The Master Swordsman
by WILLEM BEKINK
The cross child looked around the hut, angrily kicking some of its sparse furnishings to pieces. His invisible following watched, disturbed, noting that compensation should be offered to the Old Man - if he did not himself ask for it. Then the small aspirant-swordsman went outside, sat down in front of the doorway and started to sob.
This, however, resulted in a red face, dizziness and a great thirst. So he stopped, sunk in bitter thought about the injustice he had suffered. And later, tired even by thought, he just sat, until evening fell. He had decided not to leave his place and eventually fell over, sleeping where he lay, to the great concern of his concealed guard. Awakening in the early morning he stretched, dived into the bushes to attend to his needs and hastened back to his post. To his amazement, he saw the Old Man came out of the hut, relieve himself and disappear into the forest.
Filled anew with anger he weighed up what to do: give the old idiot another chance, or give up the whole thing. In the meantime his concealed entourage discussed whether to disclose themselves, so as to feed the undoubtedly famished little warrior-to-be, or whether to leave him hungry, so that he might himself end this laughable enterprise.
While they debated this the boy sat motionless, like a miniature Daruma, his face angry, now and then swatting away a couple of flies. And so he continued to sit, for the whole day, the very picture of determination. His guards looked in amazed admiration, finally sending someone to the Daimyo's palace to ask for guidance on how to proceed. At this the Great Daimyo sent a short message to the Old Swordmaster with an invitation to come to the palace to talk about the boy.
His answer was equally brief: "No son can learn respect if the father cannot show it. I have no time to come to you and I am also not sure that I will have the time to talk if you come to me.
Early the next day the Daimyo arrived with a large retinue at the Old Master's hut and went to sit next to his son. Thus they waited together for the whole morning, until the Master was ready for his meditation.
When the Old One was finished he emerged, sat before father and son and bowed, albeit not too deeply. His face expressionless, he looked directly at the Daimyo, eventually saying: "You wish me to teach Kendo, an art which I have already distanced myself from, to a spoiled boy with the self-conceit of one certainly ten times his age.
I must add that he is the perfect type to effectively and energetically hack other idiots into pieces.
Regrettably, I do not intend to place such power in those hands, regardless of how valuable I find such tidying up."
At this the boy, who in the preceding days had become considerably more adult, bowed deeply and reverently before the Old Master, his forehead touching the ground and his fists next to his ears and said: "Sensei, forgive me, I do not plan to indiscriminately hack people into pieces. On the contrary, I wish indeed to learn the Art of preventing injustice and protecting life.
I beseech you, Sensei, be my guide on the way of the Sword." For a long time the Old Master observed the boy's bowed head and eventually said: "Sit up, your face is dirty enough without your rubbing it in the ground".
Then he addressed the Daimyo, saying: "Your son can stay here with me. I cannot promise that I can make a swordfighter of him, or master of the tea ceremony, or even perhaps an average wood chopper - but perhaps I can be successful in at least making a Man of him. If so, I wish to do this in MY way, in MY own time and without the least interference from You or YOUR court.
Further, I do not want the even smallest undertaking to be made to reward me in any way whatsoever - no favours, no money or goods, in whatever form.
I undertake this task not for him and also not for you, but for myself - and perhaps will also make myself look ridiculous in the process. The Daimyo gazed straight ahead and then, to the surprise of all, reverently and deeply bowed before the Old Master.
Then he stood up and left, suppressing the urge to take his leave of the boy. He was halfway on his return journey when he realized that he had not said a word throughout the entire visit.