One Thousand Cuts

I briefly considered that I should add some kind of tagline to the title of this post, but I believe for once that’s not necessary. Everything else I’ll say here stems from that notion: one thousand strokes of the sword done correctly. I hope if I seem arrogant in this post you’ll forgive me this once; it’s very rare that I allow myself to be prideful and just this once I’ll hazard it. I know there’s been a lot of introspective material on this blog, but this is important.

I may seem like I’m just reciting numbers for the next paragraph. Bear with me, I am leading to something.

Around two years ago, in a fit of shameful idiocy, I nearly cut my left thumb off while showboating for a group of drunken imbeciles. My shame was not that I made a mistake, nor that they saw me (anyone with any real knowledge of martial arts knows that mistakes happen), but that my mistake came from a spiritual betrayal of something which, even then, I place immense value in. As soon as I was recovered, I swore to myself I would be as close to a model swordsman as any amateur could.

Today, as planned, I made one thousand cuts for the first time. Not in the sense that I haven’t made one thousand cuts in a day before, I’ve been doing that for weeks if I count the flow drills I do before the dedicated cutting practice on days like today. I just don’t count the cuts I do in flow drills. It’s not truly the first time I’ve done one thousand cuts in a session, either; counting the two cuts during each of 60 repetitions of Iaijutsu as I perform it, I’ve made 1,065 each Wednesday for the last Month.

But I don’t count Iaijutsu, nor the thrusts and blocks I make in the same sessions since those obviously aren’t cuts! Of these today I’ve made 140 cuts in Iaijutsu, executed 280 thrusts and made 210 blocks. Mixed in, I’ve made 1,050 cuts, or seven angles of cut from three stances 50 times each. It’s the relentless nature of these that makes me class them as the thousand cuts. All this took me an hour and fifty minutes.

As usual, I did flow drills beforehand with a heavy cavalry saber, a greatsword nearly as tall as I am, and Diamondback herself. After my main practice I took 40 minutes to recover, then did 30 minutes of uchikomi against a log out front as well as 30 minutes of further practice with that greatsword to bring the day’s exercises to a close. I have never been more exhausted, or more pleased to be exhausted. I have done all of this beneath a baking July sun and despite such humidity that it took half the strength of my hands just to keep Diamondback from flying free, cotton made too slick by my own sweat to grip securely.

I had no mentor, no fellow students, no air-conditioned dojo or academy or gym to practice in, and what I’ve done today is the sum of hundreds of days before in the same conditions. I have done this on loose gravel that forces me to catch myself with toes alone if it shifts too much under me in a lunge, and with little more than an “Oh, that’s cool” from most of my friends in the past two years no matter how much I try to explain my zeal for swordfighting.

I have received little encouragement, and that’s alright. All that means is that my achievement is more my own. I dedicate it only to my parents, who have supported me up to now and have not stopped me from practicing even though they were dubious at first. For that, I’m endlessly thankful. Swordsmanship is everything to me; it’s far too rewarding for me to give it up just because other people don’t shower me in praise. And why should they? The world always needs writers; swordsmen have been obsolete in full for a century and in all practicality for three.

But, as much as I love writing, and as ironic as it is to say this on a blog written as a monument to my claim that I am a writer, if I could choose only one of them to practice all my life it would be swordfighting. If I were to find myself, at any point of my life, free to practice it for the rest of my days, I would live and die happy. The mere fact that I have something I care about so much has done wonders for me, and in this regard I think I’m more fortunate than many. Were I to die today, my one regret would be not knowing how far I could carry my skill.

Saying this, I almost feel I owe my readers an apology. I need to be on the brink of collapse from exhaustion to skip sword practice. I practice it six days a week, and I wouldn’t say I do so religiously because (no offense to people of faith, I believe myself) “religiously” doesn’t remotely capture my dedication to it. Writing? Oh, I write something most days a week, but it may only be a sentence or two. The extent of my thoroughness in writing you can see for yourself. I hope you won’t hold this against me.

I’ve resolved to stop calling myself an amateur, it’s not true anymore. I may not be the most professional, but I am a professional. As far as what I’m doing next, that’s simple. Starting now, I am training until I can perform 2,000 cuts. Of course, it only took me from January to now to more than double my regimen, so this won’t hold me much past a year. After that? Why, I’ll keep at it ’til I die, of course! If I can find some way to make a career of it, that’s all I need from this life. If not, I suppose now I have something that matters enough to force me to find a steady job some day.

Such concerns are for later days. Tomorrow I rest from this deathless drive of mine, as I always do on Thursdays. I know that I’ve earned it in full. Today I’ve finally proven my point to myself, and so today is good.

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