land of the crane: takashi

Takashi, a young man of sixteen years, had come to the Temple of Thunder and Lightning under unfortunate circumstances. In the summer of his thirteenth year, a group of wandering ronin raided his village, slaughtering any who dared resist them. Takashi escaped with his life, but his parents weren't so lucky. Orphaned, alone, scared, and burning with rage, Takashi was taken in by the monks of the temple. They clothed him, fed him, and trained him in the Way of the Storm.

Unfortunately for Takashi, the monastic lifestyle did little to quell the rage he felt. He trained relentlessly, and refused to pull punches. He had broken a dozen noses, kicked twice as many groins, and smashed so many toes that most students refused to be his training partner. He had therefore been relegated to practicing with a wooden training dummy out behind the dojo. If they would just learn to block correctly, this wouldn't have had to happen, he thought to himself.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted one of the youngest monks watching him. He punched the dummy one last time, hard, then turned. "Yes?"

"Takashi-san," the monk bowed apologetically, "Sensei wishes to see you."

"What? I did my chores!"

"I don't believe it has anything to do with your chores," this time.

"Fine," he sighed, and followed the monk into the dojo. He ran through the list of things he might be in trouble for, but couldn't think of anything that he'd done (or not done) within the last few days. He was really thrown for a loop when he saw the group of non-monks sitting in front of Sanjiro: a samurai, a shinkan, and an...an... oni?

The outsiders stared at Takashi as he approached. The samurai, in particular, appeared to be examining him, which made Takashi feel somewhat uncomfortable. He bowed to the visitors and to the kanju, then dropped into seiza.

"Takashi-san," the old monk said, "It is time for you to take the knowledge you have gained here, and practice applying it in the world." He gestured to the three visitors, "Our honorable guests are representatives of Kurosawa-dono."

"Uh, ok," Takashi replied, looking back at them. The shinkan looked nice enough. The oni was a bit weird...well, a lot weird; but what really bothered him was the samurai. The guy kept staring at him. He decided to stare back, and the samurai scowled.

"They are taking the offerings of Kurosawa-dono to Hizuru. Their success will ensure good fortune for all of Kurosawa-dono's subjects, including this temple."

"Mmm-hmm," he said, continuing to stare.

"Takashi!" Sanjiro snapped. The young monk looked startled, and then returned his attention to the kanu. "Takashi, you have the great honor of representing the Temple of Thunder and Lightning on this journey."

"Huh? Me?" Takashi looked stunned, "Why me?"

Sanjiro paused for a second before answering. "I have meditated on this question for many days," he said, taking a deep breath, "and the spirits," he exhaled, "say that it should be so." I'm going to pay for that, he thought to himself.

Musashi, who was still examining the young monk, frowned, and then turned to the old monk. "This journey is bound to be very dangerous, and I am not convinced that this one has the ability to defend himself," he said, gesturing toward Takashi. "Perhaps we could arrange for a test of some sort."

"Oh, bring it on!" Takashi replied, jumping to his feet. Musashi looked shocked, but Sanjiro suppressed a smile; there were times when the young monk's extreme enthusiasm was endearing.

With a nod from the kanju, the monks of the Temple of Thunder and Lightning quickly fell into rank, and lined the edges of the tatami. One monk, who Musashi had guessed was the senior student, walked to the center, and motioned to the two combatants to take their places.

"Hold these," Musashi muttered as he handed his swords to Fukasu and Kakeru, "This will be over quickly." At the very least, this will be a good test, he thought as he took his place a few feet away from Takashi, of my own skill.

The two competitors bowed to each other, then turned to bow to the shinban[1]. Then, all three turned and bowed to Sanjiro, who nodded to them to continue.

The shinban pointed at Musashi. "Ready?"

"I am a samurai, I am always ready."

Next, the shinban pointed at Takashi. "Ready?"

"Let's do it."

Finally, the shinban brought his hands together, "Hajime!"

As the two opponents closed, Takashi threw a short jab toward Musashi's face, just to see if he could get a reaction. To the samurai's credit, he didn't flinch. Musashi replied with a jab of his own, and Takashi smiled to himself. Ok, it's on, he thought.

The two circled each other for a moment, and then Takashi attacked. He led with a roundhouse kick to the head, which Musashi raised his arms to block. Doing so, though, left the samurai's midsection completely exposed, and Takashi seized on the opportunity, delivering a side kick to his ribs. By my ancestors, he's fast, Musashi thought as he felt the air rush out of his lungs.

Musashi retaliated with a solid punch to Takashi's jaw. The blow was powerful, but he overextended, and left his guard open again. Takashi took advantage and snapped a backfist to the samurai's face. Ow, he's strong, Takashi realized as his face began to throb, oh, he's going down.

Takashi stepped in close. He placed his right foot just outside of the samurai's stance, pivoted his hips so that his back was now to his opponent, and reached his right hand under Musashi's arm. His left hand came up to trap the arm, and he squatted ever so slightly. Before his opponent could react, he popped back up while leaning slightly at the waist, and suddenly the samurai was in the air.

What the... Musashi thought, as his feet left the ground. In the brief instant that his head cleared Takashi's shoulder, he looked down. Wow, he marveled, the ground looks really far away.

[1] The referee in a martial arts match.