Monday, November 16, 2015

Holding On and Letting Go

"Nu gar cuyi ner burc'ya.
Ni kar'tayli gar gai sa ner aru'e.
Enteyo kyr'amur gar.
Ni cuyi kyr'am."

You are not my friend.  I know your name as my enemy.  I must kill you.  I am become death.  After a morning of judging the open longsword competition at the Southeast Renaissance Fencing Open, the time has finally come for me to enter the ring and fight.  I'm looking at my friend the Spider Monkey, murmuring this mantra under my breath.

I'm in the invitational longsword tournament rather than the open, as I had expected to be in.  It's a compliment to be in the invitational; it means the organizer trusts not only my skill in general but also trusts me to put on a display of technical, artful fencing whether I win or lose.  And isn't that the point?  A few days before the event I confide to Kebbura that I don't really feel worthy of the invitation, and she makes this very point to me.  Maybe I can't win.  But I'm not in it to win, right?  I'm in it to fence well.  Tournament success is not the pinnacle of good swordsmanship.

And yet ... I do want to win.  That's why I'm going, after all.  Yes, I want to win with technical, artful fencing.  A win without that wouldn't mean very much to me, because technical and artful are part of the fencer I want to be.  But they're only part.  I also want to be implacable and merciless.  If I ever come at you with a sword, I want you to know right from the start that death is coming for you, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.  I want to see Ailouros' predatory smile - the one she discovered at Longpoint - the next time we meet, lock eyes with her, and say, "Bring it, bitch."

I'm not there yet.  The art is coalescing in my head and my limbs and my hands; I can feel it.  I'm stronger and faster, less easily winded.  I can see better than I used to be able to, not only what happened and why but what is going to happen.  But it isn't all synthesized yet, not the way I want it to be.  I need to know that when it all comes down to this moment, I can bring all these pieces together and fuse them into a single whole.  So yeah, I want to win.

Most of this is mental.  Part of it is aggression, something I've always had trouble with in fencing when it comes down to it.  Most of it is singing, dancing.  When I sing a patter song I'm not thinking about the lyrics; if I try, I'll trip myself up.  When I dance, part of me is thinking ahead, but most of me is just in the moment, feeling what is and being immersed in it.  I remember the Dance Master talking about this, the joy of letting go while still being hyper-attuned to the instant moment.  Letting everything go, while holding on to my focus.  I can do it when I dance.  I can do it when I sing.  I need to be able to do it when I fence.

It's not a light switch yet.  I have to sink into this mental state slowly and deliberately.  Hence the mantra.  Nu gar cuyi ner burc'ya.  Ni kar'tayli gar gai sa ner aru'e.  Enteyo kyr'amur gar.  Ni cuyi kyr'am.  You are not my friend.  I know your name as my enemy.  I must kill you now.  I am become death.  I repeat it to myself under my breath.  Louder, once my helmet goes on.  The bucket muffles sound going in and out, and I let myself sink further into my own world.  My lips still, and my perceptions begin to change, like a filter lowering into place.  My opponent's joints, limbs, and sword are no longer a threat.  They tell me how I can take him apart.  This is how I want to fence, how my art tells me to fence.  I gaze levelly at my opponent, feel my body arranged beneath me, the fit of Ijaat's handle in my grip.  You can't beat me.

He can, and he does.  Spider Monkey is still better than me in the ring.  But I do much better than the judges' calls indicate, as even some of the spectators tell me afterwards and which my opponent himself is happy to acknowledge.

The next two fights I win.  They aren't shut-outs, but I never feel the fight slipping away from me, either.  I don't know either of my opponents.  It doesn't matter.  I see them, and I hit the cracks that I see until they've been taken apart.  We dance, and I lead.

I make it out of the pool into the final sixteen, along with Spider Monkey.  This is a huge accomplishment by itself.  The only other time this has happened to me in a longsword event was at Iron Gate Exhibition 2014, which was due not so much to my fencing ability as to my superior game theory analysis of the rules.  This advancement is mine.  This one, I am proud of.

I don't make it out of the final sixteen.  My opponent is cagey, harder to trick into making mistakes.  We end the match in a tie, and he beats me in sudden death when I get impatient.  But it isn't the impatience that was the problem.  I can see it now, what I should have done - how I could have pushed him harder, or in a different way, to take him apart.  And I see what I was doing, treating him like my last two opponents.  I was fighting the last war.  Dancing without sensing my partner.  I stopped seeing my opponent.

That's okay.  I will do better next time.  I've proven to myself that I can do it.  I am content.