Before heading to the pond I sent K a message to make sure she wouldn’t forget our appointment or be late. She arrived a minute after me, carrying a long bag strapped over her shoulder.
I watched with interest, as she opened the bag and pulled out two wooden sticks shaped like swords.
“This is a wooden replica of Japanese sword katana. It’s called bokken,” she said, offering one of the swords to me. “We’re going to use it for our training today.”
I took the sword with some reluctance. “I thought the afternoon training would be in the gym.”
“Don’t worry, this is going to be much better.” She pushed a plastic guard over the hilt of her sword and took another one from the bag. “This is tsuba, a handguard. You have to put it on your sword…like this.”
“I’d really prefer to do some boxing or groundwork. Since I got here, not once have I had a normal training.”
“What is a normal training? This is better, trust me.”
“I’m not doing any of this until you tell me what’s going on.” The firmness of my own voice surprised me.
Her head drooped. “Look, the thing is that I couldn’t get a reservation. That ass Kentaro made sure to book most of the coaches, and between him, Yamada san’s fighters, and the few fighters that came from other clans on Kentaro’s personal invitation, there’s no term free.”
“How the fuck is that possible? Couldn’t you reserve it earlier?”
“Well…” she muttered, stroking the wooden blade. “I didn’t know when you’ll be ready and fit enough, and I thought it’d okay to reserve a day in advance. But it seems slots have been filling up quickly since the beginning of the month… Mainly this became a problem because of Kentaro’s childish revenge. Anyway, look-”
“That’s fucked up.” I made a cut in the air with the sword. “You need to talk to Kentaro. I need my trainings.”
“Training can be done in various ways.”
“Like mind and body coach, you mean? What the fuck was that? I agreed to do it only because I thought it a temporary thing. But now it seems that’s the only training I’ll get.”
“I told you why mind and body coach is important---“
“Aaa…” I stopped her. “I saw the expression on your face. You think it’s bullshit too.”
She uttered a deep sigh. “It’s not bullshit…It’s not something I’m used to, true, but it’s actually good, considering you’re still in a recovery phase.”
“And what’s this then?” I pushed the sword in her face. “You’re telling me this will somehow help me to be a better MMA fighter?”
“Let’s just give it a try, ne?”
I huffed, thinking what a colossal waste of time this was going to be when her hands suddenly wrapped mine.
“Hold the sword this way,” she said, adjusting my hands on the hilt. Her sudden touch made me quiver.
“This is a single-edged sword. Make sure you cut with the cutting edge, otherwise you wouldn’t be really cutting. You always need to keep in mind to use this wooden sword as if it was a real one.”
Her hands left mine and she took a step back, making a large swing with her sword toward me. The blade stopped across my stomach, a hairbreadth from touching it. “So if you cut in this angle, you need to turn the blade this way, understand?”
“Umm, yes,” I replied, trying to dispel the confusion her unexpected touch provoked in me.
“Good. You can move any way you want, all you need to do is one successful cut on me. Start!”
I frowned. “What do you mean? I can’t just hit you with…this. It’s quite heavy. I’ll injure you.”
She smiled smugly positioning herself about two meters from me. Holding her sword with both hands at her navel, she pointed its tip towards me. She looked different somehow, much more compact, even taller. “Don’t worry, I know how to protect myself. But just remember…it’s a sword, not a stick you’re holding, so use it accordingly.”
“If I strike you, we stop this and you’ll get us into the gym?”
“Sure,” she replied without hesitation. “You can use this as a motivation.”
“All right….but if you get hurt--”
“Start already, you punk. I’m getting bored.”
She was still a woman, a head smaller. Regardless of how frustrated she made me feel, I couldn’t bring myself to go full strength on her, especially with a wooden weapon. But I was going to teach her a lesson, finish this quickly and then claim some gym time.
I approached leisurely, with a confident smile on my mouth. She might as well have some experience in sword fighting, being Japanese and all that, but for an experienced fighter like me, it wouldn’t hold much value. Chuckling to myself, I made a sudden, light swing in an attempt to surprise her. She dodged.
Okay, fine…this was just a test.
I swung again, faster this time. She dodged.
The sword in her room came to my mind as I readied myself, pushing my feet firmly into the ground. I charged towards her much faster than in previous attempts. Missed again, but I was very close.
With the next swing I have her, I was confident.
Same action, same result. She moved just enough so that my sword missed her.
I tried a few more times but all we did was moving around on the grass as if we played a chasing game. I started to get tired.
“Okay, I see you’re agile, I give you that…but are you able to actually swing back or you’re just going to run around?”
As soon as my last word left my mouth her sword hit mine with such impact that it flew out of my hand. Almost simultaneously the tip of her sword touched my neck.
“You’re tense, you’re gripping the sword too strong and hunching your shoulders. You’re breathing only with your upper part of the body, that’s why you tire so quickly.”
Her attitude was something new to me. I had never before seen her so focused and serious.
She removed her sword from my neck and stepped back in the same position as before. I picked up my sword and held it with one hand only, as it was quite light for me. Closing the distance I swung at her with all my might, forgetting for a moment the possibility of injury. Just before my sword reached her head, she blocked it and stroke across my stomach while dashing past me on the side.
While I barely felt the strike, for she administered it with utmost control, it was quite a big blow to my pride. I underestimated her. She was clearly very skilful.
I turned, facing her again. She had no expression on her face, not even a smirk, which was the least I expected. A gust of wind ruffled her hair. I looked up and saw the sun disappearing behind dark clouds, which threatened with an afternoon shower.
Ok, this has gone too far. I must end it.
From that moment on I pursued her with relentless stubbornness worthy of a bull chasing its matador. Lots of my energy and strength, which I put into each of my swings, were wasted due to her elegant dodging. I cut a lot of air, losing balance each time by doing so and plunging forward like a fool. She blocked my strikes with ease and not a few times I felt the weight of her sword on my body.
While I was continuously wiping sweat from my forehead, I still hadn’t seen a drop on hers. I wanted to land at least one strike before all my stamina ran out.
The black clouds finally released the rain, saving at least some of my dignity by disguising the sweat that started to show through my clothes.
Perhaps she’ll suggest we stop?
The thick droplets soon turned into a heavy downpour but neither of us gave up. She was waiting for my strike, and I was determined to give it.
I decided on a different strategy: I’d take her down first and then strike. I closed in just enough to leap at her, and as my hand almost reached her waist, she moved aside and I received a strike on my head.
“Fuck!” I cursed out loud and patted the top of my head.
I would have preferred to fight without the sword. The damn thing was only getting in my way, making me clumsy and slow. If this was—my musings were disrupted by a blow on my arm, followed by another one on the hilt of my sword, which caused me to drop it again. Her strikes began to hurt.
Numerous ju-jitsu techniques came to my mind, but each time I tried to kill the distance her sword prevented me to come close enough. In a desperate attempt, I let my sword go and threw myself at her legs, succeeding to catch her ankle. The ground being muddy from the rain, she slid to the ground with ease as I pulled her down. Kicking at my hand, she freed herself from my grip and got up quickly. While I was still on my knees she hit me on my back with the sword. I fell face forward onto the wet, muddy grass.
“Pick up the sword!” she shouted, encircling me with slow, careful steps.
Getting on all fours, I hit the ground with the palm of my hand, splashing the mud around me.
“Your impatience makes your movements easy to read, your frustration makes you tense, and that makes you slower….Your mind is not flexible, you’re unable to adapt to a different situation quickly enough….You focus too much on your arms, instead of your feet…You don’t really see the opponent…” her voice echoed through the wind and rain from all directions.
I took the sword, squeezing its hilt tightly, and singled her out in my mind. She was no more K my proxy, or K a woman, she became an opponent. I stood up and observed her, waiting for her to attack first.
And she did. She came at me with a large strike toward my head, which I blocked. She pressed down on my sword. We were so close I saw her eyes widening from the effort. In my mind, I brewed up this marvellous plan to punch her in the abdomen beneath our crossed swords, just enough to take her breath away for a second, then bring her down and end this stupid fight.
Just like I had cut the air before with the sword, I now punched it. She avoided my strike by moving sideways. Her sword left mine and before I could turn to follow her movements I got acquainted with the heaviness of the wood on my back once again.
I stumbled forward, although I didn’t fall this time. From the corner of my eye, I saw her sword over my head. There was no plan this time, no thinking, only instincts. The next thing I knew I was on the ground on my back, with K in my arms locked in a choke. Her fingers dug into my forearm as she tried to loosen my grip over her neck and a whizzing sound came from her mouth. As soon as I realized what was happening, I released her and pushed her to the side.
My mind raced to fill in the blanks. Both of the swords were lying on the ground. I vaguely remembered catching K’s sword with my hands, pulling it away from her it… a sloshy sound of our bodies smashing on the muddy grass.
I turned towards K, who was lying next to me on her back. Her mouth was open and gasping for air. Mud and wet hair stuck to her face, and blood dripped from her nose. We must have collided pretty heavily, though she seemed to be the only one suffering the consequences, for I felt nothing.
I leaned on my elbow, looking at her from above. Her eyes were wide open in a rather blank stare and she was still breathing heavily. The rain mixed with the blood on her face, washing it down her cheeks.
“Are you okay?” Seeing her like this I got worried and regretted my whole thing. In all that frenzy I had forgotten she was still a smaller and a weaker individual. I should have held back. I reached toward her face.
“I saw you….” she muttered, staring at the sky. Her faint chuckle mixed with a cough.
I quickly pulled my hand back. “What?”
Our eyes met for a prolonged moment, then she jumped up like she received an electrical jolt. ”What what?” she retorted.
Smiling nervously she cleaned some of the mud from her clothes and picked up both swords. “You know that if these were real swords your hands would be cut and you’ll be dead.” Rain washing the blood and mud down her face, she stood all vibrant, even cheerful, despite all that just went down. She pushed the sword into my hand. “The sword reveals it all, all your strengths and all your weaknesses.”
And to think I worried about her a minute ago. “Fuck all this!” I growled as I got up, and threw the sword to her feet.
Her eyes shifted down on the sword and her lips thinned. She picked it up and with a quick swing removed some of the mud from it. A nostalgic glow flickered briefly over her face as she held it before her. “Even if it’s just a piece of wood, it still represents the sword. You never treat a sword with such disrespect.”
She proceeded to clean the mud from the other sword and removed the handguards. Her calm, unhurried movements unnerved me.
“I’m sorry, K, but for me this is bullshit. I’m not asking much, I just want to train normally, that’s all. I thought that would be the least of all the problems here. I don’t get it…”
She didn’t react to my outburst and continued to preoccupy herself with the swords. After she put them in the bag and tied it, she stepped closer. Blood from her nose gathered above her upper lip. She wiped it with her finger, smearing it across her pale face. “I’m trying my best--”
“Your best, seriously?” I chuckled, shaking my head. “Just…” I put my hand up; “let me know when the gym will be available.” I walked past her, leaving her by the pond. The sky burst open and bright lightning illuminated the roof of the small temple. The storm was far from over.