Not too long ago, I was asked to give feedback on a video a nice young man posted on the internet. It was him working out with a bokken. If you don't know what a bokken is, it's wooden Japanese training sword, usually meant to train katana.
I'm not trained in Japanese swordsmanship. The closest I've come is studying jo and I do own a bokken, but I bought it to help me study jo, nothing more. I do know people who do train with bokken (and katana and related stuff), and I've picked up a few fundamentals of Japanese sword, enough to know when I'm looking at someone trained in traditional Japanese swordsmanship and when I'm not.
It was quickly obvious that the young man has trained in Japanese swordsmanship even less than I have.
Y'know what? Nothing wrong with trying to get started on your own, as long as you realize that what you're doing is not in any way authentic, and as long as you stick to a bokken where it's less likely you're going to seriously hurt yourself or others.
As long as you aren't representing yourself as anything other than you are, which is a newbie just starting out and trying to figure out the weapon without a teacher showing them the ropes, I say have fun, kiddos.
But I strongly urge anyone who wants to actually learn how to use a Japanese sword to train with a qualified teacher of this weapon.
Actually, that's my advice to anyone wanting to learn any weapon. Seek a qualified teacher and train with them, in person.
Different weapons are dangerous to varying degrees, but all of them have the potential to actually kill people. Sure, sure, some of us use weapon-like props for tricking and dancing, but even these can seriously injure someone under the right conditions.
The problem is that you see actors using weapons in television and movies and think to yourself, "Hey, that's not so hard." What a lot of people don't realize is that these actors undergo intense training for hours a day over a period of weeks to handle their weapon-like props and that all of their fights are highly choreographed to look cool on film and to look "not so hard" and to keep the "fighters" as safe as possible.
Fiction also gives many of us the impression that it you can have relatively untrained people picking up a weapon and using it like an expert and thinking, hey, maybe I can do it too.
Friends... that's fiction.
While any person certainly can be very deadly with any kind of weapon with little to no training against other people who don't have any training either and do well, the moment you go against someone trained... you're going to have a bad time.
Yes, Star Wars lied to you. Finn was a dead man using a light saber - a weapon he'd never used - vs. Kylo Ren - TRAINED in its use - in "The Force Awakens".
You cannot learn how to use a weapon - swords, knives, firearms, etc. - from fiction on television and in movies. You just can't.
Movies and tv also give a very, very false impression of how bad it is to get hit or cut with weapons. You cannot take as many hits as you see the hero or villain take and then run around with maybe a cut or bruise on the face. I laugh when superheros that supposedly "don't kill" repeatedly hit bad guys with things like heavy chains, nightsticks, and other blunt weapons, as if a blunt weapon is incapable of serious injury or death.
Being hit hard in the head with a blunt object runs a serious risk of KILLING YOU IMMEDIATELY.
With the advent of the internet, the problem is much bigger. You have untrained people putting out their own videos on YouTube. You have untrained folks wielding all sorts of weapons - and not even training versions, but live blades - and hurting themselves. Take this winner right here:
I don't want anybody to end up like that guy. So please, if you're untrained and are interested in weapons, seek a teacher. I want to encourage you to train in weapons - I'm WITH you, dude, I LOVE weapons of all kinds! Just do so safely and with someone who knows what they are doing.
And no, watching YouTube videos isn't "training with a teacher", okay? Find someone in real life.
By the way, if you're curious how I knew the young man hasn't trained with a teacher, the key was in the grip, excessive twirling (especially with a single hand), and the balance was all off (elbows, sir, elbows). Watch a lot of traditional Japanese swordsmen - not tricking or tournament sword, but the real deal - and you won't see any of that.
Did you play around with weapons before you found a good teacher? Any horror stories? Let us know what you think in the comments!