Jacques Roubaud is arguably one of today’s most well-known French poets. He is also a member of the Oulipo and a novelist, a mathematician and a theoretician of verse; a great admirer of Japan, he is a recognized scholar in ancient Japanese poetry, which he read and commented at length : the famous poets Kamo no Chomei, Ki no Tsurayaki, the Monk Saigyō and the Imperial Anthologies from the Middle Ages are no longer a secret to him…
During the 70s, together with Florence Delay, a writer and member of the French Academy, he set about rewriting another major work from the western medieval literature, the “Knights of the Round Table” cycle. But he chose to do it in a creative and fanciful fashion, easier to understand by today’s readers, in order to bring up to date the Arthurian novel and its famous protagonists, Merlin the Magician, Sir Perceval, King Arthur and Lancelot du Lac, the lover of Queen Guinevere.
Indeed, during all these chivalrous battles, why not insert a few medieval techniques borrowed from Japan? If only to introduce some unexpected exoticism in the narration!
And this is where the knight « Boyet de Cipango » appears (Cipango being the name given to Japan by Marco Polo a long time ago), after having been asked by Roubaud about the most realistic and pertinent aikido, sword and stick techniques that could be used in the novel.
Here are the resulting scenes, where it can be noticed that aikido proves highly efficient in a duel between knights, even an imaginary one…
8. CHASTEL MORTEL’S ESCAPE
KING PELLÈS: What are you doing here Bran the seventeen-name bearer?
CHASTEL MORTEL: I am settling down old man. I am throwing you out.
ROI PELLÈS: You are blaspheming Chastel Mortel. Yourself your ancestors and your descendant were allotted this Castle left wing. The door that isolates us has been sealed for seventeen generations by the Holy Spirit.
CHASTEL MORTEL: When the door is closed I come in through the window. You are a weak but sly old man. How should I call you brother uncle nephew second cousin? Do you even know how we are related? You believe that the pure Fishermen lineage that you represent is going to end with the one we are expecting tonight the virgin the very chaste and the very beautiful Galaad. That’s what you think. Do you think that I am not aware of the unspeakable way he was conceived on your instigation? I know the story of the family as well as you do. And why is it that it should not be I, the last pure winning wrong doer in this final bout? Bran the giant was my forefather and as Cain disinherited. He borrowed the bleeding spear to strike what Joseph of Abaramachia ancestor of our ancestors call the Felon Thrust. But this spear today I take from you as well as this tea cup in which Christ bled. By the way who today is carrying the adorable cup? I had Corbenic left wing I take over the right wing. Everything is mine, I shall soon institute another suite and you are as of now exempted from a show you may find unbearable. My friend you are welcome to go now. I know that you do not have control of your body and that you have to be carried. Servants take him away.
Servants lift the Fishing King litter.
Chastel Mortel hides. Enters the scared Naked Breast Maiden carrying the magical chessboard. Galaad is chasing her.
GALAAD: If you do not drop the evil thing and go cover yourself I shall impose on you the punishment that Saint Agate suffered. With God’s help.
THE CHESSBOARD: What about a game? Robot against robot it would be most interesting.
Galaad drives away the magical chessboard with a backhand blow.
GALAAD: Come out of your hideout Cain.
Chastel Mortel comes out smiling.
GALAAD: Let’s get done with it. In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Having crossed himself, he gets ready to pierce his enemy’s chest but Chastel Mortel signs himself upside down.
CHASTEL MORTEL: In the name of Lucifer of Belzébuth and of Asmodée. Amen. Mena Domoas Buthzelbé and Fercilu.
The sword with the strange fastenings fells off the hands of a flabbergasted Galaad.
CHASTEL MORTEL: Ah ah it is quite different when you have to face a real opponent I mean a false one.
GALAAD: Are you challenging me?
CHASTEL MORTEL: In a way. But we should go out to fight. You’ll feel more at ease on your charger.
GALAAD: Let’s go out and I shall defeat you.
BLAISE: Looking down from his mount Galaad is surprised to see his enemy on foot without any spear or rapier but simply holding a sword with both hands like a Saracen. He sets up to run his weapon through him when suddenly he tilts over and falls bluntly on the ground: the sword has cut off both front legs of his horse. The King of Chastel Mortel waits patiently for him to get back on his feet to recover his spear and his consciousness.
GALAAD: So be it I shall prevail on foot. With the help of God and of the King David.
BLAISE: He draws his weapon. Chastel Mortel throws away his sword and takes a long wooden stick that he thrust to Galaad throat. Leaning backward to avoid the thrust Galaad losses his balance and falls on his back. Chastel Mortel waits patiently that he stands back up. Uphill work as very heavy is the armor. When finally Galaad is standing Chastel Mortel throws the stick away. Seeing his opponent unarmed without hesitation Galaad steps forward to strike the final blow from up down but Chastel grabs the arm in movement between the wrist and the elbow and follows his move with a thrust that crashes Galaad on the ground.
CHASTEL MORTEL: Nothing works better than ikkyo against shomen-uchi. I would have like to do irimi-nage but I guess I shall have to wait for another opportunity. You Knights of the Round Table only know Small and Great Britain me I have been further out. I learn much from the knight Boyet de Cipango. The future of close combat lies with these far-off techniques. It is my turn to say let’s get on with it with the help of the Devil. I shall quickly insert my knife between the joints of your coat of mail and pierce your heart.
GALAAD: Holy Mary mother of God!
The knife turns into a snake that breaks free. Thunder and lightning.
CHASTEL MORTEL: I knew you were a cheater. You cannot do anything without divine intervention. Ha ha lightning may as well strike, the Fault will always roam the world. Any victory can only be temporary final and definitely temporary.
BLAISE: The heavenly fire seemed to reduce the King of Chastel Mortel to ashes. Galaad stood up the winner and he was dusting his armor when a black cat crossed the drawbridge and ran toward the forest.