Aging Iron

It’s an expression I heard applied to the helicopters that had dropping out of the sky in Iraq. They are full of committed individuals, warriors and healers, dying in their crashes. The Pentagon claims that the helicopters are part of an “aging fleet”, and career soldiers on the ground jokingly state that the machines “have been in the Marine’s longer than I have!” Both sources say the crashes are because of ‘aging iron’.

This is also a term that is used in the Japanese sword arts. Often it refers to tsuba, the sword guards, of the highest quality. Tekko is a word for it in Japanese… and it means “aging iron”. And it is expanded into the term “tekkotsu” which means “iron bones”.

The steel of a tsuba does not need to hammered and folded as much as the blade so it’s iron composition is less uniform. Over time the softer metal wears away and reveals the harder components locked within… the aging iron reveals its iron bones.

As my years have accumulated I’ve developed a broader appreciation for different things. I don’t remove the flowers from the kamiza as quickly as I might have at one time. I watch the blooms a bit longer and wonder who will remember their scent. My taste in chocolate has developed a clear preference for bitter-sweet… it seems fuller, more honest, more real, more alive. And I have gradually become more appreciative of aging iron.

Over the last couple of years my right shoulder began aching. The sensation brought back memories of my father and a difficulty he had with arthritis in his shoulder. It seems so strikingly consistent with other facts in my life… sometimes bits and pieces of his face look back at me from my mirror. I am startled to see that it seems I have his feet and his skin.

In the past year the ache in my shoulder has gotten much worse and it might wake me out of a sound sleep. For now in my practice I have gotten relief by taking less falls preferring more pins. The falls aren’t hurting it; to the contrary they have no effect. But when I take a pin I can ask my partner to really stretch me out… hopefully wearing away the swollen softer parts that are clogging my joints and give more life to my aging iron bones.

And the clogging is not just in my joints… in my veins as well. What I also inherit from my father is a family history of arterial disease. I have exercised vigorously all my life, not thinking ever about this legacy. But several years ago I was stopped dead… no stopped almost dead… by a heart attack. I actually had two, one I had unwittingly moved through at some point in the past… but it left a record of dead tissue. However, the second more serious event verified a blockage in a coronary artery… very specific and very atypical. Fortunately my years of exercise had expanded the capillary network on my heart leading to a positive compensatory ability. Controlled meditative breathing while this attack was in progress probably stopped the escalation of the trauma.

Modern medical science is amazing… so I didn’t die in my fifties like my grandfather, and uncles before me. I had surgery and stents and realized that the tiredness I was experiencing while training was less age and more constriction of blood flow. Within weeks, I was training again, with a new appreciation of Ki and its effects. I manage to continue into my sixties.

But still… my shoulder hurts and my practice becomes more mindful. And when I stay at the edge of the mat on the edge of my breath as I get winded from jostling with younger partners I find myself thinking more about “aging iron”… and I wonder… one day will I simply fall out of the sky?



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