Jessica Keller practices a form of close-combat martial art known as Valse d’Glaive, the Sword Dance. In the distant future of her time, mankind has been exploring the galaxy for nearly ten thousand years. The Homeworld was destroyed by bolide attack, nearly three thousand years ago. What is left is a interesting melting pot jumble of stuff.
The art draws heavily on two radically unrelated fighting arts. The first is the Chinese art known as Tai Chi, which at once was a fighting art and a form of meditation in motion. At least, that’s the way I was taught it, once upon a time. Slow, ritualized movements that are practiced until they become automatic. You will often see people in the park, early in the morning, stepping slowly through the movements, keeping their minds, bodies and souls limber.
The other art that contributed is Florentine-style fencing, although done here with a long and short instead of two long. Many people are familiar with the more traditional single-blade form, mostly from watching Musketeer movies. In Florentine, the practitioner holds two blades, fighting equally with both hands.
At some point in the future, a master becomes a sensei and combines his knowledge of the two forms in a tao, the black and white circles chasing each other. Formal, ritualized movements. The step, the block, the strike, the counter. Now, however, done with blades. Two blades.
The first blade, traditionally the right-hand weapon, is the Saber. This is the attacking weapon, the slashing one. It is a straight weapon, single-edged, nearly a meter in length, but with a fairly light blade, compared to the more-sturdily constructed northwest European blades. This saber is more like a cavalry saber from the nineteenth century, except straight. If you are familiar such a thing, something very much akin to the US Marine Corps NCO Dress Saber, down to the basket hilt.
The shorter blade is the main-gauche, literally the left hand. It is much shorter, measuring around forty centimeters in overall length, with a much heavier blade, edged on both sides, with a strong cross-guard to protect the knuckles. This is the “defensive” blade, used to protect by shielding and blocking. However, it can be used to kill.
Traditionally, both weapons for fighting are forged from high-quality steel. There are much more interesting and exotic alloys that could be used, but Valse d’Glaive is not a field combat art, although it can be. Instead, it is an art for the gymnasium, the dojo, or the garden. Those who practice the art are expected to treat it with the dignity tied to such an ancient art form, although it is taught to warriors who are expected to fight.
In the case of Jessica Keller, because she is left handed, she wields the saber in her left hand, mirroring a more traditional fighter. She compensates for this by using a training automaton that is capable of using either hand equally well, and may fight with a longer blade in either hand, or occasionally the full-sized (traditional Florentine-length) training blade (round plastic wrapped in foam that will still leave a welt) in both hands. When fighting the ‘bot, she also uses training blades. After all, it’s bad form for someone to learn to pull a blow during training, lest those habits continue into the real world.
The fighting robot is not sentient. It is a particularly-capable idiot box, a machine that can play chess at high speed, but it has no sense of self. It is configured to train at a number of different skill sets, engaging from level Zero all the way up to level Ten, although there are less than a handful of masters in the Republic of Aquitaine who can routinely defeat the machine at the level Eight setting.
Combat begins in a cleared space generally ten to twelve meters across and usually round or oval in shape. The student will activate the fighting robot verbally, setting the difficult level. “Fighting Robot activate. Challenge Rating Four.” The machine will awaken, process the command, and reply “Combat Mode initiated. Challenge Rating Four confirmed.”
At that point, combat begins and will continue to the first contact, either the robot touching the student, or the student scoring a hit. This resets the machine, although the student can activate an override setting that will go to the second contact, if the first is not judged to have been serious.
A full training session goes to Fifteen points. At the point where the student routinely scores a Nine (9/15), they are encouraged to begin training at the next higher level of difficulty, until they reach a stage where their skill plateaus. As noted earlier, Masters of the Valse d’Glaive routinely fight the machine at rating Eight.
One final note about the art form. Unlike most Blade-Combat arts, Valse d’Glaive teaches students to use gymnastics and acrobatic movements similar to more traditional unarmed styles when fighting. This includes trips, squats, tumbles, and cartwheels to evade contact and to place your enemy in an awkward position. This runs counter to most sword forms, where the common soldier is expected to hold their position as part of a line of troops moving in unison.
Jessica Keller excels at this form because she is a gymnast as well as a close-quarters fighter. Her short stature works to her advantage, allowing her to move in a faster and more combat motion. This compliments her training in three dimensional fleet movements, where down is a relative term and “sides” are non-existent. She is ambidextrous, able to use both blades equally well, to kill with either hand.