5. Evan's Dan Essay: Review of Self: How sword training has changed my life.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a great appreciation for the sword. From being a child swinging around cardboard tubes to a teenager buying display swords for my wall, I have always liked swords. I grew up participating in a number of different sports, including martial arts when I was younger. It wasn't until I had children of my own that I would finally decide to learn the art of the sword for myself. Since I began training, I have found that I am more relaxed at home, and I look forward to my classes every week. My stress levels have dropped and I have been able to increase my flexibility. My journey started when my older son mentioned that he would be interested in learning to use a sword. Both of my sons and I signed up for classes. I had recently finished physical therapy for a knee injury and was concerned that I would have a difficult time participating in the training. Thankfully I was able to train with minimal issues with my knee. After training for a few years now, I actually have better mobility with my knee than I did after physical therapy. Out of my two sons, only my younger son has continued on with his Siljun Dobup training. Every week he and I attend class together, creating memories that we will both have of time spent together. I have had the privilege to watch him grow and become more confident in his actions. Through the classes, I have learned how to better focus on smaller details for things that I normally would have either not noticed or deemed unimportant. The simple act of drawing and sheathing for example does not at first glance seem that complicated. In actuality, there are a lot of little details that make up the motions to prevent injury. From having to pay attention to the placement of my thumb on the saya so it does not get cut, to having the appropriate distance between your feet so as not to overbalance yourself, I've noticed during my personal and work life that I focus on the little things more. My footsteps are now lighter when I walk and I am able to pay closer attention to details than I was before. I still have pain in my knee during the day, but for the most part the pain is less frequent and a lot less severe than it was before. I work in a high stress environment with recovering addicts who deal with life and death issues every day. Being able to help someone turn their life around is extremely rewarding, but is also emotionally draining. The training has allowed me to destress and not bring the issues from the job into my personal life. I have found that when I practice the katas at home, I am able to clear my mind of the stresses from the day and only focus on what I am doing, somewhat like a moving meditation. This has been extremely therapeutic for me. I am able to focus on my breathing as I attempt to adjust my positioning and movements. My worries don't go away completely from the practice, I am now just able to breathe easier and look at the issues from a different perspective. I have been fortunate to have a teacher that I can relate to and trust to guide me in my journey of learning the sword. For close to a year of training I used a wood bokken for classes. I didn't progress to using a blunt sword until he felt I was ready, and I wasn't allowed to use a sharp sword until he felt that I could handle it safely. My first attempt at using a sharp sword to cut a pool noodle was one of the most nerve racking events I have experienced in recent years. The amount of fear that I had that I would cut my hand open with a bad cut had me questioning whether this was really something I would be able to continue with. I was excited and nervous, but was able to use the breathing exercises I was taught to help myself focus. I did better than I expected I would at the time and eventually was able to progress from pool noodles to tatami mats. The first time I was able to successfully cut through a tatami mat I felt an indescribable sense of accomplishment. This was something that I did successfully. It may not have been a perfect cut, or the proper angle, but I was able to take a 29 inch katana and slice through a thick target while keeping all of my body parts intact. Before I started training, I wouldn’t have believed that something as simple as breathing could help as much as it appears to. When I started learning Set Ji there was a stronger focus on breathing that I found helped calm me down. Remembering to breathe during the katas was difficult, which I hadn’t thought it would be. I found that I would hold my breath more often than not. While learning Set Soo I was forced to slow my movements down. I still struggle with the correct timing but have found Set Soo to be relaxing. There is something about the continual motion that I find to be soothing to my soul. I am currently learning Set Poong, which is all about the efficiency of motion. My mental acuity has increased since I started on this journey, which I believe is from the need to remember all the small details that each kata, in each set, requires.
I have been enjoying my training in Siljun Dobup. My spiritual journey may be in the early stages, but I am excited to see where it is headed.
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