Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Every Morning

In the morning, I drag myself out of a surprisingly snuggly bed in my surprisingly dark room. I put on headphones given to me by my father and running shoes given to me by my wife, lock the door behind me with keys given to me by my landlord, and go running in a park given to me by a city that is home but not home. I pass the relief honoring the Marquis de Lafayette, with the tip of his sword shiny and bright from all the people that have rubbed it. I pound past the playground, across the grass and under the tree, wet my shoes and socks in the dew of the Long Meadow, and pass into the trees. I loop around and up the stone steps that sag in the middle back to the Long Meadow, and cross it until I reach my knoll. There my hands curl around empty air, and I begin to drill. There is no morning gloom, and Prospect Park is full of dogs and their people not far away, but this is still my space, and I am thankful. My muscles answer the thrill of the movements, and I am alone.

This is often the highlight of my day, and my days are actually not that bad. It will be another week or so before I can figure out for sure whether this is a sustainable activity, but I dearly hope that I may. This past Saturday was - I was about to say especially fun, but perhaps that is a silly thing to say given a history of only two actual lessons. It was, at any rate, exceptional in recent history. One of the things we got to do was practice unterhauen (cuts from below, beginning with the sword held down and behind), which was extra cool as I have been somewhat entranced by them ever since I discovered that you could strike from that position. But the really remarkable thing was that I found myself thinking of Tokyo Rose, someone I have not thought of in many years ... and I realized that I felt like I was in Social I again. I had that same excitement, the same eagerness to do more, to learn how it all fits together. I was, in the very Natalian sense, happy.

At my teacher's invitation I stayed to observe the open level class, which was equally exciting. The studio's kendo and siljun dobup sensei participated, and happened to be drilling right in front of my chair, so it was especially interesting to see the way he was able to teach his (much less experienced) partner about what they were doing and why. I find my own mind putting together what bits and pieces of information I have, trying them in various combinations looking for insight. One of the minor revelations was that we have actually practiced only two of the meisterhauen, and that the other cuts we have practiced were all simple oberhauen and unterhauen - whether delivered from the left, the right, or directly overhead.

The meisterhauen, I now realize/begin to suspect, are one of the organizing principles of KDF. To give a dance analogy, I break [rotary and Viennese] waltz variations into four basic categories: turns, pivots, redowa, and mazurka. Proficiency in all four of those categories (plus the basics of frame, balance, and rotation) is basically how I define proficiency in waltz itself. Yet they are categories, not individual steps or variations. I group them together partially because all the individual variations under those categories share certain physical similarities, and partially because they respond to the music in distinct ways - a musical phrase that says "redowa" to me might prompt any number of redowa variations, but it doesn't prompt a mazurka step. That phrase is not what mazurka is "for" in my head.

Similarly, KDF "cuts" do not seem to be listed by individual cut but rather by category of cut. I have practiced three individual cuts now that are all described with the word oberhau, two that are both unterhau, and so forth. Of the mastercuts I have definitely been exposed to, the scheitelhau (there seems to be no good translation; the scheitel is the crown of a hill, but also a mathematical apex, and also the part line in your hair) I have only done in one way but I suspect could be done in at least two, and the zwerchau can be done either from the left or from the right, with each individual variation performed in a slightly different way (a left zwerchau is not simply a mirror image of the right zwerchau). The jargon is not of individual moves but of categories of moves ... and so, I realize, my task as a student is to get it into my bones what these general categories are for. Just as this phrase may signify a redowa and not a mazurka, so this disposition of opponents signifies a zwerchau and not a ... well, whatever else it doesn't signify.

Interestingly, I begin to suspect (which is to say, I have read but cannot yet confirm through my own experience) that the meisterhauen are so-called because of their dual function. Prior to the smallsword revolution of the 17th century, people were generally taught to fence in what the Italians and English would call "single time," which is I think is a stupid terminology that simply means with single actions. If you wish to attack somebody with an arming sword, for instance, your sword only takes one action - the attack. It does not attempt to defeat your opponent's defense and then attack, as does a sport foil. If you wish to defeat your opponent's defense, you must do it with another weapon (such as the buckler in your left hand) or through movement. The meisterhauen, by contrast, take advantage of the longsword's greater length to become movements that are both attack and defense, in the same action - they are ways of moving your sword to attack such that your opponent's ability to counterattack is foreclosed, and ways to parry your opponent's attack in a way that simultaneously attacks him. This is, obviously, superior to a movement of the sword that only attacks or only defends - hence the description of these five categories of maneuver as "master."

Now I just need to learn how to, you know, do them. And when. While moving. When the blows are coming about once a second. I can't wait.

But enough of my amateur musings on the art of fighting. The point is, this makes me happy. And I am grateful to have it out here, where I can greet the day and its promise of mercies new with this one small mercy. There is city glass ground into the dirt beneath my feet, but the morning breeze blows through the trees, my muscles answer the thrill of the movements, and I am here.

No comments: