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Swordsman myths and fantasies

What did you want to be when you were a child? A lot of children in Britain grew up wanting to drive steam trains. They are fantastic pieces of engineering aren't they? The combination of fire, steam and iron fires up the imagination for many. Also from the furnace are swords. Many children also grew up wanting to be a swordsman. Think of the Three Musketeers or William Wallace. However, being swordsman from the East are also a subject of many fantasies.

In my culture, many grew up fantasising about being a swordsman. Plenty of people fancied themselves as Bruce Lee, but wielding a sword hold a special place in Chinese culture. Whilst children in the West had Robin Hood, we had the heroes from the Water Margin, Journey to the West and the Three Kingdoms. We roleplayed as our heroes. We had comics, cartoons and we had our plastic swords. If we didn't, we used improvise with any stick. What a childhood we had. Do you think children these days could enjoy this kind of environment?

In reality, we had to grow up and many never got to learn any martial arts. Despite the myth about all Chinese people knowing martial arts. Very few actually do. It takes years to learn and it is hard work. Not everybody in pre-modern and modern China needs to use martial arts. The armies of Shaolin warrior monks, that's a myth too. There were never that many people who became monastics. Despite what people think, being a monk is hard work and monastic rules are strict. Not all warrior monks are from Shaolin and not all Buddhist monasteries have a martial culture.

Tai Chi sword is generally perceived as easy, because the hand form looks like it'll take no time to master. The reality is the opposite and Tai Chi is not an easy option. Whilst many people practice sword forms, not all of us do it well. As the old saying goes, "Hundred days of the sabre training, thousand days of the spear training, ten thousand days of the sword training" (百日刀, 千日槍, 萬日劍). If the sword form is the pinnacle of your art, why would be be easy?

Whether you're a knight errant, shaolin monk or a samurai warrior. Being a swordsman is not as glamorous as people think. A real sword can weigh around a kilogram. Wearing one daily is not a lot of fun. Then add armour, helmet and wearing the full kit in all weather conditions. You must train regularly to be proficient. Sure, you might spend a few hours in the dojo each week, but have you ever used those skills? Proficiency in test cutting and applications is definitely worth something. However, a real battle can take hours, even days. Can you last that long? TV and films don't show you this side. But pick up a few good history books and that might shine some light on what it was like back then. So does being a swordsman or a warrior still sound appealing?

Being a warrior requires restraint and to get that, you need to develop your spiritual side. Modern life is tough and whilst we're not warriors of old. We spend a lot of time refining our skills, yet there is no dragons to slay or bandits to drive away. Is martial arts a futile pastime? One thinks not as there's much martial arts can give you. The values, the discipline, respect and the restraint are still relevant to modern life. All too often, we sees weapon forms that lack martial spirit, substance and refinement. Cut through the delusions and work on the quality. Do it well and you're living your dream. If fighting and violence is what you seek, then you don't need martial arts.

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