(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.