In 2009 I found myself walking the streets of Kyoto. Over 1400 years old, Kyoto is one of the best preserved cities in Japan. In the mid-1800s Kyoto became a fierce battle ground for Japan’s Samurai as the Tokugawa shogunate came to a violent end with the Bakumatsu. As a result, Samurai history is found throughout Kyoto today. Amid the dark wood and smooth cobblestone of this city I learned how the Samurai sword – the Katana – is brought to life.

There are few things in the world that carry the mystery and marvel of the Japanese Katana. Each Katana is made individually, through a special forging process that gives it balance, strength and sharpness. The process to create a Katana involves reworking the same material time and again through heat, pressure, and dedication. Swordsmiths claim that only by committing to the final form can they unlock the power of the blade.

All blades are made with one material – steel. The steel is smelted and folded over itself up to 16 times, driving out impurities and distributing organic elements in the metal equally. Intense heat and hammering forge the layers together creating a stronger version of the steel than what existed previously. Finally, the blade is sharpened, mounted on an ornate hilt and fitted for a scabbard. In its final form, the Katana is equally romantic, respected and admired.

The lesson I learned in Kyoto was that life, like a Katana, cannot be built by accident. It takes deliberate commitment and a willingness to suffer the fatigue of refinement before we can reach our fullest potential. The same steel that can rust and crack when left alone can be made powerful when folded together. I no longer fear the fire or the hammer; they are tools to make me stronger and sharper. In my community of steel, the pressure from outside forges one blade that will inspire a world.


Nobody thinks of a single square when they talk about building blocks. A block by itself can be strong and useful, but its greatest potential comes from being part of a set. By itself, a block can’t build anything.

One of my son’s favorite toys is his set of building blocks. Playing together on the floor of his room this week, I began to see his battered old blocks in a new light. Taken alone, each block has equal dimensions, size and weight. They are all faded and worn. While some blocks look less abused than others, the history of their life together is clearly visible in shared scratches and chips.

It is easy to see where the damage comes from; my son’s talent for building is second only to his flair for dramatic destruction. In his imagination these blocks have served as stepping stones over lava pits, crash barriers for race cars, jungles wrecked by dinosaurs and a myriad of buildings destroyed by transformers, giants, tornadoes and all manner of fantastical creatures and events. But despite their scuffs and bruises, he finds his way back to building them up day after day.  

His blocks are a community. Alone, each block is a simple thing with a common shape. Only together can their collective strength and impact be realized. Though the scars that they carry may seem significant when they are separated from the group, the wear blends together and fades away every time they build something new.

I have seen the world through the eyes of the lone square; my shortcomings and limitations seemingly insurmountable. The truth, however, is that no block has to be alone – we can surround ourselves with others whose strength and courage build us up. Community is the key to construction. Our greatest form can only be found when we come together.