Never Look Back

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Chapter 52

Kire!” sensei shouted.

We were in the dojo’s backyard. Polished tri-steel bisected bamboo. Three different metals comprised a katana’s blade. Soft steel for the spine gave it flexibility and weight. Pure iron resided in the core for balance, sandwiched between harder, tempered steel that formed the edge and revealed itself as overlapping surface waves. Iron shims sometimes comprised the hilt to correct for personal taste in balance. All three elements harmonized to produce a blade that was both strong and flexible.

Bamboo practise bundles the thickness of an average person’s waist had been set onto short wooden fence posts cemented into the ground. Kira’s father sent the top quarter of one bundle to the ground. Another section of the same bamboo bundle hit the earth a split second later. He motioned to Kira. Tameshigiri (test cutting) was more difficult than it looked. Kira stepped forward, sword in high-level, in kami. Migi kesagiri swept left to right downward diagonal, followed immediately by hidari kiriagi, which cut right to left rising diagonal. Two bamboo sections, each nearly the exact same length, and cut on nearly identical angles, hit the ground half a second apart.

“Your turn, gai-jin. Breathe and focus.”

Knees bent. Weight balanced. My sword copied Kira’s strikes, except that my blade became wedged halfway through on the second strike. Last night’s whipped cream and chocolate fiesta at Odera’s home flashed across my mind as I rocked my blade from side to side to free it. Tempered steel shrieked louder than an axe buried in a chopping block.

Okay. Knees. Weight. Uncoil. The first section slid loose. I wondered what Odera was preparing for supper. I contemplated dessert. Hidari kiriagi, rising diagonally from right to left, wedged tight.

“Gai-jin! Stop. Clumsy oaf. How you keep legs in one piece is a miracle.”

Circling to my left, the old guy lined himself up and struck left to right rising, and then left to right down diagonal. Bamboo fell perfectly. Calloused and horny hands roughly clasped my forearms and moved my lower elbow in an inch. He recharged the bundle.

“Focus gai-jin. Old man smoother than young tiger. Gather qi in torso. The torso does work, not arms. Tameshigiri!

Again, I unleashed. Again, I failed. Again, my thoughts drifted. A ring. What? I needed a ring. Recalling Odera as she dressed for work felt eternal, as though it would always be so. She was mine, I thought to myself, humbled and grateful.

“Gai-jin! What’s the matter with you?” He cuffed my arm and shoulder. “Must focus in every circumstance. Bring empty mind to the lesson.”

“Apologies, sensei.”

“Apology like cow dung. Stink bad. Just cut.”

“Unworthy student’s mind cluttered with thoughts today.”

“Eh? No different from any other day. Opponent’s sword does not wait for you to make clear mind. Focus. Kire!

Coursing with contentment and happiness, I hit my centre and unleashed the first of my double strike exercise. The katana wedged itself firmly in bamboo.

“Gai-jin. You one of three stooges. Maybe all three. One more time. Kire!

No matter what the old fellow said, nothing dampened the explosion of joy letting me admire the perfection of the moth that had landed on the uchikomi-dai. Tiny, perfectly formed capillaries around which the moth’s wings adhered, stole my concentration. Odera’s perfume lingered from when we had hugged our parting this morning. Tiny tendrils of scent spoiled my next attempt. When I shrugged my shoulders like an uncaring puppy, Kira laughed into her hand.

Odera had attended a number of lessons, had sat in the parents viewing room to watch from behind glass. The ancient one and she had hit it off from the start. Now every time he saw her, he told her how hopeless I was, how hard he worked for each of my tiny gains and how overcoming my galactic inadequacies made him most fantastical sensei in the history of kendo dojos.

Kira never commented on Odera, on my family or on anything else personal. Whatever happened outside the scope the dojo would be impolite to inquire after. When Odera visited or picked me up, Kira politely avoided all girl talk. Kira’s emotions and personal interests remained hidden behind a formal Japanese wall. Most long-term prisoners learned to disguise emotions and to conceal information, so Kira’s stoicism felt natural. As a soldier I learned to shut my mouth until spoken to. And then I discovered that duty, honour, sacrifice and service were the governing principals of Kira’s life. Kira was all business ― all beautifully lethally delicate business.

“Gai-jin. Why you look happy? Dojo no place for happiness. Place for work. Red lady no respect failure. Leave you soon-like if you don’t cut bamboo.”

“We’re planning to move in together.”

“Girlfriend like excessive joy, bad for bushido. Marry soon. You ready quick-quick for kenjutsu training,” he quipped. “Lazy gai-jin. I have joy remedy. Kata with live swords.” At my look, he responded, “Hai! Now I have full attention. Focus gai-jin. Focus or delightful daughter takes an ear. Full protection.”

This was this the first time we had worked with live blades either in a duel or in kata. Kendo armour prevented broken bones against shinais and usually a bokken, but live blades had the ability to penetrate. A lapse in concentration and we could remove the other’s foot, wrist or fingers easier than a paring knife slices through a tomato. What was he up to? Although Kira had practiced with live blades countless times, I was as green as grass. Fear, adrenaline, stress and excitement flooded my system.

I felt alive.

Having donned padding and armour, face grill held under my elbow at the correct angle, height and position, I met Kira at the centre of the dojo floor. She wore her normal stoic expression. I was proficient at three katas. Perfection was an impossible goal to obtain, but all students and masters strived to reach the unobtainable through micro-improvements. Even with the assurances of protection and kata, it felt thrilling to work with live blades. Nerves were a little jittery but they would settle down. The useful stress that prepared the body for maximum output lighted my system brighter than Las Vegas Boulevard at night.

Kira lacked my upper body strength, but she was usually faster than I was. I had not become completely smooth yet. Sometimes my potential speed showed up. The male body has increased muscle density and a wider breadth of shoulders to be more powerful than the female form. Narrow male hips allowed males to move quicker. Broader female hips slowed the legs. Certain physical attributes put her at a gender disadvantage.

Greater strength drained a weaker opponent. Heavier blows tired a lighter body quicker. Foot speed was important. Densely packed slow-twitch male leg muscles, those muscles responsible for endurance and narrower male hips gave males an advantage. A male’s fast-twitch muscle fibres also allowed for greater explosive power. Kira must work harder to keep up; her cardiovascular conditioning must be superior. If our conditioning and speed were equal, my greater strength drained her resources quicker than mine. Maintaining the correct rhythm in kata was essential. A stronger, better-conditioned person maintained the tempo more easily. In kata, participants harmonized and worked together. Kira’s biggest advantage was found in her training and experience. Her reflexes and instincts were sharper than mine. Kira was a kenjutsu master and I was little more than target practice.

“I know what you’re thinking, Bruce. My first live session same-same. Students always worry they do not have enough control. Do not hold back. Let the fire spirit come forward. To release spirit is to retain the soul.”

“To hold back is to court death,” I responded automatically.

She looked up as though a loud noise had startled her. Wearing a quizzical squint, she came closer to stand before me. Behind her, the old guy was walking over to investigate our delay.

“Where did you learn that?”

“I’m not sure. A book. Online, I suppose.”

Her father said, “Learn what?”

“The fourth Scroll,” Kira answered, requesting forbearance by resting her hand on his shoulder. Turning to me, she said, “You spoke beginning of ancient ceremony held between sensei and student. If answered correctly, if the teacher finds worthiness, sensei may allow the student to test their skill and spiritual wisdom. If successful, sensei bestow true name and the highest level of training begins. You may only make one request.”

“What happens if a student is unsuccessful?”

Sensei decides next time you are worthy. Students learn responses through deed and experience. Some never learn. It is not unusual for ten years to pass before a student takes the Fourth Scroll challenge. Some never do. You are a new student. Father not finished teaching Fourth Scroll. He says you have bushido instinct. Instinct is not enough. When one adopts bushido as way of life, replies come through application of principles, not only from instruction. Zen Bushido is way of living, way of thinking, not just way of speaking. According to Shinto beliefs, the strength and power of one’s ancestors are there to draw upon so long as one honours them. Shinto gods continually remind each person of their worthy ancestors and their duty to honour them through word and deed.” Wearing a mystical smile, she continued, “But then you’ve shown father that you have advanced technique not usually found in new student. Perhaps you unknowingly draw upon ancestor’s assistance.”

“What do you say to all this?” I asked Kira’s father.

“Your spirit yet seeks balance. You’ve not fully found freedom; have yet to clarify all learning. Only on occasion do you walk the Way.”

“I’m here of my own free will.”

“Freedom not same as liberty. Liberty pertains to physical autonomy to go here or to go there. True freedom is of the spirit. The absence of doubt, worry, fear, greed, envy and all other character limiters. It is a true path that leads to Zen Bushido enlightenment. The essence of the fire spirit demands freedom or nothing else. It doesn’t compromise at the threat of corporeal extinction, for it knows spiritual ascension waits beyond this existence. This you know instinctually. You have knowing of the past. Only in precious daughter have I seen greater fire spirit strength. Yet, you refuse to acknowledge this. Left-hand Path seeks you. Destruction may yet rule your kehai. One day you will have to make a choice that will decide your spiritual fate, but that day has not yet arrived. You will know when it does.

“Until then, you require additional training to clarify doubt. When you do, nothing becomes everything.” At my questioning look, Kira’s father explained, “You and daughter share the mystic’s wisdom of spiritual ascension. This you feel at a gut level. Whenever you allow yourself to become one with everything, individuality fades and your spiritual essence dominates. Ego and self-awareness diminishes. You become less individually. More is less. Nothing is everything. Left-hand Path and Sinister Way focuses on ego. It serves self. The fourth Scroll is the ultimate expression of Zen Bushido. It is service to ancestors and to others. Never to self. In this, we say that we owe a death. Casting a look of submission at Kira, he added, “Cherished daughter has the fire spirit’s gift. Not something that I can measure, but I have learned to respect what I cannot always see with clarity. If she believes you have worthiness to continue, I humbly withdraw dissent.”

Kira bowed deeply to her father.

“Thank you for your faith. Ancestors tell me Bruce’s training adequate to proceed. I request, father, that you arbitrate his success or failure.” When her father nodded solemnly, she asked me without hesitation, “Do you wish to continue?”

“Yes,” I told her, curious to see where this was going.

“Have waited a long time for you, fire brother. I am honoured you revealed yourself to humble sister.” Kira clapped her hands twice to invoke a Shinto prayer. “Lord Joco, by whose Hagakure all loyal bushido servants are bound, we re-dedicate ourselves to carry out your teachings. Take-miki-zudhi, Valiant-August-Thunder, grant us strength and courage to overcome obstacles set before us. Futsa-nushi, Sharp-Cutting-Lord, bestow wisdom through sacrifice to complete our duty when all seems lost.” She clapped her hands twice more to end the prayer and said to me, “To release spirit, is to retain your soul.”

“To hold back is to court death,” I said easily enough.

“In order to cut―”

“You must be willing to be cut.”

“To live free―”

“You must be willing to die.”

“The sword that kills―”

“Is the sword that gives life,” I said with complete knowing.

“What are doubt and fear?”

“Seeds of spiritual death and destruction.”

“We never present our backs to our enemy’s sword. If the choice between life and death is equal, may we unhesitatingly choose death. In humility and duty we are united, forever bound to the Fourth Scroll,” finished Kira and clapped her hands twice solemnly.

The old guy nodded once and bowed to each of us in turn. An aura of knowing surrounded Kira. Serenity and focus now cloaked her visage. She returned her father’s bow with formal correctness and began to strip off her gear and handed it to him piece by piece. My responses had been straightforward. I was sure that I learned them from books, or from the pages of Internet research cluttering my mind. Too many articles to drag the specific sources forward. Why must people constantly look to the mystical to understand secular mysteries? The old guy’s stoic features conveyed nothing when his eyes reached for mine.

“I am Miyamoto Sasamori,” he proclaimed in a commanding voice while seeming to grow a foot in height. “Sasamori ancestors first pledged service under the Muromachi Shogunate. For seven centuries, the Sasamori clan has served Bushido Law. To demonstrate the joining of spiritual knowing and sword skill, we test students in the Fourth Scroll challenge. Let trial by steel judge your spirit and sword true. Should you fail, let death be a just reward.”

Miyamoto said carefully, “Very serious test, Bruce. Great potential to suffer lifelong injury. Perhaps death. Blades fully polished. No dishonour to delay the trial. Do you wish to continue, Bruce Garland?”

Did I truly earn this opportunity or was I cheating myself? No. I could not go down that road, not when I was about to handle a fully polished katana. Doubt and fear led to destruction. Kira knew what she was doing. Only acceptance would serve my needs, and my hide intact. A little bit of luck would not hurt either. I had never felt more alive. To work with a fully polished sword was one of the reasons why I had signed up for kendo lessons. Shaking my head to clear it of the mumble-jumble voodoo stuff, I bowed formally to Miyamoto Sasamori.

“I am certain. I appeal to Lord Joco for the wisdom which brings success.”

“Very well. Sasamori clan follows mono-no-fu; never turn your back on a blade, on death. To die in service honouring Bushido Law is the greatest reward ancestors may bestow. If you are successful, I will consider a petition for clan membership.”

Miyamoto Sasamori bowed to me. I returned his bow processing what had just transpired.

“Remove jacket and padding. We present ourselves without protection, vulnerable to the sword that gives life, confident in the sword that kills. No holding back. Let our fire spirits join. Become who you are meant to be. Ancestors will grant life if they find you worthy, perhaps death, if you fail.”

“Bow to each other and begin,” Miyamoto Sasamori instructed.

“Which kata?” I asked Kira, returning her bow when we had stepped back nine paces from the other.

“None. To live free, you must be willing to die.”

She charged forward unleashing migi yokogiri, left to right cut.

Of its own volition, my katana flowed to block.

“It won’t be that easy, Blossom.”

“You’ve always known part of my true name.” She locked her eyes on mine. “You’ve always known me. Have you not felt it so?”

“And you’re trying to tell me what, exactly?”

“Maybe nothing. Perhaps everything.”

“Hocus-pocus.”

“Come, fire brother. Risk to burn with me. Look backward to let the past come forward.”

Our banter put us into a small rhythm. In a fight against an opponent who was trying to cut you, a rhythm allowed your opponent to predict intent. Experienced kendoists avoided both long rhythms and repeating shorter rhythms that contained identical four-and-five-stroke combinations. Large rhythms contained shouts and clashes. Small rhythms acted swiftly with small groupings. Using a rhythm different from your enemy tangled his or her offensive ability while deciphering their defensive skills. Basic bushido wisdom. Kira was not trying to best me with this rhythm.

Our small rhythm was for my benefit, to help me focus, to let me empty myself of thought. She was still playing sensei. My training was nowhere near her level. Back and forth, we sent out feelers ― blows at full speed without deception or combining strikes. I could see the familiar oily pools at the centre of Kira’s eyes. Her pupils were nearly the same colour as her corneas. They reminded me of solar flares. Kira’s beliefs were not mine, but I was intrigued. And, of course, there was that familiarity we shared. I had never admitted to owning that feeling.

How did she know?

Kira’s sword sang down from on high, issued from eagle’s nest, full of power and speed. The grooves in the blade that channelled blood away gave her blade a voice as it keened through the air. In the next half heartbeat, mine answered. Our strikes and blocks were reflexive. She easily caught my blade and deflected it with a flick of her wrist. I flowed to the side as she pivoted, extending her step and arms ― a ballerina reaching for a lover to bestow a black widow kiss. Too late, I had moved out of range. Steel flashed by, missed by three inches, by a mile in bushido terms. Kira circled on the balls of her feet.

Confidence, grace and lethal sex appeal cloaked her. Small, high perky breasts with wine-coloured nipples pushed against the sheer fabric of her light cotton undershirt. Muscular and tapered legs floated her across the floor while silky coal-black hair streamed down her back, flaring out like a wave behind her when she moved quickly. Her full lips pressed together with the corners turned slightly down. Recognizing Kira’s emptiness helped me to achieve mine.

Viewing her harmonious perfection always came as a surprise when my empty mind snapped into place. Whenever I achieved less, my taste buds burst, my hearing turned acute and my sight became eagle vision. It mimicked an adrenaline surge without the rush and only the benefit of heightened senses and energized muscles. I had become a bushido hippy. Now I could see cherry fire leaping in her eyes as she went into the fire stance to issue hidari kesagiri, the downward diagonal cut to split me open from right shoulder to left hip if I failed to execute block. Chilli pepper hot intent was like a flower opening, joyful, triumphant to watch. Kira’s fire spirit was an intensity of will and spirit combined.

We were each other’s reflection.

That was our connection.

It was child’s play to turn the blow aside and return to being passive. Passive in posture but aggressive in mind invited strikes. Repeated strikes revealed weaknesses. The only weakness Kira had ever shown were those I created through subterfuge or by being faster. Remaining passive allowed me to become intimate with her rhythm and energy while conserving mine. Intensity, fire in the eyes, in the spirit, but not in posture. The danger rested in my ability to block and move. Failure could result in injury or death if mortal strikes penetrated. My game plan was the equivalent of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope, of leaning against the ropes absorbing the opponent’s blows until an opening presented itself. Nothing mystical at all. I was the weaker opponent. If I took the offensive, she would beat me quickly. If I used too much of my greater strength, Kira would turn it against me. I needed to draw her out, to encourage a mistake and to wear her down. Kira knew my options for victory were few. She would attempt to rush my rhythm.

Kenjutsu was a chess match.

“Come Blossom. Show yourself to me.”

“Just because you’re empty does not safeguard you from my sting.” She unleashed a seven-blow combo. “I burn like you. Our intensity is centuries old. Use your inner eye to view my true form. Trust yourself. Show me true form and you will recognize your past. Let go and you will obtain.”

Kira struck low and high, unleashing and flowing from strike to feint and short and long releases. Step after step she forced me backwards, my katana barely protecting me from her yearning blade. And then the point of her sword, kissaki, stopped a bit left of my sternum, no more than a hairsbreadth from my heart. Were I to breathe too deeply, the point of her sword would draw blood. Three inches deeper and it would skewer my heart. I went statue-still. Blade deflection allowed Kira to use her superior skill and experience to defeat my greater strength. A tight grin pressed her lips white. We nodded once, stepped back and then bowed to the other.

Almost immediately, she unleashed five quick strikes. As she struck, I moved to laterally, blocking and flowing to my right, to her weak side, which reduced the strength of her assault, which forced her legs to take additional steps otherwise unneeded had I angled toward her power and closer to her blade. At the end of a seven-blow combination, my guard dropped a few inches. Kira came in warily. Tsuki, a thrust to my shoulder set up a crosswind to my ribs. Long black hair streamed out on a sheet of fire as it floated behind her. She’s come in too fast. Sharp and shiny steel flamed close enough for me to sense its presence mere centimetres from my skin. As she began her left to right cut, I rolled to the side until I was nearly beside her. Rather than block, I slid forward over hot coals, smooth and natural until I was a half-step beyond her.

Releasing from high to low, I swung down as I stepped past her. At the last instant, I turned my blade so the flat side would connect with her backside and hamstring like a paddle. As Kira recognized her mistake. While my narrow male hips gave me unmatchable foot speed to position myself, she dropped to one knee facing forward and whipped her blade up over her head and down until it pointed at the ground behind her back. Our blades clanged as she blindly blocked my strike using instinct alone. I flowed and slid through another step to put me out of reach as Kira’s blade performed a roundhouse crosswind.

“You executed take-fist-on-shoulder while walking on flames through hiraki-ashi, the sidestep. Hints of your old self shine through. You’ve always been faster footed. For only one life you adapt and combine well. Where did you learn to do that? Can you remember?”

That last manoeuvre had been an automatic response. Instinctive. No memory of its genesis existed. Further introspection became impossible when Kira unleashed two high strikes and then feinted left to right to release dragon from water. Blocking low, I slid through the exchange into kami-hasso, sword coiled high in a batter’s stance. Cocked over my shoulder, it quivered, yearning to be set loose. Kira’s blade halted. Had she continued, I would have slipped beneath. I had found the answer to her most effective weapon. When I became willing to be cut, the opening to cut her appeared. My blade would be faster by blink, her strike diffused as I moved through to the end of my strike. We hit a draw.

“Living at one’s potential is to live without fear or regret,” I told her without pride, but as a simple truth that small children who played games with all their heart already knew, but which I had forgotten.

“Fourth Scroll lives within you, Bruce. Come, surrender true name. Burn with me. Kire! Unleash your spirit and claim your soul.”

Released from upon high, her blade hummed and sang through the air, clanging when it collided with mine. From left to right and back again my katana sought her power, testing her strength and speed until each of us felt my superior strength draining hers. Energy hot with qi and stubborn spirit flowed out of her. Now she had become dangerous. For her to delay would only advantage my strategy. Now she must strike.

Kire!” I shouted, uncoiling and pushing Kira off-balance with the fury of my cut. Fear of harm, or of harming disappeared.

There was only our dance, nothing except flashing katanas.

Nothing but spiritual life in death.

“I see you, Blossom.”

“You see your reflection.”

Kira swung tbikomi-dō (torso cut). Instincts moved my limbs, letting me slide into suriage-waza, using rising-slide defection technique as I drifted in for a strike. Her sword sang high and flowed into kamae, into guard position before I could take advantage of suki, the opening.

“Brother, there was a time when the best we achieved were draws. Do you not remember?”

Perspiration poured down my chest. Deep breaths calmed my pulse as we circled. From out of nowhere, Kira issued crosswind at full speed, without a drop in strength, though her breathing was faster and harder. I swung out and away over hot coals, hiraki-ashi, sliding sideways to issue migi kesagiri. Kira rolled out of reach, blade coiled high, holding it tight to her neck, pointing straight out. Fiery determination, hi-no-kamae, lighted her being. Her intensity, her fire spirit, opened and folded back upon itself, tensing and then relaxing. Such beauty and grace as I have never previously beheld. She drove forward from her back leg, front leg coming down toward the ground. When I moved away using walks on water to let her sword pass, she opened her stance.

Power shouting qi, Kira twisted her body flat, sword held in one hand only to perform tsuki, lunging straight for me, thrusting so kissaki, the tip, threatened to pierce one side of my ribcage and exit the other. I swivelled my shoulder outside and raised my blade between us inside. High-pitched whining screamed defiance as metal careened along metal, but not before monouchi, the first few inches of her sword sliced a four-inch rend in my keiko-gi. Across my right deltoid, a shallow swathe of skin zippered open. I did not even feel the sting; her blade was that sharp.

Now, she was mine.

Now I owned her.

In making that lunge, Kira had over-extended herself, had allowed her spirit too much expression, leaving herself vulnerable. My fist flicked out toward her left hand where it gripped the hilt. Not with crippling power to break bones, but with enough force for me to wrench her katana from a weakened grasp. The impossible had happened.

Her sword was mine!

Now I would learn her true name.

Rather than submit to my descending blades, she darted inside my arms, between the blades that I held, one in each hand. Hooking her toes behind my heels, gripping one wrist in each of her hands, Kira jolted my torso backward while ripping forward with her feet. I went down backwards, tripped, ridden like a bronco to the ground, trying not to slice open my flesh. One sword flew to the side, clattering on the maple floor. With her extra weight pressing against my chest, Kira dispatched a double impact: one from the ground when I slammed into it, and one from Kira that punched the wind from my lungs.

It was a long, long moment before I convinced my heavy chest to drag in a lungful of air. It felt like the very first breath I had ever drawn as the doctor held me upside down and slapped my backside. Another breath removed the doubt I was beginning to have about ever breathing again.

Sun-Tzu wrote, ‘A swordless swordmaster is not without weapons, since he may use his opponent’s sword.’

I had forgotten that piece of bushido wisdom.

That lousy trick would only work once, I said to myself, completely content and happy with empty bliss. My sword, its diamond-cut edge sharp enough to perform surgery, waited a centimetre from my throat. Kira sat on my chest. That extra one-hundred-and thirty pounds explained why it had been difficult to take that first breath. Looking up into her eyes, I noted cherry fire blossoms raining down within their dark depths. Extraordinarily lethal. Impossibly beautiful. Very familiar. Those eyes shimmered ancient history. Sprung from their dark depths of antiquity, an image of a wooden fortress materialized. Thousands of mutilated bodies littered the surrounding grassy hills. And then it disappeared, replaced by humble triumph emanating from Kira.

“Is this how you treat a student with two measly years of training, Fireblossom?” I asked as her father sauntered over, his hands clasped behind his back, shaking his head sadly in sensei woe.

“No, Bruce,” Kira answered catching her father’s nodding head. “You are no longer dojo student, but you will always be Zen Bushido student. Congratulations, brother. You passed.”

“But I lost­? Several times. Impressively.”

Miyamoto announced, “Terms of the challenge go beyond sword skill and who wins the duel. The fourth Scroll encourages true spirit to reveal itself. Fourth Scroll mastery is a marriage between bushido spiritual principles and the physical body. Body, spirit, mind and weapon must harmonize to become one. Only when those four elements join may the martial artist relinquish self and become complete. True warrior hopes never to strike with the sword that kills, but if he must, then he celebrates the sword that gives life since one’s vanquished opponent may now join their ancestors. How clumsy gai-jin managed to reveal true self as Flamewalker, enormous mystery. First student in seven hundred years to do so while resting on his backside.”

“Flamewalker,” I said, trying to drag a memory forward, trying to remember.

Nope.

Nothing.

What was I doing buying into hocus-pocus? The fortress image had been no more than a trick of light or mind from having had the wind knocked out of me. I began to doubt that I saw anything at all. Kira now wore a warm and friendly expression. Gone was her stoic Japanese mask. No more deception. Her true personality greeted me unabashedly. Of course, it did. We were kindred. We had stood together.

Miyamoto extended two arms and helped me up by the lapels of my shinshaga jacket. When I stood, he gruffly made a show of brushing the dust off my hakama. He shook my lapels gruffly to settle them n place. The aura in the old Samurai’s iron gaze held me spellbound.

“Bind yourself to the traditions of the Fourth Scroll and our loyalties will forever be as one.”

When I nodded understanding, Miyamoto warmly clasped my forearms in his calloused hands and nodded brusquely. If I did not know better, I would have sworn his rheumy old eyes almost turned glassy. Laughter and sparkle abounded in Kira’s expression when she stepped forward to take his place.

“For as long as the Fourth Scroll binds us, my love and loyalty are yours.” Reaching up to place one hand on either side of my head, Kira pulled my face toward hers to kiss me chastely on the lips. “Where friendship and marriage ties may last but a lifetime, spiritual unions transcends eternity. Welcome home, brother.”

Everything about the ceremony felt correct, as though we had enacted this ritual previously. Any doubt that I once possessed about the correctness found in Zen Bushido evaporated. I stood exactly where I needed to stand. All roads led to this spiritual intersection. For the first time in memory, destiny awaited me. Once upon a time, I had looked to the Armed Forces to bestow this privilege, but I had defaulted on my oath. Now, I had earned a second chance to serve a larger purpose.

“Thank you. I don’t have the words.”

“Ha! Two miracles in one day!” commented Miyamoto. “Let history record Flamewalker’s first spoken wisdom!”

“Let me see to that cut,” instructed Kira tugging me by the arm to the first aid station. “Educated father correct. A wiser student would not attempt blade deflection using the shoulder. Your movements are too slow and dull for true name. Mudslogger better suited. Wait, speed-tortoise faster than Flamewalker.” She laughed teasingly and examined the knife wound. “You fine, Bruce. No stitches. Just skin sliced, no muscle tissue. Eight or ten butterfly band-aids only.”

“Will you teach me how to execute that qi lunge?”

Kira said, “It would be my pleasure. This day on, we practise kata with true self revealed. If you work hard, everything you fight not to remember may one day surface. Not happen overnight. Only those who follow the Way have honour of remembrance. Even then, not all memories revealed. No matter what, your Zen Bushido technique will improve markedly.”

“Gai-jin live. Not so terrible,” Miyamoto said. “He will never discover ancestors’ purpose for him if he doesn’t learn to anticipate fragile daughter’s qi tsuki.”

“Do I at least get a T-shirt that says welcome to the club?”

Miyamoto snorted to hide his grin and Kira laughed her support.

Just when I was beginning to warm up to Miyamoto Sasamori, he called back over his shoulder, “If you no going to die this minute, clean floor first and put away equipment. Membership requires continued commitment. Most fantastical sensei no deserve sloth for mediocre student who spends too much time resting on floor leaking blood. Grievously hard work to train in this horrible filth. What for you move so slowly and bleed on dojo floor? Most bad reflection on overworked sensei. Grievously difficult to acquire worthy students.”

As the Miyamoto Sasamori headed through the curtain into their private quarters executing his side-to-side bow-legged penguin wobble, shaking his head in full sensei woe, I called out, “What kind of name is Miyamoto anyway? Sounds like an import!”

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