In this tale, there was a place of white sand surrounded by bonsai trees and thickets of bamboo. Grooves had been combed into the sand. They ran parallel with one another, sometimes making straight paths, sometimes curving. Sometimes they outlined large rocks like frozen ripples. Though, the majority of the surface remained undisturbed.
Out of respect for this tranquility, Jirou’s feet never left the small round stones that formed a segmented path across the sand. He was leaving the center of this dry white yard, heading for the edge, when someone scolded him from behind.
“Take your foot from there.”
It was no shout, but the calm authority voiced caused Jirou to pause, either foot poised on a separate stone. The one who spoke walked the same path toward him, each step a light footfall, giving away no sound.
“You do not walk according to its discipline.”
Jirou looked down at the path of rocks laid out ahead of him. “A path laid in stone?”
“That’s right.” The one who insisted authority was much older than Jirou, a man with long white hair and a beard. Dressed in a similar kimono, the old man’s bare feet gripped each stone in silence, the wide ends of his lower garment sweeping along either side, totally engulfing his foot and the stone, nearly sweeping at the sand below. Yet, nothing was disturbed. “Stone cannot be moved, its surface changed only by the unavoidable harshness of nature, and that is over time. Yet, it remains in place, it remains a stone, enduring the harshness.”
Yet to turn and face the older man, Jirou responded with, “And you’re saying man cannot move stone? Yet, doesn’t this place contradict your claim? And this is your garden. Your garden of sand. And what is sand, but small stones? Is it not your practice to move the sand about with little effort? Even your purpose for doing so is to adapt to wisdom, yet, does not the nature of stone reflect stubbornness? You yourself break stubbornness here. Not only do you move the sand, but also these very stones to your whims.”
The older man stopped with three stones separating himself from Jirou. “I see you misunderstand the core of what I’ve taught you. Adaptation is a tool of the samurai. This is true, but it is not an excuse to rationalize one’s departure from discipline.”
Jirou lifted his head, gazing into his thoughts, “There are many disciplines. Why do you think that is?”
The old man’s face tightened, “You would mock the very core of your livelihood and before the one who taught you?”
Having yet to face the old man, Jirou responded with, “I am before you, but I do not face you. I face a certain direction, a path, my back to you.”
“Turn and face me!” the old man shouted. His head and shoulders shuttered with his rage, but his body remained balanced upon the stones.
“I do not wish to confront you, but merely to walk forward upon the path I see before me.” Jirou said.
“You are full of yourself!” the old man shuddered again. “To think you are above that which you have not fully learned? Who is master here?”
“You are master of a discipline I do not follow.” Jirou offered.
The old man arched an eyebrow and offered a slanted grin, baring his teeth as he spoke, “So. You would become your own master? As an instructor, I have full confidence in what I teach. To accept another discipline as superior would be a disgrace!”
Jirou lifted his eyes skyward, “Disgrace is the loss of ego. Does not the ego challenge us every day? Is it not the purpose of your discipline to chasten one’s ego? To transcend?”
The old man’s shoulders rose as his head shrank down between them. “Then face me. Let me show you the chastening of my discipline. Expose your ego to me, and I will show you what is superior.”
“That is interesting.” Jirou said, lowering his eyes. “So be it. I will face you, but know that it is merely me presenting my ego to you.” He pivoted on the ball of his right foot and the heel of his left foot, twisting to the left to face the old man. “You may see my eyes, but no matter which direction, they always see my path.”
The old man’s hard eyes seared in their sockets as he faced-off with the strange tranquility that floated in Jirou’s eyes.
“Your soul wanders.” the old man said. “Draw your sword. I will cleave from you that excess energy. It has misguided you.”
“If you wish to see my soul,” Jirou said, and rested his right hand upon the handle of his sword. “I will take the time to bare it, but know that you might misunderstand its definition.”
He slowly pulled his sword free of its scabbard. The old man gripped his sword and unsheathed it without delay. He then held it before him in both hands, the blade angled upright, his knees bent.
Jirou only stood upright, relaxed, and held his sword in his right hand, but instead of angling it upward, he held it horizontally before him, as though it was on display. The old man looked from Jirou’s eyes to the calm blade, back to Jirou’s eyes, and when he looked at the blade again, he shuddered, baring his gritted teeth, raised his sword high, and dashed forward.
The sand below remained undisturbed as the old man’s feet took hold of the next two stones without so much as a whisper of flesh against rock, and then he swept his sword straight down.
The only sound was that of singing metal. Jirou felt the jolt in his hand whenever the two swords connected for the briefest of seconds, and the tip of the old man’s sword halted two inches away from the sand below. Not a single grain moved. Silence, which only moved a toe’s-length aside from the moment took its place once more.
Then it bowed out again when the top half of Jirou’s sword stabbed the tranquil surface of the white sand a distance from the two men. The old man’s eyes never left Jirou’s whose calm posture perched upon the two stones remained unchanged. Even though he now held only half of his sword, his arm remained extended before him.
The old man’s eyes widened at the sight. “Look at the tool in your hand.” he said without straightening from his finishing posture. “Its stature is wanting.”
His expression unmoved, Jirou asked, “Is it?”
“You cannot redefine the tool’s nature. It was made to be one thing.”
“So is the stone,” Jirou responded, “and yet nature chastens it.”
The old man straightened slightly, “You have been chastened, but by my hand. Man passes knowledge to another man. Man explains the nature of things to another man.”
“But nature is a teacher, too.” Jirou said.
“I have explained the nature of the tool here,” the old man said, “because your soul has wandered.”
Still extending his broken sword forward, Jirou asked, “Do you think my eyes have strayed from my path?”
In one motion, the old man took the final stone that put him face-to-face with Jirou. “No,” he growled, “I believe you have killed yourself!”
With his free hand, he took the right side of Jirou’s collar and yanked it downward. He then grabbed the left side and yanked it downward, exposing Jirou’s chest. He yanked either side down one more time, forcing Jirou’s arms downward, exposing his belly. When he finished, the old man looked up at Jirou.
“The appearance of one with a single act left to restore his honor! Now you hold in your hand the right sized tool to employ that act! And, no!” With his free hand, the old man snatched the scabbard from Jirou’s belt, brandishing it before his face. “Your soul will have no place of rest! Not on the path you see! You will be seen, this ego of yours!” He shoved the scabbard closer to Jirou’s face. “This is a resting place for a specific tool. You do not posses such a tool! It will remain an empty haven while your disgraced soul wanders.” He pointed at Jirou’s belly. “There is only one resting place for your soul now!”