Having tackled the greater problems of asymmetric hands and lonely trees, Hiroshi was ready to advance to level ten, leaving behind the acolytes to join the full-fledged monks.
“This exam will test your resolve. You must not cease your meditation under any circumstance. Do you understand?”
Hiroshi nodded. “I understand,” he said, and felt the sting of the keisaku on his back.
“Let us start again. Do you understand?”
Though ignoring a master was flagrant disrespect, Hiroshi kept still. His back was perpendicular to the floor, his shoulders relaxed. In every breath, he felt the stillness of winter and the great purpose of fall. Other seasons would follow.
He heard movement around him. Footsteps of others. An audience.
“Yes, step right over there. Come forward. Now, you two are the most promising candidates for advancement, but we can only accept one right now.”
Hiroshi was almost startled by the clatter of the wooden sword in front of him, but made no reaction.
“Let the battle begin!”
He maintained his focus, even as he watched the bouncing martial footsteps come closer. His head was still, his eyes locked. As the distance between himself and his rival shortened, he did not adjust his focus. A pointed wind passed through him.
“Um, Master?” The voice belonged to Takashi, another acolyte, two years younger. “I can’t attack if he doesn’t defend himself.”
“If you do not attack, you cannot win.”
The boy moved in circles, asking questions, but Hiroshi could not negotiate. Takashi stopped in front of him, and with a bow, apologized.
Hiroshi did not react to the blow that followed, though the pain was great.
“Congratulations! You’ve won!”
As the audience cheered for Takashi, Hiroshi stayed still. The feast that followed smelled amazing.
He told himself he didn’t notice.
And the concussion felt like spring.