Sunday, August 09, 2009

Two Stories of the Sword in Retreat

As some may be aware, yesterday I returned from retreat. The experience provided great spiritual benefits and a pretty good opportunity to train physically. The grounds of the center are large and verdant with great expanses of plush lawn. I don't know how others feel but, lawns are among my favorite places to practice martial arts. The grass provides a contact that is ideal in both softness and support for techniques that involve kneeling or tumbling.

One evening while practicing sword forms I noticed a an observer half hiding behind a shrub he happened to be browsing. The two-point white tailed buck would stare intently at me for a moment and then return to whatever leaves he was partaking. As I continued to train, I noticed that one of his antlers was broken or deformed, and that they were both still covered in velvet. He had been coming gradually closer as he'd been eating, watching me quite carefully.

A lot of the forms I practice these days end with a kind of jumping attack. As I was working I tried not to pay too much attention to the deer in that I didn't want to make a sudden change in behavior and chase him off. That being said, as he got within about 8 or so meters, the jump was sudden enough that he would slightly spook. But seeing that despite my sudden movement and the sound of landing, I was not making any attack against him, he'd jerk back a couple of feet and then approach the spot where he originally was.

This pattern continued for two or three more forms when he seemed to become more comfortable with this strange thing walking around in circles swinging a stick. Eventually he eased his way to within about 5 meters, where he watched as if enraptured by my spectacle, pausing occasionally for a bite of grass. As he walked around to the other side of me from where he was, I came around to another jump. This time, the tension was too much for him to handle and he bolted off. I was reminded of certain American Indian groups that historically forbade warriors from eating venison because they didn't want to be infected with the animal's timidity.

The next evening I had the opportunity to enjoy the company of a different order of wildlife: mosquitoes and horseflies. The reality is that I was a great attraction to such creatures every time I went outside, but at this particular time it had particular significance.

One of the tricks for dealing with flesh-eaters and vampires was to just keep moving. As long as I was moving around and my sword was swirling over and around my body they were more or less deterred from harassing me. This was great motivation to train with alacrity. Combining my efforts with the humidity and heat I found myself quite exhausted at the end of my set of forms.

It seems like I've heard somewhere that insects, mosquitoes in particular, detect their victims by means of body heat. So when I stop and sit down from my exertions, I imagine my body must have registered as a giant infrared beacon promising a hot meal. The sudden swarming I received alarmed me. In order to shoo off my foe I started to swing my sword in a spinning motion over my head and nailed my target. The end of the sword's handle clipped me a bit and left me with that subtle ringing sensation one gets when hitting their skull into a hard object.

Humiliated by my pathetic show of swordsmanship I stood up and started walking back towards the center to shower and move on to my next spiritual exercise. After I got a few steps though, to my surprise I found a stream of blood starting to drip off of my nose.

The pain of my self-attack had not been so bad that I should expect the injury to be serious, it was only a bit of a twinge. All the same, there is something about those cherry droplets that can impose a sense of urgency, especially when you cannot see the source. In fact because I couldn't see the cut, I hesitated a bit before realizing that I needed to put pressure on it to stop the bleeding. So there I was trying to juggle a pair of socks, a sword, and a water bottle, while putting pressure on
some random spot where I might have broke the skin, and trying to not drip blood all over everything.

In this state I walked, playing an awkward form the little tea pot, back up to the door where I have to punch in an access code and pull it open. Still though the bleeding has definitely slowed I keep thinking about how I want to get through all this without anyone seeing me. Consciously I didn't want to terrorize some poor old Jesuit with my blood covered face, but really I didn't want to have to explain to anyone what happened.

By some miracle I made it through the door with all of my stuff and without leaving any little rubescent spots on anything. I turned down the corridor and found myself closer to the bathroom than I'd been to the deer when popping around the corner in a slightly Irish accent came: “Good God man! Are you all right?”

“Oh yes, it's not bad at all. I just need...”

“The bathroom? It's right through there. What happened? Did you fall?”

“No, no. It's alright. I just hit myself in the head with a stick.”

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