Obi Wan glanced hopefully at the stairs which led to the second level of the ship's gymnasium. If he could get past Qui Gon somehow, and make it to the stairs, the odds just might turn in his favor. The stairs could inhibit the master's range of motion and give Obi Wan some much needed height. It would also be easier for Obi Wan to pin Qui Gon between the two handrails than back him against one of the walls. This was proving much more difficult than Obi Wan could have imagined. Even though he was utilizing all his experience, teachings, strength, and prowess with a lightsaber, he was still losing badly.
Qui Gon continued his relentless attack on his apprentice. He could feel Obi Wan tiring and his connection with the Force begin to wane. He was beginning to retreat more and more. Qui Gon was also aware of Obi Wan's desire to reach the stairs and made a point of blocking his path to them. He wanted to see how the young man intended to overcome these obstacles and obtain his goal.
The two jedi had decided to take advantage of the transport ship's large gymnasium for a quick workout. It would not only pass the time, but allow them the chance to sharpen their skills and relieve some stress after what had been a long and difficult mission. They had often 'dueled' with each other before, but it was always under very controlled circumstances, centering on improving technique. This time, they agreed to a no holds barred, all out duel that would only end in the event of a 'surrender' or a 'killing blow'. Both jedi adjusted the power on their lightsabers as low as it would go, stripped down to the waist, and began their amicable combat.
It wasn't long before the crackle and flashes from the activated blades drew curious onlookers and in a short itme, the two warriors had a sizable audience. Compiled of other passengers and the ship's crew, the onlookers draped themselves over the balcony railing on the second level. They readily cheered the jedi on, impressed and entertained by such an exhibition and demonstration of jedi skill.
Obi Wan was getting frustrated with his lack of progress and he had suffered enough blows from his master's lightsaber now, his whole body ached. He was tired and he was finding it harder and harder to concentrate. All he could do was parry. He had neither the strength nor the opportunity to attack anymore.
Qui Gon advanced again, bringing his lightsaber down in a sweeping arc over Obi Wan's head. Obi Wan managed to block it, but the strength behind the strike pushed him to the floor. Qui Gon swung his saber back to keep Obi Wan down, but the younger jedi rolled away from it, avoiding it, and was back on his feet in a split second.
The onlookers cheered. Obi Wan grinned, thinking how there was always someone willing to root for the underdog. More determined than ever to catch Qui Gon off guard, he summoned the last of his strength and advanced on his master with renewed hope.
But Qui Gon was proving to be a formidable opponent. He neither showed signs of fatigue or weakness. He was the picture of calm and the embodiment of grace. Next to him, Obi Wan felt like a novice with a lightsaber. With minimal effort, and a matter of seconds, Qui Gon had turned the tables back around and put Obi Wan once more on the defensive.
"Would you like some advice?" Qui Gon asked suddenly.
Obi Wan frowned. "Yes. What?"
Qui Gon continued fighting as he spoke. "You are reacting now from anger and weariness. You're losing your connection to the Force. What little connection you have maintained is what has enabled you to defend yourself. You are losing. You must discipline your mind to tune back into the Force and listen to what it tells you. Trust it to guide you to victory. You must best me soon, Padawan. You can't endure much more of this."
Obi Wan frowned even more. His master hadn't told him anything he didn't already know. He was being driven into a corner now, farther away from the stairs. He took a deep cleansing breath. He had lost. He should concede. He locked eyes with Qui Gon, ready to surrender to him honorably, but instead, Obi Wan found the power of the lifeforce in those dark blue eyes strangely encouraging. No, he thought. He would not surrender. He would not disappoint his master by giving up now, just because he was tired and a little sore. He continued to defend himself, clearing his mind of all thoughts and emotions, struggling to open himself to whatever the Force might suggest.
Suddenly, Obi Wan felt the coldness of the gym wall against his bare back. He gasped, then cursed himself for allowing Qui Gon to drive him back so easily. He fought to surpress his anger at his latest failure and closed his eyes to more directly tap into the Force.
Qui Gon smiled slightly. He could feel the turmoil inside his apprentice. He could also feel the young man's determination and courage. It made him proud.
Obi Wan drew from the Force around him. He blocked out all conscious thought and allowed the Force to react for him. The connection strengthened. He felt the wall behind him, was aware of everything about it. He sensed the openness ahead of him and the opportunity it offered. Qui Gon was only a small obstruction. Obi Wan knew there was more than enough room to manuever around him, more than one way to reverse his position. Use the wall, the Force told him. The wall is not your enemy. Qui Gon is the enemy. The wall is your ally.
The Force's power surged suddenly. Qui Gon sensed its movement around him and within him. Battered and beaten to near exhaustion, Obi Wan had finally surrendered himself to the Force's guidance as a last resort. If the young jedi had done this in the beginning, their contest would not have seemed so one-sided. Qui Gon knew his apprentice had learned a valuable lesson in this. He sent a thought to Obi Wan, taking advantage of the young jedi's receptive state of mind. *I am strong, but you are strong too. Use your strength. Don't try to match mine.*
Obi Wan's eyes flew open. He stared back at his master. *Strength? My strength? But what is my strength compared to yours?*
Qui Gon smiled slightly but refused to answer him. Instead, he escalated his attack. Obi Wan struggled to make sense of everything he had been told. Use the wall. Use his own strength... of course.
Qui Gon was a tall, athletic, and powerful man. Obi Wan found himself overwhelmed by his master's incredible physical strength. He should have never tried to match Qui Gon's strength. Instead, he should have acknowledged and recognized his own strengths. What Obi Wan had only seen as weakness before, was in fact his strong point. He wasn't as physically strong as Qui Gon, and he didn't have his master's experience in fighting. But he was smaller, faster, younger, and more agile than his master. He knew now these aspects could be used to his advantage.
Qui Gon nodded and smiled. *Yes Obi Wan! Finally!* He could feel the young jedi's sudden enlightenment.
Obi Wan was ready. He had calculated the distance and height he needed. He had sorted through the quantum physics of his manuever and knew how much energy he had to utilize to achieve the desired results. He had worked out all the mechanics. Now for the execution.
Obi Wan jabbed at Qui Gon's chest with the dimly glowing tip of his lightsaber to make the master back away slightly. It gave Obi Wan just enough room. He advanced a step, feigning another jab. Qui Gon moved to deflect it and was surprised when the younger jedi instead of following through with a strike, jumped straight up, twisting his body enough to plant his feet squarely against the wall and propel himself even higher. Once airborne, Obi Wan somersaulted nimbly over Qui Gon's head and landed with perfect balance just behind him.
Qui Gon spun around, but not before Obi Wan managed to strike at the master's unprotected side.
Qui Gon jerked back in pain, but smiled, delighted by his apprentice's achievement. The onlookers cheered and booed, depending on which jedi they were rooting for.
Obi Wan backed towards the stairs, his path to them now free and clear of the once imposing obstacle of the jedi master. Just before ascending them, he stopped to consider if he truly wanted to be on the stairs now. He could easily become trapped there if he wasn't careful. He looked at Qui Gon. The master was standing a few meters away, regarding him with a calculating expression, wondering what his apprentice was up to now, and devising his own new strategy.
Obi Wan hopped to the third step and twirled his saber around in his hand a few times restlessly. Qui Gon rushed him, but Obi Wan managed to parry his blows easily. The stairs did offer him the advantage of added height, but he quickly realized they did not offer him the path to victory he once thought they would. They were too confining. He leapt off the stairs and onto the railing. Qui Gon tried to throw him off balance by striking at Obi Wan's legs. The apprentice jumped, narrowly avoiding a fall. Qui Gon's saber caught him on the hip as he landed. The pain was distracting but Obi Wan quickly pushed it out of his mind. He hopped over to the other rail, distancing himself from his master slightly. He slid slowly down, just below Qui Gon on the stairs and attacked with a series of rapid blows.
Qui Gon deflected his apprentice's strikes, but not before suffering another searing hit on his upper arm.
"You seem more confident now," Qui Gon told the young jedi. "You have me in a disadvantage. But how do you intend to win? Have you thought your strategy through?"
Obi Wan hadn't. He felt Qui Gon beginning to tire, at last, but he didn't know if he could depend on the master tiring and conceding before he did. He was nearing exhaustion, but was reminded again of his strength. He was younger, he had stamina. He had to rely on that. What other way was there?
As if in answer to his unvoiced question, Qui Gon smiled slyly and said, "You are an honorable fighter. You possess great integrity. Maybe, too much integrity?"
Obi Wan frowned. "Master, how can one possess too much integrity?"
Qui Gon skipped down the steps and circled around the railing to the other side where Obi Wan was balanced. He swung powerfully at his apprentice, locking Obi Wan's lightsaber to his own.
"You know me. You expect me to fight like a jedi, fair and honorably. But you must realize, most of your opponents will not be honorable beings. They will use all they have."
Obi Wan didn't understand and was too occupied trying to push back Qui Gon's lightsaber to think his master's words through.
Qui Gon caught the confused look the young jedi gave him. He shook his head slowly.
"Think Obi Wan. When you were above me on the stairs and the rail, you could have bested me easily. I left myself vulnerable to an attack which you did not take advantage of. Only because you are bound by beliefs that a jedi should not fight... dirty." Qui Gon smiled at his apprentice's shocked expression. "Now I have the advantage. You are vulnerable, yet you can't allow yourself to think I would stoop to such a level to win."
"Master... what are you saying?" Obi Wan panted, feeling his arms begin to ache and the last of his strength being sapped from him as he tried futilely to hold Qui Gon's lightsaber away from him. He concentrated hard just to maintain his balance. He knew the master had him trapped now, but what did he plan on doing to finish him off? His lightsaber was just as locked up as Obi Wan's, there wasn't any way for him to strike a 'killing blow.' "What about your strategy? How do you intend to finish me off? As soon as you release my saber to strike at me, I'll be able to strike back."
"I'll show you," Qui Gon announced. With one hand, he reached out, grabbed Obi Wan's ankle and yanked him off the railing.
Obi Wan crashed heavily to the floor amid cheers and hisses from the crowd above him. Qui Gon's lightsaber was at his throat in an instant, pinning him down. Acknowledging his defeat, Obi Wan closed his eyes and waited for Qui Gon to 'kill' him, anticipating the hot shock of pain that would signal the end. When it didn't come, he opened his eyes and looked up.
Qui Gon stood over him, his eyes twinkling with amusement, reveling in his ill-gotten victory. He deactivated his lightsaber and stepped back.
"I grant you mercy, Padawan. I will not 'kill' you. You fought well. You are a worthy adversary. And an honorable one."
Obi Wan deactivated his lightsaber and stretched out on the floor. It felt good to be lying down. He was so tired. "Showing me mercy is the least you could do," he panted. "Considering you cheated."
"I won," Qui Gon corrected. "Winning was the ultimate goal. Coming out alive is what counts. You do what you have to do to stay alive. It's more important than fighting honorably."
Obi Wan sat up slightly, his stiff muscles protesting. He propped himself up on his elbows. "I see," he said tersely.
Obi Wan frowned. "I understand what you are saying. I'm not sure if I understand how I could have won though. I did not see the opportunity you did."
Qui Gon offered Obi Wan his hand and pulled him to his feet. "I wondered if you knew of it or if you simply refused to take it."
"Master, I assure you. If I would have seen the opportunity, I would have taken it."
Qui Gon turned and gestured at the narrow stairs, now full of onlookers on their way out of the gym to return to their business.
"On the stairs. When I was below you. You could have kicked me off with minimal effort and pinned me at the bottom of the steps. I wondered if you thought doing such a thing would be dishonorable," the master explained.
Obi Wan's eyes grew wide. "Kicked you? That thought hadn't even crossed my mind."
Qui Gon shook his head. "You see? You were being too honorable. You could have won, but you only saw me as your master and maintained your respect."
"That wasn't my only mistake, Master," Obi Wan said, somewhat disheartened. "If I learned one thing this morning, it was that I still have a lot to learn."
Qui Gon smiled benignly. "Yes, you made some mistakes, but you did learn from them. I was very impressed. You really fought well."
Obi Wan shook his head and grinned. "If getting beaten, burned, and ultimately beheaded is your idea of fighting well, I would hate to see the day come when I fight poorly."
Qui Gon raised his brow. "I would too," he said simply. "You could always look at it from a different point of view. If this was your idea of fighting poorly, I would say you have nothing to worry about. You held your own against me. I have the bruises and burns to prove it." He turned slowly, somewhat stiffly, and walked towards the locker room. Obi Wan followed.
"Do you think I'll ever be as good as you are with a lightsaber?" he asked anxiously.
Qui Gon nodded without hesitation. "In time you'll be better. I'm certain of it. For now, we make a good team, you and I."
At that, Obi Wan smiled.