Underwear Ninja Learns Zen

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 6.45.07 AMHe was standing in the living room, dressed in his best Fruit of the Looms. Seems the holes in guys’ underwear make a convenient location to holster a sword. He drew it with intention, staring me down swinging impressively.

It’s tough to get sword training in these parts. “Where’d you learn that?” I asked.

“Percy Jackson. Mom, can I see your swords?” He knew I had them. He’d been asking for a while. I put him off, telling him he had to be good, had to clean his room, had to achieve world peace…The real reason I delayed was his love of swords. He’s been swinging the plastic one he won at the fair for three months–it was the prize they give the kid who doesn’t win a prize–perfect for him. My real swords–not so much. I was afraid he’d find them.

I retrieved the gun case with the swords. He followed me. Big mistake. He now knew where they were stashed.

The swords, once perfect, were damaged in The Great Flood nearly four years ago. The case had wicked the tiniest bit of water and my beloved katana and it’s friend the iaito–the training sword–rusted in parts. I was sad. I’d spent years drawing them, in the process drawing out the story of my life searching for inner peace, only once slicing my foot in a moment of inattention. They were a part of me as much as my best friend.

Exhausted from rescuing what could be saved in the flood, then tossing an entire floor’s worth living, I dried them the best I could and mourned their damage, promising I’d restore them to their glory. Then I lost myself in life.

Swords are like friends–not so much a piece of metal but a piece of the soul. Practicing Japanese sword is practicing meditation–looking for something better in oneself in the part of the mind that only quiet and meditation can unlock. It’s the opposite of what The Boy thinks it is. It’s calm, peaceful, and done right puts me in another place. How ironic to equate peace with an instrument of killing–but that’s the point entirely. True strength is never in the power to wound. It’s the power to hold that power in hand, and instead show compassion.

Looking at the rust on the sword, I consider that the power to use compassion must be practiced too. It gets rusty. Maybe I’ll leave the blemish on the swords as a reminder.

“Woah…” Declan said, finally being granted access to my swords.

“Don’t touch. It’s not polite. It’s dangerous.” I said. That’s enough etiquette for now.

“Let me see!” I showed him the blades, named the parts, and told him it’s important to take care of things, pointing out the rust. The damage wasn’t as bad as I recalled.

No time for nostalgia or catching up with old friends–only a six-year old ready to see something cut in two. “Pull it out. Quick. Like THIS.” He whipped his plastic sword through the air and started to twirl.

“There is no twirling in Japanese sword,” I said.

“Percy Jackson does it. And so does Kung Fu Panda.” If only I’d had these instructors, I could twirl. Maybe I’d be a better human being.

I decided to draw. A good swordsman can practice in a phone booth. I’d been trained in lots of spaces. Big swings, tight areas, working on space, timing, awareness…Sure, it’s been years. And it’s a live blade. And I lack coordination. What the heck. Why not?

“Move back.” The boy listened the first time, rare in these parts, suspecting there’d be action. I drew. No blood. Comes back quickly enough, I guess.

“Faster!” Why not? Faster indeed. I drew from one knee, then swung.

“Don’t cut the ceiling.” A vote of confidence from my husband. I drew again. Whoosh. I got the sound back–the sound of the air being sliced in two. There’s no clang in Japanese swordsmanship like in the movies. No samurai wants to damage a sword. It’s a quick one, two, three with three possible endings. You die, I die, or more likely, we both die, which is Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 6.44.09 AMprecisely why no one wanted to fight, and why many swordsmen, such as Miyamoto Musashi, retired in contemplation, having survived combat. I’ve noticed that about people who have faced death or simply overcome genuine personal struggle. They have this aura around them–the contemplative spirit–a true generosity and selflessness that’s difficult to attain without going through something in life. They are at peace with the struggle in their soul.

“Wowwww!” Declan seemed impressed. He inched closer. “Let me see the other one!” I showed him the iaito and drew it a few times.  It, like me, was tired. It was time for it to rest.

“Now,” I said. “Don’t find and touch Mommy’s swords. Can I trust you?”

“No,” he said. He was dead honest. “I’m going to find them like the marshmallows.”

This morning he helped me put away dishes pushing the chair to the counter. “I can climb, Mom. It’s how I find all the stuff you hide. I found the marshmallows this morning.” He wagged his finger at me. “Boy, you hid them good.” I think it was a compliment.

I don’t need him finding swords.

“I mean it.” I bluff. “I’ll throw them away. They won’t be here anymore.” I head toward the door.

“Throw away your swords?”

“Yup. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

My bluff works. He semi-promises, which means I have 24 hours to get a lock for the case.

“Someday, these will be yours.” His eyes widen. “Just not today.”

“When?” he jumps up and down.

“When you are ready to learn the lessons they teach. He walks away thinking of Percy Jackson, and I of Miyamoto Musashi, each in our own worlds contemplating the lessons we are equipped to understand.

And no one has been cut in two.

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