Early morning, the training court.
Old Shui, Guo Fei, Li Dong, Yan Han, and Zheng Kaixin stood side by side in a row, listening solemnly as Gu Yu spoke. Despite being kind of a distant relative of Xiaozhai, Old Shui did not behave any differently and stood there watching Gu Yu with respect.
"You five are of different age groups, and each has their own body type, sensitivity, and temperament. Old Shui has had some basic training before, but it was not much, so it's safe to say that this is the first time for all of you to learn to use a sword."
Gu Yu was no longer the easygoing employer here—he was teaching pupils, and he might as well act like a proper teacher. He went on, "We modern people read so much about everything and can have unreasonable fantasies about the profound Taoist skills. Let me make one thing clear first: I am teaching you sword skills here. You can think it as the sword stances you read in wuxia novels. All those learning to use a sword should have their own understanding about the weapon instead of simply echoing the voice of the others. Train your body, nourish your mind, or even use it as a killing tool—there is no wrong understanding.
"Of course, it's still too early for you to consider that. What you have to do now is to get to know the sword and sense the moment when it strikes out."
"S-sir, are we, are we going to address you as Master from now on?" Li Dong's voice was trembling with excitement.
"No, you are not my official pupils, so just call me the old way."
Li Dong was a little disappointed, but he found that understandable. Gu Yu was like the anonymous master roaming around the world, willing to teach a thing or two to those he found suitable during the journey.
That concluded Gu Yu's introduction. He then said, "Now, Kaixin, you stay here. The rest, follow me to the other side."
"Sir, am I left behind? I want to learn it too!"
The kid almost burst into tears.
"Your condition is a little special, and my sword manual doesn't suit you. Xiao Qiu will be teaching you instead."
The kid was all sunshine instantly and almost cheered loudly. Who wouldn't prefer a tall, slim, and gentle teacher that had a soft waist, slender fingers, pretty ankles, and a lovely voice?
The idea actually only came to Gu Yu just then. Because of the faint Yin energy in Zheng Kaixin's meridians, his Devil-smashing Sword Manual might not be compatible with the boy. Xiao Qiu's Whirlwind Sword Manual, on the other hand, wouldn't be a problem.
Li Dong and the others eyed the boy enviously. 'I want Sister Qiu as my teacher as well!'
Before long, Long Qiu also arrived at the training court and the two classes each took a side. With the court's size of a football field, they wouldn't be getting in each other's way.
"Old Shui, let me borrow your wooden sword first."
Gu Yu took over the sword Shui Yao passed him and examined it. The sword was a little over a meter long and was made from the old tree growing on the mountain. The wood was extremely hard but ductile; the sword weighed about 1.8 kg.
With the three days they were given, they had put much thought into the sword. The wooden blade was finely burnished.
"This sword skill had no name, and since I'm lazy, I simply decided to call it 'Red Sun Swordplay'. In this swordplay, your steps follow the Nine Halls Diagram; there are 36 stances in total whose corresponding manual you have already transcribed. I won't be teaching you any specific movement today, but only how to draw your sword and make a strike."
Holding the wooden sword in one hand, Gu Yu spoke in an unhurried tone. To the four pupils, the words felt like they were being inscribed in their memory.
"Swordplay has a twenty-word manual: draw, lead, wave, wipe, lift, skim, crack, flip, stab, beat, twist, intercept, hack, parry, split, prod, poke, hitch, grind, and pare. These twenty words are the most fundamental element of sword movements and can be further simplified into four words: parry, pare, strike, and stab. The first two are defensive moves and the latter two are offensive. The first one I'm going to teach you today is stab!"
With that, he strode out with his left foot and pushed the sword straight out. Some kind of energy seemed to erupt from beneath his feet then rushed up to his waist, his back, and all the way to his right shoulder.
The energy then amplified abruptly from his right shoulder, sweeping out like a torrential wave, rushing into the sword along his arm.
Then, there came a "Pop!"
The other four covered their ears right away, looking a little uncomfortable.
As the sword thrust out, the air was torn apart, making a jarring explosive sound. They could even see the air stirred right at the tip of the blade, and the little space there was contorted for a moment.
That was unbelievable! OH MY GOD, Mr. Gu!!!
After a brief moment of admiration, Guo Fei was overwhelmed by excitement and an urge he could not control. He was already imagining himself travelling the world with his formidable sword skill and becoming a great master himself.
Gu Yu finished the stance and drew back the sword, then with an expressionless face, he asked, "So, tell me, what did you see?"
Guo Fei was dumbstruck. He was all about his fantasy and saw nothing else. Faltering and abashed, he couldn't come up with an answer.
"Well, you lunged out with your left foot. The force came from under your feet and was exerted in a stabbing motion from the tip of the sword. Your arm was kept at a straight line with the sword, which was a 'proper within surprise' move."
Surprisingly, Yan Han was the first to speak.
"Yes, that's correct. I see you've been doing your homework." Gu Yu nodded.
He had given them the notes on training manual and basic theories. It was up to them whether or not they chose to read it.
Swordplay consisted of six approaches—proper-surprise-proper, surprise-proper-surprise, proper within surprise, surprise within proper, surprise within surprise, and double proper—which corresponded to the change of Yin and Yang.
The so-called "surprise" and "proper" described the choice of different directions (up, down, left, right, front, back, etc.) facilitated by the turning, rising or falling, quickening or slowing down, moving or keeping still of one's movement so as to fight their opponents.
After Yan Han, Li Dong also spoke, "When you were finishing up, it wasn't a complete closing form. The sword in your right hand was pointing upwards at an angle and your left foot was slightly flexed backwards. It seemed you were going to proceed to the stance of 'an Immortal hanging his shadow'."
That actually surprised Gu Yu. This fellow was good at this!
Although Li Dong had been given the illustrations of the 36 stances of the Nine Halls Diagrams, he was able to detect his intentions from that little hint Gu Yu had left—that was not something one could do by mechanical memorization alone. He had formed his unique understanding of Gu Yu's move.
"Very good!" Gu Yu praised Li Dong, which was very rare for him. He then turned to the next one. "Old Shui, how about you?"
"Awesome!" Old Shui gave him a thumbs up.
'You lazy bastard!' Gu Yu could not be bothered to reply to that and tossed him back his wooden sword. "When people engage in fighting, they will bend and extend various parts of their body and limbs. If you're going to bend backwards, move forward first; if you're going to bend right, extend to the left… that is how surprise and proper work in the same way Yin and Yang complement each other. Failure to make the right move will render your movement rigid. In order to use a sword effectively, you'll have to train your hand, your body, your eyes, and your feet. That all depends on how much effort you're going to put in after class—it will be none of my business. Now, grab your sword and practice this stabbing motion first!"
After that, his class formally began their practice.
The four each had their own characteristics. Despite his careless appearance, Old Shui was quite sharp-minded deep down and very clever. He soon mastered the move. Guo Fei was trying to save his face from earlier and became impatient. He was going nowhere.
Yan Han was prudent and proper. One could see clearly that he was mimicking Gu Yu's move.
As for Li Dong, he was a real gem. Sometimes being perceptive did not make one clever. Being clever was a general thing, whereas perception was only reflected in certain areas. This fellow, for instance, had a brain for cultivation only.
Instead of merely copying Gu Yu's move, on top of the basic technique, he had given how to make his own move comfortable and fluid much thought. An Otaku he might be, but the way his sword moved had a carefree feeling to it.
It was a totally different picture over on the other side.
Long Qiu did not think of herself as the teacher and Zhang Kaixin did not feel like the pupil, either. He was simply happy to be around the nice big sister.
Hence, all was jolly there. Xiao Qiu brought him up on a branch and was dangling her legs as if she was telling him a story.
"I haven't been learning use sword for very long, either. Sister taught me. I think there are three levels of sword skills, and the lowest one is when you only see the sword but not the people. For example, when you fight a bad man, you keep your eyes on his sword all the time. He stabs, you parry; he slash, you block. That means…"
"That means I'm afraid of his sword and all I think is to stop it from touching me!" Zhang Kaixin finished the sentence.
"Yes, very good! That is why you should never be like that. You shouldn't be afraid when you're holding your sword. The more knocking sounds your sword makes, the lower your level is." Rubbing his head, Long Qiu smiled. "The middle level is when you can't see his sword, but can see the person himself. When you fight him, you chase after the person only. That is much better; ordinary people won't be able to defeat you.
"The highest level is when you see neither the sword nor the person. When his sword strikes, my sword follows my body and the move of my sword is completely decided by where my body goes. When I strike out with my sword, my body follows, and I can naturally dodge the other sword.
"It's like what the sword manual says: 'sense and respond to the imminent attack with both the mind and the sword. The sword follows wherever the body goes like shadow. Striking out, the opponent is beheaded!'"
Her soft, gentle voice was not to the least overbearing, yet Zheng Kaixin shuddered at those words. Though still clueless, he was able to sense something so magnificent that it could devour rivers, sink the moon, and wash over heaven and earth!
As once mentioned, Xiao Qiu was the most talented in swordcraft in Phoenix Mountain. The talk she gave the kid today—although part of it she herself did not understand yet—had left an indelible imprint in his mind.
'Striking out, the opponent is beheaded!'
Night, the dining room.
The family of four was finally able to eat at the same table. The parents sat in the middle and the two girls each sat on one side. Xiaojin was very curious in the whole taking in new pupils business, but with the refinement of her Sky-turning Seal, she really had no spare time. She was now asking, "Qiu Qiu, how does it feel to be a teacher?"
"It was all right. Kaixin is a good kid." Long Qiu peeled garlic for her sister.
"What did you teach him, then? You weren't reading him fairy tales, were you?"
"Of course not. I was only telling him about my understanding of sword skills. He listened to me very carefully." Long Qiu then peeled garlic for her brother.
"Kaixin is still a child, Xiao Qiu is a perfect teacher for him. Take your time. There's no need to rush." Gu Yu smiled.
"Yes, I know. He's quite smart."
Xiao Qiu nodded repeatedly and slowly ate her noodles. Somehow, she made no slurping sounds at all and looked so lady-like. Xiaojin would not let herself be outshone in this. Mumbling incoherently, she downed another big bowl of noodles.
Gu Yu shook his head at this. He would be staying on the mountain for about a month this time and would not leave until mid-December. During this time, he would probably see such warm (more like silly) scenes every day. He then turned to his girlfriend, asking, "By the way, didn't you say you were collecting spider silk? What exactly does it look like?"
"Like this!" Xiaozhai fumbled out a messy ball of silver thread that reminded him of a cotton candy. "This is the silk of Sand-walking Spiders. It can resist ordinary water and fire and is especially good at keeping off sand. Unfortunately, it has no defensive ability."
Gu Yu took it over and gave it a tug. The tenacity was quite good as well. "What's the yield?"
"50 g per spider per month."
"That's only a little over a kilo a year, and you want to make clothes with it?" He was speechless.
"Maybe not clothes, but I can always use a pair of panties," said Xiaozhai.
'Why do your panties need to be water-and-fireproof?!'
Gu Yu kept the sarcastic comment to himself. After the quick dinner, he said, "I'm going to Phoenix Fair tomorrow."
"Yea. I've been keeping it from them for so long... It's time to let them know."