The old bokken had many battle scars and was darkened from heavy use and sweat. The student who owned the now broken sword looked down at the floor; the other half of his old sword just lay there. His face was both sad and surprised. The old sword that lay in front of him was broken and rendered useless—or, perhaps not.
This event actually happened at our very recent Wounded Warrior Expo, a unique annual martial arts event designed to raise money for this most worthy of causes. Events that have happened since that moment make the broken sword story all the more poignant.
The broken sword now rests in a position of honor, perched high on our kamiza at the front of our dojo. It stands as a reminder to everyone of the value of things past that have, and will forever be, a part of our lives, imparting their lessons to those who choose to listen. Past teachers and the lessons they have imparted may also have left us, sometimes feeling sad and surprised at their early departures, just like what my young student might have been feeling about his old sword? But there is much to gained by retained the memory of what those teachers and their lessons taught us.
One of these most important lessons is assuredly learning to honor the past in order to preserve the future. I am told that the more correct meaning for the word sensei—most often taken to mean teacher—is “one who has come before.” Just as the old sword was a conduit for my student’s training, understanding, and hard earned expertise, the sword had imparted some of its spirit, and perhaps, some of its wisdom, much the same way as our teachers had imparted some of their spirit and wisdom upon us. Often the value of these lessons came to us at a heavy price, paid for in the blood, sweat, and bruises we have endured to master our arts. It is these lessons and the heavy price paid by our veterans of yesterday and today that we seek to honor in some small way.
Soldiers pay the heaviest price for our freedom, and like the old sword, they carry our burden and the lessons that warfare has exacted from them. To truly honor our warriors we need to learn to recognize the lessons their experiences teach us. Lessons like perseverance, duty, and honor—perhaps that is when they are the most meaningful. Just like the broken sword, they should be placed in positions of honor and respect. After all they have sacrificed for us and will forever teach us. They have earned the honor, and we should take pride in their many lessons learned through their blood and sacrifice.
Our recent event was a wonderful success in everyway, with one painful exception. This year Grand Master Joe Lewis was not able to attend because, at the time, Joe was battling cancer. He strongly supported what we were trying to do, ”a martial arts event that was unifying and benefited the most worthy of causes, the Wounded Warrior Project.” Joe taught kickboxing at our first event in Annapolis and, as expected, he was the star of the show. Even before the event was done he told me, “Let’s do it again next year!” We, of course, accepted his generous offer on the spot. Unfortunately, fate—and an insidious illness—would conspire against us.
Master Dennis Nackord forwarded me a note that Joe wrote prior to our event.
“Doc – what you are doing is very budo. Helping raise awareness and revenue for such a worthy cause is a reflection of the true meaning of the word honor. I am very sorry that my current condition is such that I will not be able to attend this year. I wish you all the best. I was proud to be part of the event, particularly in its very first year. Much success in the future! Semper Fi! Lewis”
The broken sword is a lesson from the past and what it has taught us…the broken sword is a lesson for the future and what it can teach us…if we listen to the echo of the broken sword we can be stronger, wiser, and deserving of such lessons. Our warriors make such sacrifices on our behalf everyday. We should honor them always.
To a teacher, a friend, and so much more…rest in peace.
Dane S. Harden
Wounded Warrior Expo – 2012