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So…What’s the Sword All About?

October 5, 2008

I’ve been chatting recently with Holden Helena, a San Francisco-based artist better know to the Twitterati as @sflovestory. See what will hopefully be just one of her many 15-minute segments of fame in Twitter Tweeters on Current TV, or read more about her on San Francisco Love Story.

dadao1_normalHolden closed yesterday’s comment with “PS What’s the sword all about?” She is referring to my Twitter icon, which is indeed a sword. A dadao, a two-handed Chinese broadsword, to be exact. It’s a fair question. Here’s my answer:

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…an icon just an icon. If you want to go with that, its virtues include: It’s simple and recognizable, it’s not like most other Twitter avatars/icons, and I like it.

If you’re not buying that, how about this: My Twitter bio says “Scholar-warrior in the great Daoist tradition.” Assume for a minute that I’m serious about that. The dadao is historically and culturally appropriate for a Daoist.

The sword symbolizes both the scholar and the warrior. The martial application is obvious, but also consider Occam’s Razor. A number of Daoist symbols and teachings suggest cutting through obstacles, obfuscation, and confusion. I like that. I’m a sucker for clarity, insights, and breakthroughs…especially if they’re in areas that seem otherwise muddled, impenetrable, or intractable.

Most of my warrior training is unarmed, but when I’m training with weapons, I do actually favor dadao (or their Japanese cousins, katana). They’re easy and very pleasing to use, and devastating in impact. It’s no wonder they were successfully used in combat as late as WWII.

Single-edged weapons are also a reminder of humility. In movies you see double-edged straight swords all the time. They’re usually carried by the main characters, especially Good Guys. They’re even known as “hero weapons.” The problem is, double-edged weapons are extremely dangerous; you need extraordinary skill to wield one in a way that isn’t dangerous to yourself. Consider the old wisdom: it takes 100 days to learn the spear, 1,000 days to learn the (single-edged) broadsword, 10,000 days to learn the (double-edged) straight sword. Do the math: 3 months, 3 years, or 30 years. But because double-edged straight swords are considered the “top end,” everyone wants to use one of those—just like folks wanting to lift the heaviest possible weights in the gym, or go into the most extreme poses in yoga, regardless of what’s going to be best for them. It’s not easy, but I do try to keep my ego in check. Give me no hero blades.

So take your pick. Dive as symbolically or psychoanalytically deep as you like. For my part, I think it’s just an icon. I like it, but I’m not married to it. I’ll change it up for something else before too long.

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