the blade. The point of connection becomes the gateway into the soul, the key to the inner self. The unity of mind and body with weapon and movement creates this suspended animation--time stops. Everything but that awareness, that sense of completion, hangs at a distance for a few moments. Reality grows distant--the stillness consuming me as shadows take over. Pain and sorrow are here, but muted its much stronger the rest of the time. There is nothing wrong with darkness; Ive lived with it for so long that the light doesnt seem real. When youre not centered, youre unbalanced; so teaches most martial arts. Ive found it to be true. In this space, despite its brutality, I am home. The music is depressing and the medium through which I channel to reach this point is considered unacceptable by most so be it. This is my place, a feeling of completion that no one can take from me. So what if it is not what most people would see in their centers? It works for me, and thats all that should matter.
And on the wings of a dream, so far beyond reality
All alone in desperation, now the time has gone
Lost inside you'll never find, lost within my own mind
Day after day this misery must go on
So far away we wait for the day
For the light source so wasted and gone
We feel the pain of a lifetime lost in a thousand days
Through the fire and the flames we carry on
Every second brings me closer to the edge, nearer the threshold of my limitations. Pushing these is the only way to develop, but at the same time you must be mindful of the balance. In order to improve, you must walk a careful line between growth and pure pain. The trick to not crossing over the line and doing yourself harm is in knowing where your limits are to begin with. Finding those takes time and patience, not to mention paying attention to the messages sent by your body. This works for just about any physical or mental development, not just swordplay. Where the world will lie to you, your own body, mind, heart and soul will not. Trust in them to guide you to the truths that work for you.
See through the lies and their ever staring eyes
Now is the time to defend your ground
Destiny will call to remind us all now
Fly free so far from here
This life we know will end
In dreams of everlasting pain
The fallen now rise again
Be one with yourself. Become the wind at your back as you truly let go. Drift within the darkness of the center. It buffers me from everything that the world can throw at me--the negative reality that I live with. I can feel peoples mistrust, their fear of what they will never understand and I hate it. But here, the pain and anger that is such an integral part of my daily existence is muted. There is nothing to be afraid of here--there is no one to reject or laugh at me, no one telling me that I am wrong or stupid. The shadows are my home; they mask who I am, protecting me from those who do not wish to understand someone who is so different from them. This is the only place I feel complete and at home. Is this truly peace? I cannot answer that question; I have too little experience with peace to know it when I feel it. But in this moment, I think it might be.
Through the fire, through the flames
Like the sun will rise again
Lost in time
Lost in space
To the end of all their days
I dont want to think right now I just want to stay here, safe and protected in the core of my self. But think I will; it is inevitable. At least here, the thoughts cannot hurt me as they can normally; there is a thin membrane between me and the emotions associated with them.
I try not to look back, to remember what has been. I feel just like what the song is describing--cast away, like a rowboat without a mooring line. I dont know why I am here; if my life has a purpose besides doing damage, I havent found it. Im not sure I want to find it anymore; I dont know if I could tolerate it if my life were proven to have no meaning. Am I not already forsaken enough? I never feel safe anywhere but here, and even in this darkness it is fragile. Ive been lost for so long; my true personality has been so thoroughly buried that I cant find it anymore. I become what others want me to be on the surface but who am I really?
Its cold here, but no colder than the outside world. At least this place is cold by my choice; I am a part of this where I am distant from the world around me. I long to connect to other people, but I dont seem to be able to. I am afraid of it, afraid of being hurt again. How do I know when someone will like me for who I am? How do I distinguish those I can trust from those who will hurt and betray me if given half of a chance? What pieces of my life am I supposed to keep? There are too many questions that I cant answer too much at stake for me to wantonly choose a path. But do I have any other choice? I hate this indecision, hate that there is so much to be afraid of.
See their endless ways insanity
The quest deranged not meant to be
In flames will now forever burn eternally
Im not so certain that the world hasnt gone insane. I dont want to be lost forever, drifting aimlessly through life but I also dont want to risk reaching out. Ive been burned enough times that the concept of relying on others is untenable. I dont like feeling vulnerable; leaving yourself open just does more harm where more than enough has already been inflicted. Im so tired of it all; I havent wanted to be here in so long that its not even funny. But suicide is pointless; it wouldnt solve anything. I prefer not to hurt others as I have been time and again; despite their inability to relate to me, they deserve better than that.
I wish that I could bring one or two of my friends here maybe if they saw this space, theyd understand what they cannot make sense out of when it comes to the way I think. Despite the bleakness and chill of these shadows, the harsh truths distanced by the emotional screen notwithstanding, this space does hold a form of freedom for me. While the negative thoughts still come even here, its less threatening to deal with them they cant do as much damage. I can leave the memories in the back of my mind; though still present, there is just enough self-acceptance here to cancel it--enough to lend me some breathing room that I almost never have elsewhere. There is love here of a sort, and a voice that speaks of a place to belong, a glorious life ahead. I know consciously that this is probably not so, but it doesnt matter as much here. The conflict within me is at rest for a short time; if I had wings, I would be flying through the stars right now. This moment can almost make all of the tribulations of life seem worthwhile. The world can go mad without me for a few minutes; maybe if I stay here long enough, it will all pass me by.
So free your heart leave your life far behind
In the cold of winter skies escape the pain inside
Now feel your soul lost in seas of all eternity
Everyday this life, defending and the flames of youth not ending
In a lifetime, searching, we must fight through the eternal pain
But these moments of distance and partial peace, like every hint of satisfaction we take from life, must eventually end. My endurance is only so great; I can feel my body tiring. Everyone has a limit to what they can do in a given span of time, and I have nearly reached mine for now. Muscles tremble with fatigue, and my mind drifts in truth. Loss of concentration threatens and in a real battle that would prove deadly. The wind no longer serves to refresh, and the suns heat, which comforted and calmed before, now only oppresses. Its almost time to stop for today. I dont want to come back; rejoining the rest of the world after one of these sessions is never easy, but it must be done. I sheathe the blade once more, and prepare to draw it one more time. Another fast and deadly dance to finish; a moment of triumph to draw it to a close. The moment for the final song approaches. There is one song that I always save for the end--its called <i>Revolution Deathsquad</i>, and the chorus is ideal. Raw triumph a perfect finisher.
The draw of sword from sheath is smooth. Its a slow draw--no <i>iaido</i> speed focus this time. This last bit combines the two previous modes--power with control. Here is the time to combine anything Ive gained today with the battle dance. Time to pull out all of the stops and let it all go. One last shot for today. Wait for it
Cry out for the fallen heroes
Lost in time ago
In our minds they still belong
When the sands of time are gone
Strike! My body rotates with the force of the swing as I slash at a tree without striking it. I dont care if I embarrass myself with wild movement since no one will see it, but I will never forgive myself if I strike a tree and damage Reika. Thrust now; my opponent from before isnt dead yet, apparently. Their ghost has come back for this final battle. I can see the mans eyes, staring at me in rage. How he wants to strike me down! But I cant let him beat me its not my time to die yet. If Im going to fight, it will simulate a real battleground--or at least my interpretation of one. Either way, I will walk away from this; he will not.
Im listening to my finishing song, but the lyrics from another DragonForce song drift through my head:
Raise our swords we fight for life
Shields and armor shining bright
Strike like dragons we have no fear
Our swords are made of steel!
So appropriate. But now the time for the conclusion has come. I raise Reika over my head for one last sequence as the final chorus of Revolution Deathsquad blares through the headphones.
Rise over shadow mountains blazing with power
Crossing valleys endless tears in unity we stand
Strike down. The blade slashes through the apparitions shoulder. I can feel the wind part before the steel as the cut is made. Before the sword gets too near the ground, reverse momentum, cutting up toward the face. My opponent is half a foot taller than me, so its difficult. It requires control and forethought, which keeps me in check.
Far and wide across the land the victory is ours
Use my speed to get behind him. This is it; time to strike him down. I lunge toward him, breathing hard as I aim for his chest
On towards the gates of reason
and stab him through the heart.
Fight for the truth and the freedom