We started with our usual sprints, to get the blood rushing. Followed up with some pre-hab work to prep our bodies for a summer of full out sprints. If you don’t want a class full of injured students, or a class full of students trying to learn from an injured teacher, you have to prepare for any series of hard exercise. You can’t just jump into it. So we taught ourselves to run, from scratch. Practice and practice, hoping to build a new mechanic, a new smoothness in us, one that will carries us safely through the trials to come.

With the sweat flowing, we started on to the first of the real work for the day. We crawled along the floor, deep, low and slow. Our hands held us, and gave us new strength. We found a new stability in our shoulders, and let it carry the weight of our bodies, swinging our hips and feet along in smooth arcs of slow and steady movement. We moved like apes, hitting the floor with hands and leapfrogging feet forward, propelling ourselves in smooth bounces. We moved like monkeys, skipping our hips to the side in a rapid sway that ate distance. The goal was to to find not just efficiency in a awkward and unusual movement, but to find ease…pleasure, even. Playfulness.

It was a world away from the strict confines of discipline…the natural home of modern rapier practice. Rigid repetition, endless attempts to carve one more iota of perfection out of an action. It’s a world of extension, parry, disengage, riposte, the finite placement of a toe just so, the lean of the body one way and not another. Repeat again until it’s right. Again. Again. Again. Hit the floor and fight, then back to train. Again. Again. Again. Only one way can be correct. Deviation from the ideal can only lead to failure. The natural movements of the body, the instincts, are to be trained away, distrusted. Rigid discipline is the only true path of the swordsman. The level of discipline is something even other martial artists only think they understand. It’s hard to imagine the work it takes to consistently hit a moving target the size of a dime, over a dozen feet away, ten times out of ten…and that only at the beginner level.

We assume that the truest art is the one handed down to us…or at least the one we’ve chosen to interpret as the truest art. We don’t know how these arts were originally practised. We can put together a fair bit of thinking and research, and probably approximate, but only ever to a certain degree. But even if we assume for a moment that what we do is the truest art that ever was…time has moved on. There will always be a place for preservation, but there should also always be a place for growth. The arts and weapons of history changed to reflect evolution and revolution, that process never ends. Again, we need to preserve and value the original arts…or as close as we can. But nothing in that stops us from looking to the present, or the future, and adapting the art to new circumstances.

Our motivations in doing so matter. No motivation is better or worse than another…it’s shortsighted to that a sport focus is wrong as much as it’s wrong to say that pure historical interest is wrong. Human endeavour and scope is wide and bears no restraint. But we do need to be clear in our motivations.

For me, it’s the little monkey movement. It’s the start of a low sprint, and the point at which you start to reach up for the next step, and the power builds. It’s in the swing of the cane, when you reach far behind you, pointing to the rear, and start to shift weight and feel all the muscles pull the cane, delivering not just a swing but all the power of the body. It’s in the deep lunge after the crash of bodies, shoulder to shoulder, when you slip out of the grip, drop, and drive deep to seize an ankle. It’s in the deft shift of foot and body after the left jab, the void and counter with the right hand, and the hook to the body that follows. Somewhere in the amalgam of all those moments lies the art I chase.

It will be a long chase, but in the meantime? It’s not so bad being a monkey.