After I finished jogging on a treadmill while listening to “Bushido: Soul of Japan” by Inazo Nitobe, an acquaintance tried to convince me to take up fencing. “You look fit, still have reasonably quick reactions. In less than 5 minutes I can tell you what weapon you’d be best at.”
Like a Jedi or Samurai master, he asked me to take a balanced stance and react as well as possible to his quick movements. We stopped after a few thrusts and parries.
“Saber,” he said. “You have an aggressive personality.”
“Right,” I scoffed. “After 30 seconds you’ve got me pegged.”
“See!” he smiled. “Your first reaction is always an attack. Even when you think you’re defending, you’re leaning in for an opening.”
And so it is. When John teaches me swordsmanship, it will be with a saber. My friend is a local elite fencer. He competed in the 2015 Masters World Championships in France and I suspect he’s an outstanding instructor. I also suspect he practices his art with diligence, precision and a high degree of reverence for the powers and traditions of the blade. I also reluctantly trust his judgment regarding my personality.
Why learn to fence?
Sure, the Jedi used lightsabers. Obi-Wan Kenobi considered lightsabers “elegant weapons for a more civilized age.” Sure, Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise was an outstanding fencer and he’s cool, too. Captain Jack Sparrow, Aragorn and King Arthur are cool. So was Katsumoto in “The Last Samurai,” and as a Samurai bound to the ethical code of the Bushido. I’ll never be as cool as any of those guys. There is only one reason to learn swordsmanship:
Y’all can lock and load. Glock up! Get open carry permits! Waltz around Walmart with shotguns! Occupy Oregon with Flintlock’s (but without snacks)! Await the end of days! Not me—I’m bringing my knife to your gunfight. When I open carry, I’ll be strolling around the riverfront with a jeweled scabbard and Excalibur strapped to my side.
2015 in Wilmington came to a close as two teenagers were charged with first-degree murder in a drive-by shooting. 2016 opened with the shooting death of a 14-year-old. The weekend warriors in Oregon appear loaded for bear. Despite a mass shooting a day, active shooter-event trainings we figure kindergarten teachers need, and kids with guns killing other kids, some folks are ticked at teary-eyed President Obama for his executive actions to reduce gun violence. They’re ticked even though his minor suggestions, none of which erase the Second Amendment or demand confiscations, are similar to me strolling downtown with Excalibur. It’s an elegant show, but ineffective against assault weapons.
I don’t have a problem with guns or the spirit of the Second Amendment as I interpret it. I do have a problem with our gun culture. To be more precise, I have a problem with our lack of a gun culture. Advocates of unrestricted access to firearms speak as if we are akin to feudal Japan with its code of Bushido. But we’re not even close.
“Bushido, Soul of Japan” made two things clear to me regarding America’s relationship with guns: 1: Some of us love guns more than Japan loved the sword that defined its feudal culture; 2: Unlike Japan, we have no code to define our relationship to the weapon some contend partly defines us. Regardless of how anyone interprets the vaguely worded Second Amendment, I hope it’s easy to see these few clauses are not the code of the Bushido. Popping off 30 rounds at the range on Sunday doesn’t make someone a member of SEAL Team Six any more than carving roast beef makes them a Samurai.
We may believe our gun-toting populace appears fierce to the rest of the world, but I suspect (because we lack traditions, training and an ethical system for managing our weapons of death) the civilized world sees us more like a playground full of scared children who think unrestricted access to toy guns will make them safer. Only our guns aren’t toys.
I’m also pretty sure Obi-Wan Kenobi is right. Any idiot can use a blaster. They are so primitive.