Vonnegut said that when you write a story, you should not try to open all the windows and make love to the whole world. Otherwise, your story will get pneumonia.
Every kendo practice started and ended with the zarei – two kneeling bows: first, to the spirit of the training hall, and second, to the teacher.
Kara was stepping up to the center of the dojo, holding a shinai in one hand. She was young, barely twenty, her shiny black hair pulled back to reveal an open face and wide eyes.
Standing a few paces to her left was her instructor, Takeshi, dressed in the traditional hakama, keiko, gi, tare and do. He was kneeling down, and Kara followed, bowing her head low.
The ritual was familiar to Kara. After all, the Dojo belonged to her family and she, a direct descendant of the first founder of the school, had been coming here since she was but a child.
When her father died several months ago, she had stopped coming for a while, preferring to deal with her grief in private with the rest of the family. However, after the funeral – a couple of months afterwards, as a matter of fact – the family was starting to make its demands known.
What will happen to the company? Who will take charge of the business? What about his properties in ____? Did he leave a will?
And suddenly, everyone wanted to get something, some piece of what her father left behind.
It was painful; other times, it was just revolting. So the dojo became her escape and she left both family and legal matters to her elder sister, Lu, who was better at dealing with those things anyway.
Kara opened her eyes just as Takeshi straightened, moving to face her. She likewise rose but kept to her kneeling position, turning to perform the final phase of the reigi.
The second bow to the teacher was both a show of respect and a promise to try one’s best.
Takeshi met her glance and smiled. “Gambatte yo.” A word of encouragement.
“Onegai shimasu,” she murmured, standing up. A promise.
Kakari geiko –
The goal was simple: Spot an opening. Strike without hesitation. But it was not as simple as it sounded, for each strike must follow the correct form. The teacher would not let the student strike a target unless he perfectly executed the correct striking posture.
Kara held the shinai in front her in the classic shi-sei position. When Takeshi started to move, she let her eyes follow his figure. (Metsuke, proper use of the eyes.) She steadied her legs and tightened her hold on the shinai. Be still. (Kamae, proper stance.)
He was behind her. She stepped back with her left foot. Pivot with the right. Face the opponent. (Ashi-sabaki, proper footwork.)
And then he raised the target.
Spot an opening. Don’t hesitate.
“Good work,” was his comment about an hour later when they finished practice. He was putting away the targets, piling them neatly to the side where they would not get in the way.
Taking hold of her towel folded neatly on a chair nearby, Kara dabbed delicately at the sweat running down the sides of her face. She was able to strike five targets this time. An advancement from last week’s two. But she would have been able to strike more had Takeshi not suppressed the other attacks.
Kakari geiko required flawless form in each strike made; otherwise, it was not allowed to hit the target.
This was the discipline of precision: the form, the target. Nothing else.
“Tell me what I’m doing wrong,” she told him.
Takeshi met her gaze and seemed to hesitate. Then, after seeming to mull it over, he said gently, “You put too much heart in every stroke.”
“You’re saying I’m too emotional.”
“It’s not wrong…but it affects your judgment.”
She bit her lip and looked away to one side so that the light from the open shoji of the front hall caught the side of her face. It was almost midday and a warm breeze was coming in. Soon the dojo would be filled with students, all eager to learn and make a lot of noise while at it.
“It’s today, isn’t it?” Takeshi suddenly asked, watching her closely.
Kara glanced at him.
"Lu has called a press conference. You’re announcing the donation today?”
“Is that what’s been bothering you?” He asked gently.
“It’s….” She closed her eyes for a moment. “…too much, too soon. Like they’re taking away every memory of him, piece by tiny piece….”
“He’s given away some of his properties,” he told her, “his material treasures, but his memory belongs to you and Lu and Yuan alone. That hasn’t changed, Kara.”
“Then why do I feel like it’s all being taken away?”