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Old 07-08-2010, 01:27 PM   #1
Keith Larman
Dojo: AIA, Los Angeles, CA
Location: California
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 1,604
Ambling down the path...

My first lessons in sword polishing was to buy a huge number of what are called fingerstones (hazuya and jizuya). I was told to sort them by look, by fineness, by hardness, by taste, by smell, by whatever I could. Then I was to thin them for use, back them, and then thin them more and sort them again. Once I finished that I was told to do it again. So I did. I didn't ask why. I did ask "taste? are you kidding?" No. "Smell?" Yup, smell them too. I was then told to also feel how they felt when being thinned. How they vibrated. I was told to listen to how they sounded when being thinned (hmmm, better put in my hearing aids and turn up the volume).

Over a lot of years I've thinned and backed a lot of stones, many times more than I will ever use in my lifetime.

Years later a guy came by to watch me polish. I was doing what is called "hadori". I pull out this large box that has about 6 boxes inside. Each box has 24 individual compartments. I go through the boxes, looking, and finally pick out a couple stones from one compartment of one of the boxes. The guy asked me "why those particular fingerstones?" I just smiled -- "because they're the right ones for this blade." He looked at the one box for a while and commented that they all looked identical to him. No, each one was slightly different. So he asked how I knew it was the right one.

It just was. Why? Don't really know, exactly. But after having sat there for hundredsof hours sorting the damned things, trying them, using them, and then the years of it simply "sinking in" I just knew. Can't really explain it any other way.

There have been a thousand lessons like this for me in polishing (and sword mounting). Every week I learn *why* something was taught to me 10 years ago. I didn't understand it then. I think I understand it better now.

Kata. Transmission. How do you learn something that is complete and comprehensive when you really can't possibly understand any specific without first understanding the whole? Catch-22?

Apprenticeship in polishing is 10 years in Japan. I ain't there. Some do it a bit faster, some never finish. Some say it takes 10 years to learn all you need to know about antiques, history, etc. Yeah, that makes sense. But it is the 10 years of slaving away, working, learning, absorbing with someone looking over your shoulder saying "put that down -- go sort some stones -- you're using the wrong hazuya".

I don't work on antiques. I work on Japanese "style" swords by western smiths and "shinsakuto" by living Japanese smiths. And I still study. And I still thin stones.

Frankly I've found that the brutal honesty of a good teacher is one critical aspect of transmission. Uncompromising. There's the right way and there is no other way. No debate. And again you come back to the 10 years of hard work and study. To absorb everything so you can *start* to see the basics.

Artist friends, polisher friends, martial artist friends... The best seem to all walk a similar path that has no shortcuts, no quick and easy solutions and no compromises. You do the work, you do it right, and maybe...

Kata is everything and nothing at the same time. I will *never* need the freaking thousands of fingerstones I have thinned. And yet I have an order of more stones coming from Japan. Which I will thin, sort, smell, taste, ... Because that's what I was told to do. And while it seemed, well, odd originally, I learn more each time I do it.

What does this have to do with Aikido? Well... It just seemed relevant.

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