Sword of my soul

(Written for The Daily Post: Snapshot Stories daily prompt.
Open the first photo album you can find — real or virtual, your call — and stop at the first picture of yourself you see there . Tell us the story of that photo.)

(Photograph of Naziyah Mahmood, Courtesy of C. Hamilton)

One of the first memories I ever have is probably from when I was about three or four years old. It was of my mum coming home, covered in blood, after having been bullied while going out to get groceries for her three small children.

Two policemen stood in the middle of our living room, taking mum’s statement, as I snuck out of my room to see what was happening.
I clearly remember the ornament that sat on top of our television – it was a small golden crown that was filled with a rose scented perfume – and I stared at it with deep intent as my small hands turned to fists.

All I knew was “Someone hurt mum… Someone hurt mum again”.

Unfortunately, my mother lived through a very painful childhood, and the shadows from that time followed her into her adult life in the form of bullies and oppressors.

In that amber hazed moment, I vowed to myself that I would grow to become strong in order to protect my mother and give her the happiness she’d always deserved.

In the years to come, my father put me and my siblings into Ninjutsu classes, and taught us the following words:
“Never allow anyone the chance to bully you. If you let them do it once, they’ll think that it’s ok to do it again and again.
Violence is wrong, but self-defence is important.”
He was a very disciplined army man!

Mysteriously, a while through our training, our training building ‘literally’ disappeared in the dead of the night!
We were on our way to class but reached an empty plot where the building had once been, with no sign of our instructors anywhere – I still like to think that they ‘shadow stepped’ back to before the days of the Tokugawa period in Japanese history!

Although my siblings later gave up on martial arts, it became a fundamental part of my life and went beyond merely being a hobby.
My love for the arts grew as a strong passion, and also gifted me with a keen sense of awareness that is crucial in my everyday life.

As mentioned in a few of my previous posts, I have been partially blind ever since I can remember, yet I am able to get around just fine due to the training I received over the years.

(Also, I just noticed that I’ve never spoken as much about my visual impairment in my entire life as I have in these last few weeks on WordsPress! More detail can be found in the following post:

I guess I never really took much notice of it being a ‘problem’ to me until a few years ago when a friend mentioned “your disability”. Those words actually knocked me right off of my feet as I had never thought of myself as being disabled before.)

After many years of being unable to train in martial arts due to ill health, I managed to find a teacher who would later show me how much they truly meant to me.
I was lucky to be taught many martial arts styles by him, but by far the one style closest to my heart is our main sword art – Haidong Gumdo, a Korean sword style.

Unlike most martial arts classes, our group was kept quite small, and after losing our training hall, we continued to train outside in the midst of a beautiful park. Training on the uneven terrain allowed us to learn much more than we would have done on those wooden hall floors, but unfortunately the usual rainy weather of Scotland often made it hard to train through the mud!

The more I trained with my sword, the more free I would feel.
Just as a painter expresses himself through his brush, or a poet through his pen, my swords became my method of self-expression and would allow me to escape from the reality of the world around me into a place that was mine and mine alone.
My motions may look like a dance to those who walk passed, but what really happens is that I close my mind and open my heart (as corny as that sounds!) and just… move.
My soul becomes free.

They say that there is no space for swords in this modern era filled with guns and missiles. However, this is why I differentiate that ‘sporting aspect’ that many martial arts have been disfigured into, from the true art that it once was and still is for me.

I see no art or beauty in getting into a ring and beating the snot out of your opponent while men, women and children cheer on with their rage filled excitement.
‘Martial combat’ is of course practical in self defence terms, however, the true art and tradition of ‘Martial arts’ goes beyond just their physical teachings.
With the arts, we grow on the spiritual, mental, psychological and physical planes. An entire history of discipline, determination and tradition folds out in front of us to elevate us in different ways.

I have been called “Samurai Girl, “Ninja Girl”, “The Blind Swordswoman” and more by passersby and people I know, and yet the name that hit home the most was when my ill mother called me her “little hero”.

My swords are more than just an extension of my arms, they are an extension of my soul and give me strength and discipline to face my everyday life with a smile on my face, with the knowledge that “the best battle is the one not fought”, as they have not only taught me not to fight, but also to hold strong to self defence.

There is the death giving sword. There is the life giving sword. Now, there is also the soul saving sword.



17 thoughts on “Sword of my soul

    • Very true. I believe that it is important for everyone to have a basic knowledge of self defence, but especially for women.

      There is a difference between intended violence and self defence, and in nowadays times all women should be taught the latter.

      The stats for female abuse are horrifying.
      Globally, at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. (UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00)

  1. Let me first say that I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience you had, and the memory you have to live with. I’m going to steal your father’s words: “Violence is wrong, but self-defense is important..” If I ever open my own dojo, I will have this engraved or posted as a banner.

    “Violence is the path to destruction, Self-Defense is a bridge to life”

    “Violence leads ultimately to death, Self-Defense lets you live your life”

    … or some variation, I may think of a better way to express it later …

    … you have probably given it more thought.

    • Hi Denny,

      Thank you for your comment, and it honours me that you also find wisdom in my father’s words.

      To be honest, I wrote this post in a bit of a rush, and as such wasn’t able to give it as much thought as I would have liked.
      However, I get what you mean.

      Violence itself is, indeed, a path to self destruction – yet self defence can allow us to not only save ourselves, but also the lives of those around us.

      The beauty of martial arts is that it awakens us to a higher state of seeing, in which we see the pointlessness of fighting and volence but also see the need to preserve justice and righteousness.

      Protecting the innocence around us.

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  4. Thanks for sharing! Martial arts are beautiful. I’ve heard of real life stories where martial artists defended themselves (it’s always inspiring). In some cases, they lost their wallet but they kept their lives. Fighting should always be the last resort and only when you have something to protect.

    Though I learned some martial arts, I am never sure if I can hold up against any attacker. That’s why I would rather not get in trouble. A day in campus without getting in trouble is a plus for me. My university is infamous for random violence against women. I’m sure other universities have had incidents like these, but York U has a bad rep of sexual assaults, muggings, and one case of murder. In most cases, the victims were women. Sometimes I have night classes which makes my mum worry. I’m not afraid walking alone there at night, but the thought is always there in the back of my mind that I should always be on guard (if you walk with me in the streets, you’ll notice that I tend to look behind me over my shoulder).

    • That’s very true.
      We shouln’t go looking for a fight – that isn’t the way of a true martial artist. It teaches us that force should only be used in the mose dire of circumstances when there is no other way.

      For example, a friend of mine and his girlfriend were walking along when a man with a knife jumped out from behind the trees, demanding his wallet.
      Rather than getting ready to fight, he pulled out his wallet and set it on the ground (as not only was his own life on the line, but also his girlfriend’s. A wallet and the money inside are replaceable). Unfortunately, the man still stabbed him in the leg, but he was caught by the police a few blocks away.

      One of the first thing we were taught in ninjutsu classes was that we should never stay to “finish the job”. Do what you have to do in order to get the attacker away from you and then run.

      Unfortunately, many univeristy campuses are plagued with criminals looking for a way to ‘resolve’ their unattended desires since these are institutions filled with young, legal-aged, women and men.
      This is why I can’t stress enough to people, and especially women, why it is so crucial to know some basics of self defence since it can happen ‘anywhere’.

      Even if someone does have martial arts skills, you don’t want to ever have them tested in a real life situation – be smart and don’t wander around in places where it is more likely for an attack to happen. However, if sexual assaults can happen in broad daylight nowadays, they can happen anywhere.

      I’d hope that the security on campus would be strengthened during the evenings, but I guess that’s down to the individual university.

      I’ve taught women’s self defence before, and one of the most common reactions that these women ever had in their pasts to their attackers (no matter how skilled or strong they were) was what I called “the frozen deer”.
      Since it usually all happens very fast, most women would freeze from fear, some unable to even scream for help, as the shock of it all would render them practically paralysed.
      This is why there is also a mental aspect to the training and not just physical.

      Now you’ve got me on a roll! lol! I think I’ll write a little something about this soon 🙂

      As for you walking alone at nights through dark streets… carry something sharp or hard in your pocket with easy access. I’m not promoting that you carry a live weapon! Lol!
      However, in case of such dire circumstances, ANYTHING can be used as a weapon, be it a hairpin, a flask, a belt etc…
      If worse comes to worst, you have to be ready to do what you can to keep yourself alive and safe.

      I’ve been in situations before where I’ve used some of my own accessories to protect myself – a safety pin, bracelet, ring etc

      Try to use streets where there will be other people walking along, anywhere more ‘public’ – God forbid, should anything ever happen, you’d hope to be in shouting distance of lots of people.

      • Yes! Please write something about it!
        After a shooting incident my university last winter, many students are demanding that security cameras be installed everywhere. In my opinion though, the cameras won’t help prevent anything now would it be a deterrent. As for installing metal detectors, which they also demand, I think it’s impractical. The point is, upping the security in such a large busy campus is such a tricky business… unless the university is willing to pay a large sum of money for more and better trained security guards (we don’t have enough). Oh I’d love to be a guard in campus.

        Also, I don’t believe that there’s safety in numbers. If I get attacked in a busy street, even in broad daylight, I’d be lucky if there’s someone around who has noble principles to help me. It’s not that those who wouldn’t help are just ‘bad’ people, there’s what’s called the ‘bystander effect’ where when there’s more people around, the less you’re likely to get help. There’s just this psychological barrier that keeps them from running to the rescue– everyone thinks that someone’s going to help at some point but it’s NOT going to be themselves. That’s the mentality behind it. Too many times already has someone died in the street after an attack or an accident because people didn’t help them and just passed them by.

        Maybe I sound like I don’t have much faith in humanity. Well I suppose that’s true. I am sad about humanity in general, but there are very few people that I’m fortunate to find who are like lights in this darkness. These people would not hesitate to rush to a passed out man in the street and see if he’s okay, or just do the right things without second thoughts. These are the people that I could truly see that are good.

      • I heard about that incident back then – it was all over the news too. Such a shame 😦

        Also, although the bystander effect does exist, I’d think it depended on what the situation was.
        Unfortunately, many people do just stand and watch, or quickly walk away, when it coems to situations that seem more ‘personal’ (like a fight between couples etc) but something more severe like a woman being raped out in the open would definitely cause more reason for alarm in a public place.

        I recently watched something about how appearances do play a part. A man, dressed almost like a homeless man, fell to the floor but for a whole hour no one chose to help him (and this was filmed on a busy city street somewhere).
        They then showed a man, dressed in a suit (showing that he somehow contributed more to society) doing the same, and people instantly ran to his aid.
        After being questioned about why they ignored the first man, many answered because they weren’t sure if he needed help or was alseep, maybe from drug use?
        However, they found it less likely that the second man would do such a thing in public on purpose, and so ran to help.

        To be honest, if I saw ANYONE falling to the floor I’d rush over to help (it’s happened a few times with drunkards here!) For all we know, that moment could be the difference between life and death for that person if, for example, they had OD’d.

        However, I understand that many people wouldn’t be sure of what to do, and as such find it more instinctive to flee than to stay and find out.

        Shame 😦

        Oh, sorry, I digress!
        What I wanted to say was that, it’s not just about what the public would do.
        Studies have shown that rapists (and many criminals) are less likely to commit crime in open public busy places out of a fear of beaing caught.
        So even if the public wasn’t going to help much, at least there is less chance of the attacker doing something because of their own psych!

      • Also, I’ve heard that Glasgow used to be the most dangerous city in the world (not anymore since a new city topped the charts). Did some people try to mug you?!

      • Haha!! It was a bit funny because, in the same time period, Glasgow was voted as having the highest stab rate in Europe, but was also given the title of being “The Friendliest city!”
        People here are very easy going and smile a lot – something many tourists notice!

        So, at least if someone stabs you here, they’d apologise and take you to A&E too!

        Having lived here all my life (and maybe this is biased to some extent) I don’t see how Glasgow was given that title.
        The crime rate here (even back then) was never anywhere near as high as some very dangerous cities around the World.

        I don’t think it was the Most Dangerous City, but probably had a high stab rate for a while when there used to be a major gang problem – many gang duels!
        But that ended long ago 🙂

  5. There is a difference between soul and spirit. Soul can be right or wrong as well. But, spirit is always right. And, beside having spirit means having good motives. And, martial arts as a part of life can be managed.

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