At some point in my teen years, during the 90’s, the katana became my favorite sword. I was first introduced to the term katana with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Leonardo’s weapons were referred to as “katana blades”. When I was in High School I rented a movie called “Highlander” and it completely blew me away. Not only was it a high concept film but the protagonist used a katana.
Naturally I began to develop an interest in the culture that the katana came from. In my early twenties I saw a “Lone Wolf and Cub” movie for the first time on the International Channel. That’s when I discovered that the best katana movies are Japanese Samurai movies. It surprised me to see how they re-sheathed their swords. Instead of violently slamming the swords into the sheathes they used a graceful looking technique that I would later learn is called noto. The graceful noto looked strange to me at first but now I see it as an elegant technique.
I took a Japanese language class because I wanted to be able to watch Japanese movies without subtitles and to read the text in Japanese video games that had not been translated. While attending the Japanese language class, the teacher’s husband gave a demonstration of what is called iaijutsu. The teacher of that class and her husband are who we now refer to as Gennan Buhaku Sensei (Michael Alexanian) and Genan Kouga Sensei (Dianne Alexanian). After seeing that demonstration, I knew it was time to learn more about it. It was at the beginning of 2002 when I became a member of US Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu. Right away it became an important part of my life.
In the dojo we don’t just learn about swordsmanship, we also learn about the culture it comes from. We’ve enjoyed many shodo (Japanese calligraphy) classes and even an ikebana (flower arranging) class. But one of my most favorite parts of Japanese culture is the food, especially sushi. It has been a tradition, after class, to eat at a sushi restaurant called Akagi. To this day it is still my favorite sushi restaurant.
I have been able to visit Japan on two occasions with other members of US Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu. We went in 2006 and it was the first time I had ever visited another country that wasn’t Canada. I found the Japanese to be very appreciative of us making a strong effort to use the proper etiquette and as much of the language as we are able.
The second time I visited Japan was in 2013. This time it was in Tokyo. From my hotel room window all I could see was city stretching off to the horizon. The city was crowded, but not a chaotic mess. There was a highly functional order to they way everyone moved about and it didn’t take us long to easily find our way around the train system.
Now I look back and find it amusing that so many important parts of my life have been connected to my interest with the katana. What began as a fascination with a particular type of sword has become a very rewarding cultural experience. I feel that a small part of Japan has become a part of me.
-William Smith (Genka)