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A Narrowing Path

My Aikido Sensei, Sadao Yoshioka, used to handcraft bokken from exotic hardwoods. His favorite were dark woods like pau ferro. With a little oil, the finished bokken would be almost black.

When shaping the bokken, Yoshioka Sensei would compare the spine (back) of the blade to the way or path (or "Do") of Aikido.

"In the beginning," he would explain, "the path is wide, as it is near the grip of the bokken."

"However, as you proceed along the path, it becomes narrow, as it is at the tip of the bokken."

He explained that when you practice Aikido, there is room on the path in the beginning. As you become more advanced, the path is narrow and there is less room to wander. It is easier to fall off the true path as you advance.

I tried to make three bokken with Yoshioka Sensei. It is incredibly difficult to make the spine straight and tapered. In addition, there are cut, sloping surfaces on each side. These must also the straight. At the same time, the bokken curves.

I was amazed at how Yoshioka Sensei could get it all straight (and properly curved) using only a pencil, his eye, and hand tools. And yet he did, starting with only rough planks of wood. The finished bokken were works of art -- and expressions of the Path or Way.

Whenever I see a bokken, I think about Yoshioka Sensei and his lessons.


Charles C. Goodin