This lesson was… odd. For the first time I’ve got nothing really new to report: no second drill steps, no new dagger exercise, no new sword guards. Does that mean we were bored this week? Far from it! This was about the most difficult lesson yet.
When I said “nothing really new”, I meant “really new” in the sense of a new action (like an attack or a way of defending), but instead of learning a new action we were taught a new approach to old actions. This new approach became the lesson’s theme, something that would tie everything we did together. Each exercise we did was, in theory, done with this approach in mind, but in practice I’m still struggling to learn those exercises – focusing on an entirely new thing while doing them was a bit much.
What is this “new approach”? The answer: “Guiding energy.” It’s every bit as weird as it sounds.
At the beginning of the lesson we’re explained that energy never appears from nothing, nor does it disappear. When we lift a sword we expend energy, and that energy turns into the sword’s movement. The same applies in unarmed combat: we push someone, and the energy we lose makes that someone fall. This falling someone will then wish he had paid more attention when he was taught how to guide energy.
The teacher explains that it’s possible to avoid falling from the push: you need to guide the energy your opponent is thrusting into you to the ground. To do this you have to make a clear path for that energy from wherever it’s entering you to the earth, and this you do by making tiny adjustments in your bone and muscle structure. If you don’t do this successfully the energy will “leak out” from some point of your body and you’ll either be moved or risk injury. (Your opponent can use this fact to break your arm.)
But there’s a problem: even though our teacher shows us how this is done in practice, the changes he makes to his structure are far too subtle for us to see. We’ll just have to try it for ourselves, and keep on trying until we get it right. (Spoiler: I haven’t got it right yet.)
We start by practicing this unarmed in pairs. One of us takes the posta longa position while the other pushes the outstretched arm. We stand so for a while and I try to observe where the energy is going. I notice that my shoulder is threatening to give in to my opponent, so I know that’s where the energy is leaking. I try twitching and adjusting my position like I was told, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much. After a while I give up and let my pair have a go.
Soon (too soon) we move on to dagger and sword exercises, and applying this approach becomes even more difficult. How do you tell how the energy is moving across your sword, since you haven’t got any nerves there to tell you? Don’t ask me, I’m already totally confused.
I’ve done my best to explain what this lesson included, but I have to confess that most of this is totally baffling to me. At the end of the lesson my head is spinning. I resolve to keep what I’ve heard this week in mind and remind myself of it now and then, but also to move on and not worry too much about learning this yet. This is advanced stuff and can take years to master.
Next week comes the last lesson of the beginner’s course. These past seven weeks have gone by in a flash, but at the same time it feels like it has been months. (And it certainly has taken months to write all of this down.)