- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - As a child growing up in Sublette, Abel Erives was captivated by the legendary tales of King Arthur and his powerful sword Excalibur.

Later, he reveled in the adventures of Beowulf and his venomous sword Hrunting, as well as the magical sword of the Spanish hero El Cid.

As Erives grew up, he became interested in Japanese culture and martial arts. He took jiujitsu and taekwondo classes and after joining the U.S. Army, practiced boxing and martial arts.

Then, he found a way to combine his interests in Japanese culture, martial arts - and swords.

While living in New Hampshire, Erives found a teacher of a unique martial art called Iaido - the art of drawing the Japanese sword from a sheath and then visualizing imaginary opponents while performing different attacking and defending scenarios.

“It’s performed with a real sword and is an exercise in presence,” Erives said. “It cultivates a capacity for performing the correct action while being entirely in the moment.”

The Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/2pnJYE3 ) reports that Erives developed enough skill in Iaido that he began teaching the martial art himself. He also teaches Kendo, the art of Japanese fencing. Unlike Western fencing, which usually is done with a light, flexible foil, Kendo is practiced with full body armor with a bamboo sword.

“Kendo is very visceral and is meant to be a way of conquering fear,” Erives said. “When you have a big guy in armor trying to hit you over the head with a bamboo stick, the correct response has to be trained.”

Erives moved to Salina with his wife, Cheryl, in July and began working as a health technology manager at Salina Regional Health Center. In August, he decided to offer classes in Iaido, Kendo and another swordsmanship technique, Medieval German Longsword.

“Once you learn the foundations of swordsmanship, they all share similarities,” he said. “They all cultivate presence in the moment.”

Erives has been offering a Medieval Japanese Swordsmanship class from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays in Salina Public Library’s Community Learning Center, 308 W. Elm. Beginning this week, the class will be offered at the Salina Masonic Center, 336 S. Santa Fe.

Cost is $40 a month with a $60 annual enrollment fee in the All United States Kendo Federation.

Erives said he is the only person in the state who teaches this particular martial art, and he wanted to offer it in Salina because of its centralized location.

“We really want to let people know we’re available and can offer this to a greater area,” he said.

Erives said Iaido and Kendo can be practiced at just about any age and ability level, even though he chooses not to have children in his class. Still, it’s not always easy to convince adults they either won’t get hurt while brandishing a sword or bamboo stick or they’re not going to look silly while doing so.

“People who seek us out are looking for something different than just a martial arts class,” he said. “We want people who are really serious about cultivating a sense of personal development and experiencing something off the beaten path.”

At a recent Wednesday class, Salinans Luke Samford and Hayley Morrical were taking Erives’ class for the first time. Samford said he was attracted by the idea of learning a new, unique skill.

“How many times do you get something like this in Salina, Kansas?” he said. “My brother lived in Japan and has a Japanese wife, so I’ve been interested in Japanese culture.”

Morrical said her father has several martial arts swords, so the class attracted her interest.

“I just want to have a lot of fun,” she said.

During the class, Erives explained the four components of Iaido: Nukitsuke, the drawing out of the sword; Kirioroshi, one or more follow-on and finishing cuts; Chiburi, the cleansing of the blade, either by flicking, cutting or dripping motions; and Noto, the re-sheathing of the sword.

Erives reminded his class that they were wielding a sword, not a hatchet, so a proper grip was essential, as was rotating the hands inward so they were even with the top of the blade.

Controlling the force of the downward swing of the sword equally is important, Erives said, so the sword doesn’t become embedded.

“The last thing you want is your sword to be stuck in your target,” he said.

When it comes to sheathing the sword, Erives said it is wrong to stick the sword into the sheath, which risks dulling the blade. Instead, the sheath should be drawn up into the sword to gently secure it.

Becoming a good swordsman takes a lot of skill and practice, but Erives said if a student sticks with it, the mental benefits equal the physical.

“It teaches you to respond rather than react to a situation, so you can think about how better to respond and approach it,” he said. “As a result of my Iaido practice, I feel that I have a greater sense for choosing the correct course of action for any given situation.”

Then there’s the most attractive factor - learning cool sword-handling techniques.

“As soon as you get that blade in your hand, you go, ‘There’s something to this,’ ” he said.

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com

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