Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Childhood's End - Chapter 3

An hour later, Rowena and Mark met again on the practice mat of the Umbrella dojo, deep underneath Staten Island. Rowena was sporting a relatively light outfit - training pants and a tank top -, but Mark was fully kitted out, his ensemble of joint pads and guards much more visible under his gi.

What followed wasn't, strictly speaking, sparring. Rather, Rowena found herself hauled off her feet with startling regularity and thrown onto the ground for the express purpose of learning to hit said ground correctly. Thanks to the mats, it didn't really hurt with every impact, but she soon began to regret that she hadn't asked for more padding - by the time they stopped, her arms and legs were sore, her skin was burning from the repeated scraping against the mat's fabric, and there was an uncomfortable burning in her shoulder that was just getting started.

While she laid on the mat, Mark walked over to her, watched her squirm a bit and then finally offered his hand, pulling her back up to her feet.

"You had twenty minutes for prep," he said. "What did you do?"
"Get dressed. And some warmup."
"Well, this is going to take longer than I thought, so you're getting fitted for protection next time, with a proper suit. How did you warm up?"
"Couple push-ups."
"Raise your right arm, please."

Rowena did.

"Further. Further. Now reach behind your back."

Rowena did.

"I said further."

Rowena didn't.

"I can't," she finally said. "It hurts."
"Let me see that," Mark said, then moved behind her, grabbed her arm and gently pulled it backwards. Rowena gave off a sharp hiss from a sudden breath - obviously, this wasn't the most pleasant thing she'd ever experienced.
"Congratulations, kid. You've got a shortened tendon. Probably in your other arm, too. Let me guess: lots of weight work, no ballet lessons?"
"Yes. So, is that bad?"
"Depends. If you hadn't noticed yet, you've got normal mobility. But I try to stay...flexible."
"Anything I can do about that?"
"Yep. Stretching. Lots of fine, not-quite-painless stretching."
" when do we get to the shooting part?"
"I'm going to let you in on a little secret," Mark said. "There's a reason I'm still alive, and it's not because Kevlar makes me bulletproof or that everybody I ever fought with is a bad shot. The secret is that it's easy to shoot a target that's just standing there; heck, even if it's your first time on the range, when you understand how a gun works, you can hit a man-sized target at a reasonable distance. Make a gun finger."

Rowena made a fist of her right hand, then uncoiled her index finger.

"Good," Mark said. "Now shoot me."

Rowena brought her 'weapon' up in a textbook Weaver stance, but Mark turned away to the left, dodging under her field of fire. She whipped her arm around to follow him, but he was already crouched down and rolling towards her. When her arm went down, he slapped it to the side and stuck his own gun finger'ed hand in her direction.

"Bang!" he said.
"How the hell do you move so fast?"
"Practice," Mark said, then got up from the ground. "Most people have an instinctive fear of kissing dirt, that's why they prefer to run. It's not a bad idea - if you're fleeing the scene. In a CQB situation, predictable is bad, but running beats standing still. Nothing is more predictable than just standing there and trying to plug the guy like you're skeet-shootin'."
"It looks like...John Woo."
"It works, kid. That's what counts. Nobody's gonna know if I plug you lying on my ass. What matters is that I shot you first."
"Doesn't seem like a good idea to restrict your options like that in a firefight."

At that, Mark offered a smile.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. 1 on 1 tactics for now. Do whatever it takes to disrupt your opponent's shot. Fling stuff at him, take cover, rip a mean fart, it doesn't matter - but the most important rule of all is that combat is dynamic, and you need to be, too. You stop, you die."
"Got it."
"I want you to keep practicing your falls. You're going to be ducking, rolling and jumping a lot. You need to learn how to keep from getting hurt."

While Rowena pondered that, Mark slouched towards a small bag of medical supplies. When he returned, he was wielding ice spray - and after a short fix of Rowena's shoulder, things were looking up again for Brandon's daughter.

"So...class dismissed?" she asked.
"Class dismissed," Mark replied, and turned to walk away.

With his footsteps fading into the distance, Rowena took a last look at the mat, figured that her skin was already burning anyway, and threw herself onto the mat one more time. With a lightning-fast shift of weight, she landed on her left shoulder and made a full roll before coming to a crouched stop just at the edge of of the mat. When she got up and turned towards the exit, Mark was still there, watching. He gave her a nod, then turned and walked out for real. Rowena smiled, then caught a glance at a clock mounted on the dojo's wall and sped off in slight panic.

First day on the job, and I'm already late...

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