"Ningen-Okokuho" Living National Treasure

The sword master and the karate-ka.

I have always enjoyed good television programs. You know the kind I mean, PBS, National Geographic, and the History Channel just to name a few. The kind of programs that not only inform you but, also make you take the time to think about what you have just seen. Now don't get me wrong, I like a mindless action flick now and again just as much as the next person. But, when it comes to wanting to increase my learning curve on a particular subject there is nothing like a good book, or a good television program.

Not long ago I was watching just such a program. It was a National Geographic show entitled, "Living National Treasures of Japan". The program revolved around a very select group of individuals to whom the Japanese government had awarded the title of "Living National Treasure". This great honour had currently only been given to 75 individuals who are famous throughout their homeland. They received this national recognition because they have each attained the highest level of skill in their chosen discipline, and also for their unselfish contribution to that particular aspect of Japanese culture. 

For example. One lady was a Master famous for her dyed cloth. One man was a Master potter renowned for the beauty of the delicate objects that came from the fire of his kiln. Still another man was a Master of the art of paper making, his paper is in tremendous demand by those who practice the art of calligraphy. And on and on it went. Now I must say that while I marvelled at the skill of each of the honourees, as a student of the martial arts I was most fascinated by the skill of the Master sword maker. From raw material to a finished sword the process was truly a thing of beauty. 

When the program ended, I found myself thinking back to how the Master had such a passion and an eye for detail that seemed to allow him to "see" the finished product long before it materialized in his hand. While there is a significant difference between the two, I could not help but compare this process of hammering, tempering, and repeated shaping to the art of karate-do. In particular the overall development of a student from beginner, to black belt. The student is the raw material. The sensei the fire and the hammer. Over time the sensei hammers away at every little flaw he, or she sees, constantly shaping the student until the day arrives when they too can finally see the end result of their years of effort.

Yes, it is true that the process that creates a sword and a student are not the same. Nevertheless, in the end both the sword and a karate black belt are both born out of a dream. One that first started life as a simple idea in someone's mind, and in the end grew into something worthwhile. Each a product of many hands, and each one singularly unique.

Remember: "Never judge anything only by it's appearance".