I would like to discuss in the first few pages of this book the difference between two concepts that have split the practitioners of swordsmanship for years on end. The difference that I refer to is between the method, or technique of the sword, and the way of the sword. While many practitioners take these two very distinct terminologies as the same thing, that is not the case.
The method, or technique of the sword, is the practice of swordsmanship in itself. The proper methods for cutting, parrying, stabbing and counter attacking makes up the method. The unfortunate truth is that one can learn the method of the sword without ever coming in contact with the way of the sword, or even worse, learn only the method, and believe that he also learned the way.
The way of the sword is the philosophical study as to why the method of the sword is necessary, and when to apply the method. I have come to notice that most of the current martial arts schools affiliated with the Black Lotus focus too much on the method, on the process of becoming the strongest, and achieving victory in the tournament for The Number One Headband.
This is not me condemning the method, or stating it as evil, quite on the contrary, one that does not know the method and only grasps the way, cannot defend himself or the ones around him. With that, he puts himself and the ones he cares about in jeopardy from his lack of strength. In a perfect world, there would be absolutely no need for the method, but since that is not the case, the method should be used alongside the way to measure your own strength.
As a final note, I would like to stress the importance of a single life. One should never dispose of a single person, or a smaller group of people, while thinking he did it for the greater good. That method of thinking is flawed, and infectious. With that logic and reasoning, the supposed savior will keep cutting the world's population little by little, until he is the only one left.
When striking your opponent's flesh, your method needs to be so perfect that your body does not feel a thing, like your blade was ripping through empty air. Your spirit however, should feel the weight of the world on its shoulders, as you have just payed the ultimate price by taking that single life. Meditate on this, and never waver on the decisions you have made, as you were always aware of the price.
Before contemplating the strike, there are many things a swordsman should consider. The conditions of the ground, light source, the opponent's weapon of choice, and the opponent itself. Each and every single one of these factors should be examined before applying the initial strike.
It is important to note that every exposed part of the body is a target, and it will be so to your opponents as well. A strike to the fingers, while not lethal, will severely impair your opponent, and a severing of the wrist, while not impressive or flashy, will put him out of combat in half a minute, allowing for a quick finish to end his misery while he is helpless. The feet, the ankles and the knees are also noteworthy, and should not be ignored if the opportunity arrises. The enemy will be preoccupied in protecting his heart, neck and gut, cut the corners before he realizes that your target has shifted.
To be effective, a strike is a composition of several techniques: feigning, cutting, jabbing, thrusting, parrying or binding, footwork, choice of weapon, and knowledge of your opponent's weapon. The Kusarigama is an old Valerian weapon used by spies and assassins to bind an opponent with the chain, them kill with the sickle. This weapon's greatest strength is the fact that few swordsmen know how it is used, but once one realizes the physics behind them, one is able to easily maneuver through its tricks.
Feigning techniques are effective movements of the weapon, footwork, center of gravity, and even use of your own voice, as shouting out while striking can be used to both add an explosive burst of strength to your strike, and surprise your opponent with a sudden sound. Applied effectively, the opponent is set back one move, while an opening is created elsewhere. Feigning techniques should always end on an angle as to allow for a quick, direct shot from that position. Only with sufficient practice one is able to engrave this movement in their muscle memory, train this movement until it is second nature, as when the gate is opened on both sides, reflexes dictate the outcome.
The Gate, is the opening between two fighters. All attacks must cross this gate to reach the target from any angle, so it is of paramount importance to know when to close or disrupt the gate to deflect incoming attacks. All styles of swordsmanship strive to master this interaction, but always approach different paths to achieve control of the gate. The focus of my style is to achieve the perfect control of the opening and closing of the gate, as the use of both hands, with a weapon on each hand allows for a much more fluid method for both defense and offense.
Cutting, jabbing, and thrusting techniques should always be preceded by a feint, except when using quick strike techniques. The defender can easily parry a strong attack due to the telegraphing the momentum behind your opponent's weapon. Therefore, a strong cutting technique can easily receive a deadly cut across the sword arm. The feigning movement should be used to compliment any weapon.
As discussed above, there are some techniques that do not require preceding subterfuge. These are referred to as "quick strikes", and are done with either both hands on the weapon, or with a weapon in each hand. The movement preceding this strike must be quick and clean, like a perfect arrow just released from a bowstring. The postures are hidden, and the ready positions for the flicking strikes are implemented between steps or while switching grips, from any angle. If done properly, the strike will reach your target before he has any chance to react.
When parrying, the point of the sword should always be directed at the target, minimizing the step needed to be able to counter attack, and putting the opponent at an immediate disadvantage. Also, consider using a quick strike technique aimed at his hand or forearm to immediately incapacitate his offense, without having to parry it. A simple rule for parrying, always keep the tip of your sword pointed at your opponent, it will provide excellent foundation for any counter maneuver. Additionally, it's important to keep the blade sideways, with the flats facing the earth and the sky when stabbing, to prevent the blade from becoming stuck on the bones, primarily the ribcage.
Footwork is adapted to the terrain and purpose, and the correct stride is to be applied to gain maximum leverage with the weapon at hand. Knowing the center of gravity of a weapon can help the assessment of its leverage, speed, kinetic force and maneuverability. Meditate on this knowledge before facing an opponent.
As a final note for this chapter, it is important to note that one can win without the use of the blade, by merely understanding the physics of sword work. A Swordmaster should strive to resolve conflicts without having to fight, or without having to cut, to gain followers instead. This is not a religious or individual belief, as any level headed person would not want to kill or maim another living being. A Swordmaster should strive to attain more than just swordsmanship techniques. He should aim to be of service to his master, or to the ideal he upholds.
There are stances and postures that, while most will choose to have one as a main focus, all should know, even if it is simply to form strategies around them. These stances focus on very distinct approaches on defeating opponents, either one or more, depending on the situation that you are presented.
Sol, or the sword of the sun in the common tongue, is the most basic posture in my school, but also by far the most important. The Sol stance is achieved when a swordsman holds his blade high above his head, or next to his ear, with his forward foot planted firmly on the ground, while his back foot should have its heel slightly raised, to give the strike more velocity. Sol is the sword of the sun, the most powerful of all swords, and the bravest. Sol is the first posture to be taught, as a swordsman needs to learn courage before he can measure his own bravery with tactics.
The most basic strike done from Sol is a downward cut, intended to slice the enemy from collarbone to hipbone, opening his ribcage in the process. Variations to this strike can be done by slightly altering the course of the blade while it descends, to open the neck, gut, forearms, and skull. There is only one stabbing maneuver in this posture, and, like all other strikes that come from this stance, aims to end the battle in one strike, in the throat, or the eyes of the opponent.
The Sol stance embodies all that the warrior represents, always aiming to finish an opponent with a single strike, one second being too much time devoted for a single enemy. Warriors that focus on mastering Sol are required to be the strongest, and destroy their enemies before they even have a chance to consider what their move shall be. A master of Sol should be able to cut down multiple enemies with a single breath, all strikes perfect, one strike per opponent.
The Sol stance was developed and perfected in conjunction with a fellow practitioner, and honed for battlefield use. In the heat of battle, it is more difficult to dodge individual strikes, and with more power behind your swings, it becomes quickly possible to thin out a great part of the enemy and turn the tide of battle.
Vacuo, or the sword of the void, revolves around all the defensive maneuvers and positions of my school. The most basic Vacuo posture is with both feet firmly planted at the ground, one hand on the sword, and the other either empty or holding an additional weapon. The point of this stance is not to be faster than your opponent, but to match his speed instead.
By matching your opponent's pace, one can easily telegraph his movements, and counter in the appropriate measure. Strikes launched from this posture are aimed at the wrists and ankles of opponents, moving as little as possible, and taking advantage of the enemy's movements instead of using your own.
The Vacuo stance represents the clear mind, and should be used when overwhelmed by seemingly impossible odds. Another effective strategy to apply from this stance is a simple escape. While it may seem like a cowardly strategy, it is applied to great effect when ambushed by an enemy force with superior numbers. While retreating, always look back and wait for the correct moment, when an opponent strays further from the group to reach you, quickly turn, and use a quick strike technique to wound the one closest to you, before resuming your sprint. Keep repeating until you have thinned them down to a more manageable amount.
Astra, or the sword of the meteorite, is one of the three ultimate offensive blades, with Sol and Luna at its side. Astra is the most unpredictable of the three, with a focus on changing both pace and posture throughout the fight, to throw the opponent off, and find all the holes in his defense. There are two basic postures from this stance, both with very distinct dual wielding variations.
The first posture requires both feet planted firmly on the ground and both hands holding the blade, always aiming the point directly to your opponent's throat, with a light grip, ready to change the blade's direction and trajectory at any moment. The second one is similar to the second Sol posture, but it takes the blade further back, over the shoulder, and has the initial grip with only the dominant hand on the grip, very close to the hand-guard, and the other hovering above the very tip of the grip, again, ready to switch the grip in a moment's notice.
The variations for these grips are simple in regards to dual wielding, with the first one keeping the second weapon in guard for an incoming strike, or to perform a quick strike of your own, if you manage to bind your own sword with the opponent's weapon. The second variation applies the same grip for the dominant hand, but with the offhand holding a weapon, always aimed at your opponent's throat.
The focus of this stance is to cut the corners, aim for the throat, the guts and the heart, and change the trajectory of the blade mid swing, or mid stab, to injure the arms, hands, fingers and legs instead when the enemy attempts a defense. These fluid motions tend to be immensely difficult to parry, but focus on drawing out the fight, instead of attempting to finish with one strike.
The Astra stance should cause panic in the heart of the enemy, and doubt, above all other things. A master of the Astra sword should be able to make the opponent doubt his every move, and cut or stab twice, where another would only have been able to do so once.
The development of Astra is intended for single, blade on blade combat. It is extremely dueling centric, and against multiple opponents it quickly loses its effectiveness, especially since it lacks the kinetic energy behind its strikes that Sol posses. Against single opponents however, it shows great effectiveness, but should be paired with alternative and possibly unorthodox tactics to fight heavily armored opponents.
Luna, or the sword of the moon, is also commonly referred to as the Assassin's blade, the deadliest of all three swords. While very similar to Sol, the focus of Luna is rather different. Sol focuses on removing an opponent from battle, whether he loses his life or his consciousness depends on the swordsman, but either way, the intended result will be achieved immediately. Luna bleeds the opponent, with strikes that are much more difficult to pull off, but leave the opponent crippled and bleeding, worried no longer about the fight, but about his lifeline instead.
Luna's stance is the same as Vacuo's, but the real masters of Luna need to be able to deliver their strikes from any stance or posture, being ever ready, even when they have their swords sheathed. These strikes have a focus on cutting the lifeline, and to make the opponent bleed out, as such, they aim the neck, wrists, ankles and crotch area. Luna is different from Sol because it aims to kill with a single, well placed strike. The difference lies in the method, as wielders of the sword of the moon are fighters of the shadows, they cannot afford the luxury of watching their opponents die, or ensuring that their opponents have indeed fallen, so their strike must be fatal, quick, and discreet.
While the above is generally the case to those who specialize in utilizing the sword of the moon, it may not always be so. Masters of Luna have developed their techniques to cut or stab very small targets, so more often than not those techniques are adapted very well to find flaws and gaps in a heavily armored opponent.
Luna is the stance that better represents Vacuo, and the one that effectively transforms it in a properly offensive posture. Masters of Luna should be able to get through any armor, or put any opponent out of combat with a single strike, even if the swordsman does not witness the fall of the one he cuts.