It’s about compatibility (x)
This sequence, at least for me, exposed one of the more nuanced elements about “drift compatibility” that wasn’t out right said. When the characters are speaking about the “physical compatibility,” they’re pointing to an ability to attune oneself to the movements and actions of one’s partner. This is made more clear by what Raleigh says about the test: “It’s not a fight, it’s a dialogue.”
The concept of their engagement as a dialogue, or why this demonstrates compatibility, is not readily available in the film, so I figured I’d explain it. The best martial artists are not merely technically skilled, they have acquired an ability to “read” the motions of their opponents and respond appropriately to accomplish their ends. Through constant training with partners, the martial artist acquires a general ability to read the “language” that the body “speaks” in when it engages in action. Obviously, to be able to predict the motions of an opponent before they make them represents a considerable advantage in any combat situation, so the ability to “read” opponents becomes almost fundamental to any skilled practitioner.
Now, Mako has already demonstrated her ability to “read:” when she is observing Raleigh with the other candidates, she points out that Raleigh could have taken any of them several moves earlier, which requires her to be able to read both Raleigh and his partner at the same time. To this end, it says something about the sensitivity cultivated in Mako by her training: Mako can not only read multiple “languages” spoken by bodies, she can interpret and predict where the “conversation” will go. That, alone, intends a level of skill that is extremely advanced.
On Raleigh’s side, he too is an excellent conversationalist. Concerns of plot aside, in order for Raleigh to draw out his fights in such a way that Mako noticed and his partners did not, he would have to be skilled in subtlety of “language” as well as reading the language that his opponent is speaking. Thus, while Raleigh is “reading” his partners like an open book, they seem to have trouble responding in kind. In short, they are less capable of “talking” to Raleigh.
Let’s sum up: bodies speak a “language” which predicts their motions. Skilled practitioners of the martial arts can “read” this language and tell where the “conversation” will go. What does this have to do with compatibility or a dialogue? Everything. When Mako steps onto the mat with Raleigh, they begin to speak to one another in the language of their martial skill: by allowing him the first blow, Mako gets a sense of the language that Raleigh is speaking. Her second attack, which seems to catch Raleigh off guard, is like an interjection: it interrupts what Raleigh is about to say. However, Mako had to be able to “read” Raleigh well enough to know that her interjection would stop him cold.
As the test goes on, the “sentences” get longer and longer, and the responses that Mako has to Raleigh become complimentary as he begins to read her and respond in kind. As the moves go back and forth, both Raleigh and Mako come to understand the “language” that their bodies speak. As they come to better understand their languages, their responses to attacks become more fluid, and soon a dialogue emerges. However, the back and forth can only go on for so long: when Mako’s ability to read Raleigh’s language is what enables her to take the advantage and end with the pin.
As to the comment about “feeling” the compatibility? Between two approximately skilled practitioners, both of whom can “read” the other, a fight takes on a certain flow. This “flow” become present as a felt tension between the two engaged in conversation, a tension that can be maintained through appropriate responses in the fight. Now, breaking the tension comes as a result of error (which neither made) or when one practitioner can anticipate the next “word” in the conversation and move to counter it. This is what Mako did when she concluded the fight.
I would imagine that being able to read and adapt to the body language of one’s co-pilot probably prefigures the degree to which two individuals can engage in the neural handshake: it shows a degree of adaptability to another body that, I think, eases the process of becoming one with another mind, literally.
Now, the mental/emotional aspect is going to be the subject of another post.
Yes, bring on the meta.