Over the course of a year, William had made several friends in Qinshan besides Zhu Fang. A few were older fishermen, but all were those who William had contact with in his daily life and hit it off with. William actually found himself as part of a few social groups, which was somewhat strange for him. More importantly, several groups he all saw as friends, instead of just work associates. Although the fishermen were in the same kind of work as himself, if he wasn’t really interested in being friends with them they would have little to no interaction. The ocean was large, even just the ocean within a few miles of the shore of a particular city.
In addition to fishermen, there were random friends he had met out and about in the city. Then, there were martial artists. Zhu Fang was among them, and in truth had been the reason William came to know most of the rest. William hadn’t really advertised his martial arts abilities, but he hadn’t hidden their existence. Martial artists liked to compare their abilities with others, though of course they might hide a number of secret techniques. Still, sparring with others was a good way to become stronger.
Eventually, William also joined the spars among the group. Truthfully, outside of the areas of soul techniques he wasn’t exceptional. This was a combination of both lack of training and natural talent. Without using Chris, William was often at a disadvantage. His opponents were a bit older, but in terms of total training time they were similar. William probably could win any such fight rather quickly if he used soul techniques. However, William kept everything but a trace of such techniques out of his fighting. Part of that was because he wouldn’t really grow stronger if he only relied on his abilities to attack people who were basically defenseless. Certainly, the ki defenses everyone used protected against soul attacks to varying degrees, but because they weren’t specifically tuned for it, with the teaching from Han Xinya he could easily find weaknesses. Since his opponent would then be knocked unconscious, they wouldn’t really have much opportunity to fix those weaknesses, if they could even tell what had happened. Still, William refrained from doing such because it could possibly lead to wounds on their souls in the long run, and he also wanted to keep some of his strength hidden. After all, even if they weren’t his enemies, William couldn’t guarantee they weren’t being watched by traitors, or that no one would accidentally let slip something he didn’t want others to know.
William was the most well matched against Zhu Fang. Zhu Fang was a little bit older than William. However, his overall quantity of ki was a bit lower, made up for by the fact that his techniques were better than William’s, assuming William didn’t use his soul techniques. Zhu Fang used a spear, and favored techniques that were both fast and strong, if straightforward. Meanwhile, William’s staff techniques were focused on finding or creating openings in the opponent. When sparring against Zhu Fang, William wished that the knight’s body training techniques suited his current body. He found himself using up far more ki than he would like to deflect strong attacks, when a bit more muscle would have easily served the purpose sustainably. William could dodge, but his movements were often predicted, and the spear would change trajectory and strike him anyway.
Not that a real spear was used in sparring. Nobody had precise enough control to safely use real weapons. Thus, a spear became more like a staff, with a particular end representing the spearhead. William’s staff was padded, and slightly lighter than it would otherwise be. That meant that sparring didn’t completely represent real combat… but real combat was even more dangerous than sparring with real weapons. Fighting against humans, it was hard to say which side would keep their lives. Against magical beasts, one could choose to fight those that were relatively weaker, but then it would be less effective training. Magically protected sparring arenas like those in Ostana would be helpful for training, but also very expensive. In addition to the cost of the materials, wizards from Ostana would charge sky high prices for setting one up, if they would do it at all, or if those from Liaoyang would even trust them. It would also be similarly expensive to maintain. Perhaps if those from Liaoyang were willing to accept wizards and train in magic it would be different, but such a cultural shift wouldn’t happen quickly, and of course someone would have to want to.
William could actually almost set up such a magical formation. Certainly, he could make one out of the right materials that looked right… but it wouldn’t work. There were subtleties of how magic flowed through the materials that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye… or more importantly without the ability to see magic. Chris could see magic, but even if he could accurately see and understand the flaws, he wouldn’t be able to describe them to William. More importantly, nobody asked for such a magical formation. In Liaoyang, people were perfectly happy with sparring and getting the occasional broken bone.
William and Zhu Fang were close enough matched that there was often no real winner in their spars. At best, one of them would take a round or two, followed by the other. This led to a steady growth in their abilities, if nothing particularly amazing. Still, over the course of time, William grew more proficient in his control of ki in terms of using it to block or attack with kinetic energy. Zhu Fang’s technique grew a bit more subtle and hard to read. Though they were evenly matched, a true draw was rare. That was because such a match would have to be long and drawn out, and William’s body couldn’t keep up with that. A real fight would be much shorter, but after several sessions of sparring William would usually have to be done, even though he kept up just fine or was even occasionally ahead during the first spars. If one particular match went on too long, William would give up rather than overstraining his body. After all, it wouldn’t be beneficial to him but instead make him weaker, which was entirely against the point of sparring. Besides, William could just make up a win on another day.