The subject of Japanese swordsmanship during the holidays is a delicate one. Thanksgiving Day is definitely not the time for practice. When you’re standing in front of a roasted turkey, katana drawn and relatives looking on, the last thing you want to do is rehearse your swing. It won’t impress anyone. The time to hone your technique is now. Then, when the moment of truth arrives, you’ll be able to razor off perfect slices of juicy white meat like Miyamoto Musashi. (If you tried to slice up your bird this passed Thursday and ran into trouble, then this article is for YOU so you can bone up for next year’s Thanksgiving.)
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To do this without breaking a sweat, you’ll need to develop the “inner principles” of movement:
The primary element of action is breathing. The flow of air into and out of your body is directly connected to how smoothly you flow from one slice to the next and how cool you look. Caution: Inhaling the aroma of your Thanksgiving meal can stimulate your salivary glands, causing uncontrolled drooling. If that happens while your mouth is positioned over your blade, you’ll need to wipe the droplets from the metal and immediately apply vegetable oil to prevent corrosion.
Make your inhalations and exhalations calm, smooth and full. It’s essential to observe the transition between moving air in and moving air out. When standing in front of a golden-brown bird and being watched by family members who may not understand the intricacies of swordsmanship, nerves can cause you to gulp in air. Proper training beforehand, perhaps using a cheaper form of fowl, can prevent that.
Don’t stand flat-footed with your feet relaxed. The bones of your feet can move a considerable distance within the skin that encases them. Their musculature must exert firmness to take up that slack. No matter how hungry you are, take time to use your muscles to anchor yourself to the floor. Go barefoot if it won’t offend your guests; then you can actually “grip” the floor with your toes.
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Even though you’re facing a foe that not only has been slaughtered but also has spent the past three hours at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, you should imagine that it’s a wild animal, coiled and ready to strike. Hear its breath flowing in and out. Envision its muscles ready to drive its beak into your neck and tear out your windpipe. Calm yourself by breathing properly while glancing down at the 3-foot-long piece of hardened steel that separates you and the beast. Release all the tension in your body but remember it.
Your posture should provide balance during your action. Give it too much angle, and you’ll lose your balance. Give it too little, and you’ll fatigue your muscles more quickly. The result: slices of turkey breast that are anything but parallel. Even worse: an errant cut that severs the wishbone and injects fragments into the meat.
Don’t let your contracting muscles shrink you. Strive for height in your posture. Use the length of your arms and legs to enhance your stature. Tower over that fowl. Your hips and core are the connection and energy-transfer point for generating power and moving it through your swing. Firmness should be the norm in the pelvic region, back and tailbone area — yours, not the turkey’s! With practice, you’ll be able to create energy and hold it in place before spreading it throughout your body and into your blade.
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Strive to ground your structure from the waist down and elongate it from your torso to the base of your skull. This may sound contradictory, but the balance of power and unified articulation of these areas depend on inner awareness. That connection and the energy of your grounded body are transferred to your shoulders during the swing. Your shoulders and the rest of your being must cut down into the target.
But don’t cut down too much. Remember that there’s a platter underneath, and damaging it may not be viewed kindly by your spouse. That’s why our warrior ancestors — in both the sword arts and the empty-hand arts — emphasized control. Paramount in their practice was the ability to perform a precision technique and stop the motion a half inch from the target. That skill is often mistakenly thought to be an effort to promote safe sparring; in reality, it’s to prevent the sword from cleaving the dinner table.
Obviously, this article was written with tongue in cheek. Black Belt strongly advises all martial artists to learn how to safely wield a sword under a qualified instructor. Do not practice test-cutting with anything other than rolled tatami mats.