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Once upon a time, as the legends pass down, there was a girl who wanted nothing more in life than to grow up and be a knight, like the heroes she read and heard of in stories short and long since the day she was born. Before she could read herself or could attend school to learn, she knew that she would like to grow up to use a sword and save the day and the girl, too.



A ridiculous notion, it was said to be, by many, saying her ideals were outdated and stale, not worth pursuing, past their expiration date long ago when gunpowder and cannons took over and swords and steeds rusted forgotten on the wayside. I'd be forgotten soon just as they were, too, if I decided to pursue this path in my madness.

Though waylaid in youth, circumstance leading her down many rougher paths, making her lose out on may a chance to latch on to any success, or anything else she may dream of being, her goal to be a swordsman stayed with her, through times good and bad, and kept her going on the darkest of days. Even when she grew up, and the world evolved and most faster 'round, the notion just grew stronger and stronger. It would never happen, she told herself, perhaps everyone was right and her goals were too lofty and not for this era or world much longer. Mayhap they were right and she should turn to gunpowder too as all did now if she wanted a way to feel safe and make others feel same.

Directionless and without a chance from the rough roads she had traveled, she could not find what she wanted to be, save but a swordsman. She tried many other things and not but would click, leaving her high and dry and unprepared. Her years grew as her longing did too to become a swordsman of honor and glory. Most would scorn her still and by chance, after travelling from deserts back to the forests and farms of her home, she was offered by a chance a way to become a swordsman.

But it would not be the knight that she came to long to be, not with armor shining or maidens praying for her embrace, nor dragons to slay, and a heroic title would not be hers to claim. All of her dreams came to a halt when she finally got a chance to be what it was she had chased her whole life, poor, destitute, dreaming until the end of days.

But what she got was much better. Much stronger. More thorough convictions, a better philosophy, a stronger soul and spirit, and in the end, she found something all of those who scorned her ideas said she would lack the most if she chased this wisp of a dream off the cliffs of delusion she hung but a thread from.

The girl found direction and purpose.

She could feel safe and make others feel it and more, confident and strong, people under her would learn now to be. True to her word, she became a swordsman greater than she ever did dream and hope be. Her spirit swelled at the idea of doing it until the end of days, even if she could live past forever, she would see this job now through to the end. The smiles and thank yous that poured in as she taught others, frail and targeted, that they had worth and were worth protecting was of value more to her now than the coin and fame that could potentially come from this.

Heroes often are only remembered as such for being that as they died. They only gain such glory and fame upon their deathbed and never to hear it. But true glory and honor are found in but chasing life and the saving and preservation of it instead of wanting for death as she once did. She stopped seeking such destructive notions and once put into a constructive force, all her dreams came true.

And then some.

The knight became a samurai.

And that samurai is me.

*~*~*

Six years ago today, after I had just moved back to Northern California, after a long, destitute time in Arizona, I walked through the doors of the dojo I now swear allegiance to. In my mid 20s, most expect something of people that age by now, be it college or a career or marriage or more. Most don't know what they want. I didn't know what I wanted beyond what I liked to do, but the idea of a full career still eluded me. It does to most. I found out later this is normal and to think of such at the age of 18 is an absurd notion that must be destroyed.

I was a martial artist as a kid. Out of necessity for survival and not chasing my lifelong dreams yet of being a knight. As fascinated as I was with that ideal, this came from a long string of unfortunate abuse, neglect, bullying, and a school system that almost gave up on me instead. I had no recourse left from the bullies who tormented me in the halls but to learn how to hit back, and while I wasn't in it long, something clicked then that stuck with me in the back of my mind, and it wasn't until much later that I found it again.

By chance, my transmother found an ad in a local community center activity book that detailed a new class starting for Japanese swordsmanship. Knowing there was a strong chance that this wouldn't work or be of bad quality, I still gave it a shot, because you never know, and it would only be one night of my life tossed aside if nothing came of it.

I don't know how far I believe in destiny or karma or fate, I tend not to, but I like to think something guided me there, because after speaking to my sensei about prior experience and stuff like how I was semi-fluent in Japanese and how much of the cultural stuff I was already aware of, I could tell this was legit, and found a way to continue. Whatever clicked in me as a kid was reawakened and it clicked back on and I was in full swing, taking every class I could, doing events, volunteer work, and eventually finding what I was best at which is teaching others. I never dreamed of being a teacher of any kind, much less working with kids to an extent, but here I was, someone that kids and at risk groups like college women and minorities actually wanted to work with and feel comfortable around. The legitimacy of it all and this vast lineage with immense historical ties I was now a part of became apparent more and more as I became entangled as a part of it.

On this day, too, on my 6th anniversary, I am promoted to main assistant for swordsmanship and samurai arts. My sensei sees me as someone of immense value, not just for who I am, but what I am. I'm a woman and I'm gay and I have some gender issues, making me an immense target for most criminals and bigots and such I should have to maybe someday defend myself physically from. Because of that, I can empathize with those with targets painted on their backs and work safely with them. He sees the value in all this and knows what society has against me and how hard I work against what they put up and is grateful for that, and my endless energy and ability to live up to one of our most important creeds -

- Nana Korobi Ya Oki -

Seven falls, eight risings. Or a way to say "Don't give up" without implying failure as a permanent option. He has commended me in public and private both at how much I embody it more so than most other people he's known, skilled and famous or not. It means the world to me to hear this, this dreamer who dreamed to be the strongest in an era where guns and tanks rule, my sword is still supreme. He can see and feel the raw passion in me and a tendency to fight to the end, a rare feature to find in anyone by default instead of trained to be in them. He gets that I get what I get and why, be it about how it feels to be a target or how to empathize or how to inspire or how much of this history is in me now, living. This man is like an uncle or father to me now, an honest, strong man that is helping raise me into something more special than I ever did as I grew up.

To be seen as important given who I am in this area is of immense relevancy and historical value. A woman? A gay one? Being a samurai in this era and somehow making it come alive and teaching others how to defend themselves? Impossible, some would think, but it's happening.

I am now first in line to become the 22nd generation inheritor of our main art, Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu of the Harusuke-Ha branch, my sensei and his sensei's family clan lineage of Clan Saito, headed by Saito Dosan, noted tactician and stepfather of the legendary Oda Nobunaga and whom he taught everything ehe knows, and soon after that to learn and inherit Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-Ryu, an ancient sword style requiring blood oaths to teach.

My life has become a tapestry of things only written about in fiction or history, even if just exaggerated, and in ways I couldn't have ever accomplished if I had listened to those that detracted from it or if I had stuck to being a brave knight in shining armor pursuing the title of important hero only in my death. I am relied on, trusted with secrets and techniques and wisdom beyond centuries, people feel safer and happier and more confident and strong around me. And on this day, I realize this and can now work on becoming the whole of what lays beyond what my wildest dreams ever could have been.

Miyamoto Musashi said "To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void."

The old precepts of the samurai begin with "Know thyself" and end with "Never lose your beginner's spirit."

It is with that and only this now do I fully accept the title I was given a while ago of samurai and shall now work towards more.

There's purpose to me now. A real spirit. A real need. I am needed, so long as I live, and shall chase life now indefinitely instead of death. The old masters were right; there would always be room in history for at least one of us who knew what we were doing for the sword and by the sword.

And the moral of this story? Never give up; you can achieve this, too, if you want. Just take the first step and try.

Once upon a time, as the legends pass down, there was a girl who wanted nothing more in life than to grow up and be a knight, like the heroes she read and heard of in stories short and long since the day she was born.

She is now far, far more than that and has nothing but greatness to achieve past it.

May it be my sword now that gives life.

September 1st, 2016 AD
-Amanda Marie Graham
AKA "Atma Weapon"

Those whom wish to read more of Musashi or the precepts used here can find it at this site
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The Sunset Samurai

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