The start of a new year is a lot like the first scene of a film. You need a strong opening – a hook that will line you through the rest of it – set the tone and maintain your excitement throughout. When I tell people I kicked off 2012 with a 1000 bokken cuts – they’re immediately hooked…and so am I.
Questions follow. For one, what is a bokken cut? A bokken is a wooden sword used in martial arts during weapons training. A cut is a straight slice down along your centre line. Your centre is located right below the navel and your centre line is the figurative line in front of your centre. Aikido 101. So imagine a thousand straight cuts with a bokken continuously and striving to be consistent. You’re in a room full of people doing the same thing and someone’s always keeping count. So no slacking.
Despite training in Aikido for 4 years, I had never done this before. I was told not to feel intimidated by the feat of cutting down so many times with a bokken – that has a weight to it, but is by no means heavy, but grows heavier with each cut if you let it – yet I could not help but feel apprehensive. I knew that no matter how many weapons classes I’ve attended through the course of those 4 years, it would not prepare me for 1000 continuous cuts. I likened the cuts to fitness tests in secondary school, where each year in phys. ed. we had to run non-stop and each year, the running time increased by 5 minutes; except in this case, it’s like leaping from 5 minutes of non-stop running to 30 – there’s no easing into it.
The first few cuts, I’m okay – posture and form are passable. By 100, I’m like, “Crap. Well, there’s no turning back.” By 250, I’m trying to focus on the voice of the person counting, hope it serves as music to distract me from the knotting in my muscles that I start to really feel. I don’t even realize I’m at 400 when I get there. At 550, I mimic in my head the voice of a drill sergeant yelling at me “Come on, maggot, you call yourself an aikidoka?!” As I go on, the awareness I have for my body is incredibly heightened. For each cut, I raise my bokken and drop it behind my back to start a new cut – I made sure to always hear the teensy impact against my shoulder blades before I would cut anew straight before me. The more tired I grew, the more tense my shoulders felt – the more I had to relax, adjust my hands on my bokken – grip tightest with the pinky, relax the other fingers. The more the whole of my body went with the cut, the less heavy the bokken felt.
My mind has a tendency to go in a million directions at once, but in doing these cuts, I had no choice but to focus all of my attention to my own body. I made sure to keep a solid grip on my bokken because the last thing I would want is for it to fly out of my hands mid-cut and swing and hit someone. Or I’d make sure that my cut ended parallel to the ground as my training has often emphasized. By the time I hit a 1000 and I held that cut for one moment – arms, legs, everything quivering – I had a grin on my face. It was over. And I was not relieved or anything because to accomplish this annual tradition at my dojo was in no way a chore, I chose to be there and I wasn’t going to whine or bemoan the fact that I was there. In fact, I feel it’s a testament to one’s commitment to aikido and the endurance and determination one puts forth as they go through, well, life…
Not a bad start to the new year at all. Whatever your thing is, I hope you went out and did it. The best way to start fresh is to be refreshed. And I will infuse this surge of energy into my writing – you start something, you finish it and you finish it strong. Here’s to 2012.