Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Matrix of Swordsmanship

When I was a kid, and because I'm such a nerd, I loved the Transformers. In particular I loved the Transformers Movie, which I proudly owned on VHS and audio casette, and now on DVD and CD. In the movie they had this device called the Matrix of Leadership--the sum of all wisdom from all Autobot leaders who had ever carried it. If someone was picked to be the new Autobot leader, he was given the Matrix and it made him wise and buff.

Martial arts forms have a little of that in them. The form is a physical collection of fighting ideas, much like a living, moving book. Some forms stay fixed over time, with students rigidly trying to preserve the old ways, and some forms evolve over time as each new master revises the set of moves. Some however slowly sink into decrepitude, losing their history, focus, and meaning with each generation. I suspect that much of the fighting lore of the Yang sword forms has been lost through its years of being used as a strictly meditative art.

John and I saw this amazing thing when we were learning the form Sunday. There's this move that happens three times in the form. It's first instance is called something like "Cat Pounces on Rat." It's this kick, step, hop and stab bit. It's pretty dainty looking. Now, John and I know western fencing, and as we looked at the series of steps, it occured to us that the footwork pattern matched a fencing move called the Fleche. If you know the Fleche, then you know that it is possibly the most aggressive move in fencing. It can be rediculously fast, and covers a truly upsetting amount of ground from the point of view of the defender.

Imagine: you set in your en garde, blade at the ready, making your plan. Your opponent is well into the grande distance, too far away to hit you even with a advance and a lunge. you prepare to advance, and suddenly your opponent is in the air, shooting at you like an arrow, crossing 6... 8... no 10 feet in an instant to strike you!

Link it back to "Cat Pounces on Rat," and you have the makings of a deadly technique...

But wait, I was talking about the Transformers. Thing is, you can't practice the fleche slow. It's got to be done fast. Yet the Yang form isn't done fast. If you were to break the move down and do it slow, it might, might look like you're prancing. If a fleche-like attack was the original intent of this move, was it forgotten over time? Only by cross-referencing the form with the same form done by other masters and techniques from totally different systems can we reassemble a fully-functioning combat form from what may have become a fuzzy memory of a fighting past. (Dedicated to Wiley)

'Til All Are One!

1 comment:

Scirocco said...

Read more in "The Sword and the Mind". Your article reminded me of some of it (again.) It said (paraphrasing) learning 100 forms, 1000 forms is worthless, if you can not learn them to the point where they become mindless. Seek to be like the puppet to the spirit inside. Once you can perform the forms without thinking, only then can you be a great swordsman."

The whole book also pushes home the point that to force your opponent to strike first is to win. You must force your opponent to show his move, his gambit, his ploy, sense it and strike BEFORE his sword even moves. You see how his foot turns, how his eye shifts, how his hands tigthen on the sword hilt, and you know what he will do, and you strike the vulnerable spot before he lifts his sword. To do that, your body must unconsciously perform the movements without waiting for your mind to instruct them. If you must wait for your mind to decide and instruct your body, you have lost.

That kind of dedication was undoubtedly lost or not practiced by some of those that passed down these arts, and have made these forms shadows of the combat practices they once were. I think it's great you're trying to restore them.