Is The Pen Mightier Than The Sword? by Ruby Barnes

My twitterprofile claims I am the oldest ninja in town. There’s an element of truth to this. I’m currently three years into my fourth attempt this half-century to master karate. I’m not getting any faster, I’m not getting any more flexible, but I am getting stronger and more determined. After a year of practise with the katana (a two-handed sword beastie of the samurai variety) I did a solo performance at the club’s recent fundraising show in front of an audience of 300+. A lot of attacking imaginary opponents with three feet of polished nastiness, all to the tune of Prokofiev’s Montagues and Capulets (go to 1:39 and it’s from there). It was a two hour programme and my mad frenzied attack was scheduled just before the interval.

So how did it go? Almost immediately I was inexplicably out of my expected timing sequence with the music and the ponderous thump of that Montagues and Capulets section required me to strike, thrust, push imaginary dead bodies off the blade in time to the beat. So I improvised. Added a few extra swishes, slices and twirls, a few additional victims. The second part of the piece was intended to be double-time and so I fairly went for it, hacking shadows from shoulder to hip, whirling like a Dervish (I know, I know) and knocking a few high kicks out above head level in between slashes. I finished with an overhead slash, dropped to one knee and finaled (?) with a reverse-thrusted blade into the abdomen of the invisible enemy behind me. The audience went wild(ly running to the rear of the auditorium for safety.) My teenage daughter told me after that, compared to the fleet-footed and lightning performances of the younger club members mine was “total death and destruction”. Club members who had watched on the monitor in the Green Room said it was a “very solid performance”. I breathed a sigh of relief, changed out of my sweaty weapons shirt and prepared to continue with the other three or four bit parts I had in the show. It all went swimmingly.

Then the professionally edited DVD of the show went on sale at the club. I bought a copy as my son also featured in it several times, took the DVD home, forgot about it for a week, and then sat through the whole thing on a Sunday afternoon. Verdict? Overall – excellent. But what about the sword-wielding ancient ninja? Well, in a sequence of about one hundred solo sword moves I lost my place on move number … three. That explained how things started to go wrong. The confusion and hesitation was evident as I plodded around like a slow-motion Jack Black in Nacho Libre (whilst twirling a sword that I was obviously frightened of). Until the second half. When things got much worse. Now I was an old man in a yard trying to kill a scampering rat with a shovel. End result: I was lucky not to impale myself, the audience was similarly fortunate and the rat got away.

So it was with sword trailing between my legs that I turned up at the dojo last night. I told Sensei Mags that I thought the DVD was excellent in all parts except one. And I knew which one. She smiled and made a few succinct points: the audience were mainly friends and family of the club members and most would have no idea if I had missed out moves, made mistakes or gotten out of timing; mine was the first sword piece in the show schedule so it didn’t suffer from comparison to the later sword pieces; was there rapturous applause? yes there was; club members thought it was a powerful performance and that the moves synced well to the beat of the chosen tune; I now had an excellent base to improve the things I needed to improve and knowing my own weaknesses is the first step. Maybe one day I would be able to join the medal-winning team we send to the World Grands in New York every second Christmas New Year.

I watched the DVD again. And again. And I’ll watch it a few more times. It struck me that this whole experience is very similar to the one I had when my pretentious, self-important and pedantic first novel chapters were read out and critiqued in the NUI Maynooth Creative Writing for Publication course in front of strangers. An emotional ride through the classic stages of change:
shock – is it really that bad? OMG it’s really bad;
denial – no it’s really not that bad – I look good in black (very slimming), the sword is shiny and I twirl it like a cheerleader;
anger – why didn’t anyone tell me it was so bad? I thought I had friends – it’s their fault, I’m only a beginner, I can’t be expected to become an expert overnight;
depression – I’m hanging up my pen / sword for good, I’m too clumsy for this game;
acceptance – okay, it is what it is, let’s take a closer look;
integration – I know what needs to be improved and I’ll practice those elements until the desired future state can be achieved.

Only through self-awareness can we strive for improvement.
(Practical tip for authors – dry your feet first.)

If you liked this post then take a look at The Baptist by R.A. Barnes. He doesn't need a sword to dispose of his victims. 


Elizabeth Kay said…
That was a bit different! Very entertaining, and a neat flick of the wrist to a writing parallel.
Bill Kirton said…
Excellent, Ruby. Psychological insights, violence, comprehensive mayhem and calm, rational appraisal of it all. Wish I could do a fraction of what you did.
Lydia Bennet said…
Something new, swordplay in an author's real life instead of in their books! Good for you for persevering, it all sounds great fun, challenging and healthy (for those not standing too near when you are hacking about with the sword). Great post Ruby! And a fair analogy - only your Sensei was much more supportive than most writers' experience of publishers or agents in full-on rejection mode!
Jan Needle said…
and you even managed to sneak in the word gotten, ah so!
Skilled, clever and real. Thank you. And I am always ready to have my bookaholic ways indulged.
glitter noir said…
One of the most unusual and delightful posts I've found on AE. Well done, Fightin' Writin' Ruby.
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks all. Sometimes writing a fight scene ain't enough and a bit of actual leaping around is required to use up the energy ;-)

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