POST 220 02OCT2015
VIETNAMESE SPEAKING SWORDS -
CINQUE TERRE TRAILS AND IMAGES
PHAN HOANG’S NOTEBOOK
The spontaneous writings presented in this collection are first drafts, not edited texts
POST 220 02 October 2015
(continued, Could the sword have a soul? Post 219)
(continued) Sliding smoothly down from the rock onto the trail, I draw my sword Cam-Lai-Kiem and started doing the routine Four Breathing Exercises of Viet Chi-Kiem. I felt better but still a bit tired. Then I executed the daily training form Nhat-Luyen-Kiem. This form which consists of 108 movements, aims in fact to train the four most important cuts of sword. Before I could affirm anything about the quality of my training on the Monterosso trail that morning, my sword Cam-Lai-Kiem has already talked to me. My wooden sword told me that my gestures were imprecise, the speed of each cut lacked the usual vitality and the energy was weak. Yes, as usual my Cam-Lai-Kiem is talking to me. I was listening in silence, forgot my hunger, and put all my effort to bring my training at my normal level. When I reached it, my sword pronounced a word of approval, “Vuf”, at a clear and strong front cut action. I was so happy to hear it, and my face did light up at this moment. It is not important for me what other people could think about this phenomenon of speaking sword, but the understanding of what my sword can say to me is crucial in my practice of Viet Chi-Kiem, even for my life.
There are eight basic cutting techniques in our Art of Sword. When a designed technique is executed, the sword produces a specific sound, and the tone of that sound could tell the swordsmen about the correctness, the quality and the level of energy of their performance: weak or strong, precise or loose, sharp or dowdy. The sound of the front cut is the easiest to catch by the ears of a beginner, and the reversal-oblique cut is the most subtle. Working with a partner or in a real situation, when the two swords meet at any impact, your sword can give you a lot of information about your opponents if you are open to hear it. Not just only how strong or weak, how fast or slow your opponents are, but also more importantly how are their mind and emotion: calm or angry, confident or afraid, calculating or impatient. Yes, by the sound or by the subtle vibration, your sword can secretly reveal to you important details of your opponents and of yourself. A longtime ago, around 1786, a famous warrior who claimed to be the best of his time in northern Vietnam, General Chinh (NGUYEN Hữu-Chỉnh), after having defeated his opponent in a thunderbolt combat of sword, had returned his invincible sword into the sheath with an exhibited arrogance. His sword produced an unusual sound, an important notice to him. While he did not take it seriously, an experienced Trang-Si standing nearby did not miss that specific sound, a way of communication from the sword. The Trang-Si immediately predicted that the glorious time of the general would soon be ended. Discretely, he abandoned the arrogant general and withdrew to the country side. In the following year, 1787, the arrogant General Chinh was defeated and beheaded.
The precious sword of General Chinh was taken by General Hoa (NGUYEN Văn-Hóa). The latter general did not want to be the master of the sword prior to testing it. So one day, at a place called Giang-Vo in Thang-Long, he organized a contest to test the captured sword. There were a total of three combats. He was a very experienced swordsman, so he had anticipated being invincible in this contest, but surprisingly he had lost all three. He then understood that the new sword did not want to serve him. Very angry, he wanted to destroy the resisting sword by using the back of another sword to hit on the sharp edge of its blade. But indeed, the other sword was broken in half at the first impact with the punished sword. The general took a deep breath to calm down, and slowly place the resisting sword onto a table with respect. In front of several swordsmen, the general made a ceremonial bow to the sword and declared that the sword was now freed. No one among these swordsmen dared to take possession of the sword, but one obscure young man came forward, made three low bows and took it. He drew the sword out and executed a Phuong-kiem, a succession of long and complicate sequences. During his skillful performance, surprisingly no sound could be heard. This was an indication of a very high level performer, and only accomplished swordsmen could perceive the subtle sound of the moving sword. When the sword returned to its scabbard, it emitted a discrete peaceful sound. Noticing this, an old swordsman who was the most respected fellow of these fine warriors, was the first to advance towards the young man. He made a long bow to the sword and congratulated the young man who had become now the master of this mystical sword. Other swordsmen did not understand why their respected dean had been so respectful towards the young man. They did not even notice the subtle sound, the communication between the sword and the young man when the sword re-entered into its scabbard, like a Trang-Si returning home after a noble battle. This sound signified that the sword accepted the young swordsman as its new master, and agreed to teach him, to protect him, and to be part of his life. (to be continued at the next Post 221)