It’s windy here today. A rare spring windstorm is tearing the place up. Clear blue skies and warm sun, and our cedar hedge is tipping over a risky angle. The tall pine across the road is dancing a long counterpoint to the snappy percussive moves of the street zelkovas. And between all of that, the blowing leaves and bits of things skewing about, the crows and gulls sport.
The storm birds are having a great time. They’ve got the skies to themselves today, and don’t seem to have a care in the world. The gulls are pulling their favourite hover trick, riding the drafts just right to keep that pinpoint of air partnered with them. The crows are spinning and ripping about in an acrobatic frenzy, moving at eyeblink speed and showing off for each other. Everything else huddles from the cold blast, even the indoor cats burrow deeper in the blankets, staring suspiciously out at the gusting windows. The storm birds play.
For my money, the good fencers are all stormbirds. Hard training, technical work, historical study, competing in tournaments, rank exams…all those things are tools, not goals. The real goal is to put yourself in the middle of the storm, completely out of control, everything lost…and then seeing how you can dance.
The dance comes in those rare moments when everything falls apart. You lose your balance and fall. Your opponent seems to tap into a dark force and suddenly attacks with a flurry of perfect shots. A punch comes out of nowhere, aimed just right, and your spine tells you “This is it. We die now.”
And somehow, in the middle of that, the brain just up and goes away. Time slams to an crawl, and your body moves of its own accord. The right thing happens, like the world has put you on rails and you have no choice but to move along that track. Impossible things happen. You move faster than you know you are capable of. You jump higher that you ever have. Your attack moves into the perfect angle, the one that you were blind to a heartbeat before.
The first time it happens can shake you. The second or third time, you start to wonder if you can make it happen more often. Tachypsychia is an interesting phenomenon, and not without risk. You can get hooked on it. It can screw up your reactions to things…enough time spent in the slow crawl, and you can surprise yourself with outburst of pure rage over minor things. Someone honks a horn at you while you are walking across the road, and find yourself wondering why the look on their face has turned to fear…and suddenly realize you are screaming at them.
Professionals who spend too much time there can have a hell of a time shaking the effects. Martial artists who hit that place one time too many can start to fear what they might do. The apparent lack of control can instill a fear deep enough to stop someone from sparring, or even training, ever again. For most people who touch that space, though, martial arts practice can provide a common meeting ground. It’s one of the few places were disparate backgrounds can share that common feeling, and work towards a way of feeling like they have some control over the chaos.
For other people it’s not so bad. For whatever reason, their bodies handle the chemical load a little better, and reach that place a little easier. It’s a thing, the way some people are naturally more athletic, or have higher pain tolerance, and higher metabolisms. Some people are just stormbirds, and it’s really the only way they can ever play. Everything else in life can be fine and wonderful and satisfying, but the storm is their true home, the brief moment where they feel at peace and at play.
Martial arts practice is the only thing in the world that lets the stormbirds be in that place, and be not alone.