by Leo King

Approx. 1000 Words

The old man on the mountain sat in his usual position, watching out over the countryside and waiting for his next disciple to arrive.

For over half his lifetime, the old man had sat in that same spot and guided martial artists, soldiers, and anyone else who braved the four-day trek to his home in search of special training. Even in his twilight years, when he spent most of his days in quiet reflection, he would still regularly be interrupted by the young and the eager looking for enlightenment.

On this clear, crisp morning, much like any other, the old man was resting comfortably in a pavilion built by one of his disciples, seated on a cushion given to him by another. His eyes were closed, and slowly he breathed in and out, keeping his mind and thoughts clear.

Through the calmness of the morning air, he heard it: the sound of rock beneath boots and the panting of a person at the end of his limits. Another would-be disciple was approaching.

Slowly, the old man opened his eyes and looked down the mountain path. Coming towards him was a young man, a monk with a shaven head who wore orange robes and carried a heavy pack and a walking stick. The monk looked to be in his late teens and had that confident arrogance held by any young man who had yet to be handed his first defeat.

The old man sat there, watching and waiting in silence. The monk would be the first to speak.

The monk stopped once he was at the base of the pavilion, dropping the pack and leaning down to catch his breath. The old man still said nothing, just stared at the monk through half-lidded eyes.

Finally, the monk caught his breath, then dropped his staff and sunk to his knees. Prostrating himself before the old man, the monk said, “Master! I have traveled long and far for your wisdom! I am at the end of my training. My former masters can do no more. Please, I beg you, take me on as your disciple and teach me your greatest techniques!”

The monk remain bowed before the old man. For a long while, the old man said nothing, just staring at the monk, sizing him up. The monk had a strong-looking frame, and the muscles on his arms were well-defined. The old man surmised that the monk could be very dangerous if angered.

Slowly, the monk looked up, a confused expression on his face at the prolonged silence. The old man cracked a small smile and said, “You wish to train under me? What proof do you have that you can learn what I would teach you?”

The monk fidgeted a bit, apparently uncertain how to respond, then bowed low again. “Master! I am ready for your training! I can handle whatever hardships you give me!”

Quickly, the monk sat up and fumbled with his pack before producing large sheets of paper. Unwrapping them, he presented the old man with a dozen large dried fish, saying, “Here! I bring you gifts! Please, take me on as your disciple.”

The old man looked at the fish, then at the monk. His previous disciples had brought him similar gifts to sway his decision.

“You cannot buy wisdom with fish, young man,” said the old man, who then closed his eyes. He didn’t think of anything in particular. He already knew what he was going to decide.

The old man could hear the monk breathing anxiously. With another small smile, the old man opened his eyes and said, “Very well. I will train you. But you must follow every instruction. We must break you down and remold you until you find the enlightenment you seek.”

The monk looked elated, and started to say, “Oh, thank you master! Thank y—“

“Silence, my disciple,” commanded the old man. He then motioned behind him, towards a quaint but nice house, his home, where his former disciples had lived. The house had been improved room by room and repaired over the years. “Put your things in the guest room and then go out back. Your first task will be to break the firewood into small pieces with only your hands. As you do this, contemplate how you truly know nothing.”

The monk bowed low once again, saying, “I understand, master. I must forget all that I have learned so that you may teach me the true way.”

The old man nodded, saying, “Yes. We will remove the polluted teachings of your former masters from your heart and mind, and then replace those with the Truth. Go now.”

The monk rose up, a sense of purpose in his eyes, took his belongings and hurried inside. A moment or so later, the old man heard the sound of wood breaking, as well as the monk grunting with effort.

Closing his eyes, the old man hoped this disciple would last longer than the previous one, who discovered his personal enlightenment after only a few days. He really needed the roof repaired.

He had the routine down to a science. Give the disciples ridiculous amounts of tasks and that, combined with the thin air of the mountain, would make them come to whatever important conclusions they needed to come to in order to complete their training. All the old man had to do was speak wise sayings and occasionally correct them for random things.

“I think with this one, I will go the route of how the grasshopper must learn to crawl before it can jump. That works.”

The old man on the mountain sat in his usual position, watching out over the countryside and waiting for his next disciple to arrive.

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