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"No one has wanted to fight you today, so I'm issuing you a formal challenge," I say.
Hill overhears me: "Oh, honey, he's going to kick your ass."
Gasser looks confused. "You want to fight me? You are my brother."
I suggest that we duel for the one thing I know he won't refuse: glory. A hard wind blows as I draw foam to face the Barbarian. We stand in the center of the fairground, between Gasser's booth and a village of mobile ATMs and concession stands. For the first time, I notice that we have identical attack postures. We crouch, swords ticking back and forth hypnotically. A small crowd has gathered. Our eyes are both scanning, looking past each other's weapons for a telltale signal that a blow is coming.
Gasser sets the terms of the duel. Each body shot counts as a point. The victor is the first to reach 10.
I blitz, rushing forward and swinging my sword, telegraphing my intention. Gasser raises his sword and blocks me. I keep advancing, swinging sloppy stroke after stroke in rapid succession.
My attack plan is scripted. First, I will employ the nimitsu. It's a maneuver that's designed to catch an enemy by making him think you're retreating. When he gives chase, you catch him off guard. As instructed, I stop my onslaught as he counters and I hop three steps backward. Then I jump back toward him. But Gasser isn't there. He stood his ground the entire time that I retreated. I rush forward again and feel a light thump on my right shoulder. Damn. First blood is his.
The next two hits come quickly, striking my chest and elbow. So I switch into santobi mode. I will try to control the movements of the attacker by allowing him a specific place to attack. I move in a circle, exposing a strike zone on my shoulder. When Gasser strikes I'm supposed to jump out of the way and counterstrike. Too late, I realize that I've exposed the wrong shoulder. Instead of jumping to avoid Gasser's strike, I jump into it. When Gasser strikes again, I counter, but we both hit each other. That negates the points. Gasser sees the pattern, and I abandon the santobi.
At 5-0, I get frustrated and swing wildly, slamming my sword hard. I strike the side of Gasser's face.
"Oh, shit, Jim! I'm sorry!"
He notices that I've lowered my guard. "That's OK, baby," he says, thumping me square in the chest with the tip of his sword.
A minute later, we lock swords, and I try the juji: Rather than pulling away, I shift the angle of my blade to bring my sword into his neck. Gasser just takes a few steps to his right. He changes the angle on me and pushes me backward.
Sweat and sunblock sting my eyes. One point away from a complete shutout, I resolve to use the cheap shot that Williams taught me. I charge forward and lunge for Gasser's ankle. At the last second, he sweeps his foot away. His sword comes slamming down hard on my back. He has won, 10-0. But as I'm coming up, he swings the blade around and catches me in the chest. A second later, he lands another blow to my side. It's like he's entered a bonus round of beating.
He gives me a consolation hug.
Afterward, I duck into the tent to change back into my street clothes. Lying on the floor is a poster for Gasser's company. It's emblazoned with one of his favorite catchphrases: "It is better to die with honor than to live without it." It reminds me of the warning that Gasser offered at my first practice. "The ego says win," he told me. "Once you get away from that ego, once you clear the mind, it's amazing what you can accomplish."