So I had an interesting day two days ago, that will keep me busy until I leave mid-next month.
I came back from the university gym, where they charge me the farang price of 30 Baht to work out even though nobody else gets charged that. But I pay it. I'm starting to get used to the nonchalant attitude the Thai people have about racial double-standards here, and in any case, I need a place to lift weights, so there you go. Its not a complete gym, by any standards. Envision an old high school weight room, then break 1/2 of the machine(s) cables, and remove all of the dumbells above 30 lbs, and you have a good idea of the gym I work out in.
"Oh poor me" bitching aside, I came back from lifting and found my landlord (we'll call him Miyagi because I can't spell or pronounce his real name yet) weaving some bowstrings in the garden. My landlord is a retired geology professor from the university who is renting out a small section of his house to me (2 small rooms and bathroom), and speaks fairly good english. Anyway, he had carved three bows out of wood and was now making bowstrings to finish them so he could give them to his grandkids. As I spoke to him I noticed that he was using the same hand-woven grass rope-weaving technique that I had taught myself out of one of my many survival books in preparation for the Zombocalypse, so I asked if I could help and practice my skillz. He was really suprised I knew the "ancient way" to weave bowstrings. He was 100x faster than me at it, but it was fun.
So we got to talking, and seeing me in my workout gear he asked me if I had ever fenced. I told him I did for half a semester in college just in a shitty phys. ed. class, and he got really excited. He said he practices fencing every day and it would be great if I'd be willing to fence with him. So I said "Sure." I didn't realize he meant, RIGHT NOW!
So we walked up to the University's fencing club area where all the equipment was and just walked in. I didn't have to pay anything or anything, he showed me around and introduced me to a couple people there to get my face in with the crowd so if I came back I wouldn't be a stranger, and then he started showing me the real swords and armor (likely to get me interested -- you know how you show off the good stuff first). Thing is, he wasn't talking about FOIL fencing, he was talking about Thai fencing, otherwise known as Krom Darb-Song-Mu, or "Sword in each hand." Its is also known as Krabi-Krabong, but that involves the training of every traditional thai weapon, not just the sword.
Anyway the first thing he does is hands me a wicker shield (looks like a goddamn basket) from the Krabi-Krabong weapon display and says "Hold up!" So I put my arm through the straps and hold it up. He then proceeds to pick up a real metal sword and starts wailing on the shield not 1 second after I hold it up in front of my face. I mean this old guy is repeatedly bashing at the shield that looks like it should only hold fruit, but it held really well and transfered the blow suprisingly well. When he was done wailing on me (like 8 or 10 hits) he said "Very strong!" and put the shield back on display.
I'm still not really sure what that was all about, because then he handed me two wooden swords from this big rack of swords, and had me follow him out to where they had all these tires on metal poles stuck into the ground. Then he showed me three different ways to practice different two-handed weaving strikes over and over. I won't describe them all, but they looked really cool when he did it, and really stupid when I did it. In fact, there were students sitting around or practicing other fencing styles around and they unashamedly laughed at my piss-poor swinging. That's not really a suprise to me though, nor did it bother me, as Thai people will laugh at anything because its a way for them to save face or something. I really don't get it other than the fact that if someone does something stupid, or says something incorrectly, or if you're embarrassed yourself, you're supposed to laugh at them, that somehow saves their and your honor. It results in a lot of my conversations here being one-sided giggle factories.
We just stayed there and practiced our swings for about an hour and fifteen, until I was actually pretty tired. One major lesson I learned was that if my right arm were named Hoss "bash your face in" McPunchout, my left arm should be named Lefty "La French" McLimpwrist. Even though I can lift the same amount with both arms doesn't mean my left arm is worth a shit for anything but the most basic of tasks. So those exercises he taught me are to build your coordination in your nondominant arm, until it is as coordinated as your dominant arm. After about an hour of exercise he said "You want to fence now?" and I was like "Are you serious? (you'll kick my ass!)"
But fence we did. We put on face masks because getting hit in the face sucks. Unlike traditional foil fencing which takes place on a 6 foot wide strip (and is only back-and-forth), thai fencing takes place in a Muay Thai-type circle. So there's a lot of circling and very little forward lunging. Also any strike anywhere on your body counts as a point, and losing your sword counts as a 1/2 point. We didn't really keep score, because if we had it would've been Cory 9 : Miyagi 102.
He explained the thai style fighting to me in the coolest conversation I've had here yet (barring the LotR ancestry one):
"Thai small. Not big (points at me), so in fight must be quick! If strike big (makes big overreaching swing example) and miss, then (does a quick forward stab motion) you die. If strike small and quick (same stab motion) and miss, can strike again! If hit, they get slow, then hit again! Thai don't kill in one hit (big swing example again), we kill 6 hits."
It was a fricking blast. He was doing all these cool stances and weaving his swords around which I would try to emulate after every time he'd score. Its like playing Xbox Halo deathmatch only you get physically tired while doing it, like boxing. We fenced for about twenty-five minutes when his wife wandered in and I think told him he needed to go home (she knew where he'd be, beating up on the farang at the fencing club). But another student came in and he asked that guy to spar with me (I was tired but I was having a great time), and he agreed. This student (name pronounced like "Benz") was clearly a tournament fencer, and instead of being really active and swingy, he just held his swords up in front of him almost lazily. Then as soon as I'd go for one of the swings Miyagi taught me I'd get *bonk!* in the face. Unlike Miyagi who was really hitting hard like it was a real fight, this guy must play for real points and just went for touches. It almost seemed insulting that he didn't move much at all, but just dodged or parried my attacks and *bonk* in the face. He was really quick, and even though he didn't speak english he would stop the fight and show me how I should hold my swords to counter his and use my wrists more than arms.
We fenced for about a half hour and then I called the fight and went home because my hands were cramping up, bad, especially my left. I developed some serious blisters on my hands, and woke up the next morning totally sore all over but it was worth it.
I figure I only have about a month and a half to bone up on as much two-sword fighting as I can before I go back to the states and never do it again, so I might as well do it as much as possible while I'm here. Hopefully by the time I'm done my left arm will be able to compete with my right.
I'm also extremely glad I found a sport I can participate in here in Thailand that doesn't involve me getting kneed in the kidneys.