Fight scene from Bristlecone ...
Hull said, “So, you want to dance a little?”
Marlow shrugged. “I might remember how, a little.”
“Sensitivity drill to start?”
Marlow nodded. “Sure.”
The two men stepped toward each other, right feet leading. Hull raised his left hand and held it next to his ear, palm facing toward him; his right hand he held palm up, fingers pointed toward Marlow. He lowered the back of his right hand lightly onto Marlow’s left shoulder as he bent his knees and dropped his weight.
Marlow mirrored his pose.
Hull’s hand on the other man’s shoulder touched Marlow’s left wrist lightly, as Marlow’s did his own left wrist. He closed his eyes.
The exercise was simple. Using your hands and wrists, you were supposed to try and feel the other player’s center, and then, using only the lightest of touches, and holding your own center, disrupt his balance.
It was deceptively simple, the drill. It was not a test of strength but of sensitivity, and the ability to relax and re-direct the pressure so that you could stay steady. The core of Hull’s art was the cultivation of this skill -- to keep one’s balance and take another's was the key to winning the fight. Position was king, all else came second.
You had to know how to find your own center first. Then, you had to be able to find that of an opponent and -- subtly -- take it.
It had been eleven years since Hull and Marlow had done the drill. Marlow had been his best student, but only his his mid-thirties then, and true mastery of a martial art needed time.
It also needed practice.
Hull felt the shift as they searched for what they wanted, and even though he had been Marlow’s teacher, had taught him much of what he knew, time had not stood still.
His circles had gotten smaller, but so had Marlow’s.
Hull had retired, and while he practiced his art every day, and worked out against Khadra a couple of times a week, and she was good, that was not the same as doing what Marlow did -- teaching and honing his edges against a variety of students, all sizes, shapes, and levels of ability.
Hull had maybe lost a few steps, he knew that. Age and relative inactivity, but he had kept most of what he had.
Marlow had gotten better.
The tiny pressures came, shifted, faded, returned, and while Hull hadn’t been beaten at this game in most of the time he had been at The Department, he was not winning this match.
He was barely holding his own.
There was a moment when Marlow pressed and turned his hand the smallest bit, and Hull felt his balance starting to go. He shifted and recovered, but he knew:
Marlow, had he not backed off, would have taken him.
Hull opened his eyes and came out of his stance.
Marlow looked at him.
“That’s good,” Hull said. He nodded, a slow military bow.
Marlow nodded in return. He knew, too.
“I think we’re done,” Hull said.
Marlow didn't say anything. Yeah. He was sure.
#Khadra stepped out of the shower, toweling her hair, as Hull entered their apartment.
“Hey,” she said.
“Somebody shot your dog?”
She knew him too well, he realized. That she could tell from one word, without even looking at him.
“Marlow and I did the sensitivity drill.”
Now she looked at him. “Really?” She wasn’t asking if what he’d said was so, but about the result, and he knew it.
“Huh. Well. We’re not getting any younger, are we?”
“Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? Don’t you want your student to be better than you?”
“But ... ?”
“I was figuring maybe I had a few more years before he got there.”
“What, you were thinking ninety? A hundred?”
“About that.” He smiled.
“You want a hug?”
“I don’t need your pity.”
She laughed. “Day that happens, I’m gone, Hull.”
He chuckled. “Well. In that case, I’m up for a hug.
“Me being naked right here in front of you, you better be up for more than that.”
Hull smiled. The way to a man’s heart was not just through his stomach.
“Come on, we can give the guys working the monitors something to look at.”
“I might could manage that.”
“I could call Marlow,” she said. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
That made him laugh aloud. Her, too.