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"Jian Dao, or Sword Philosophy, is much like any other philosophy; it can't be described with simple words. It needs to be understood through experience, observation, and perception."
Grace sat in the Lotus position, cross-legged to encourage proper breathing and foster physical stability. At sixteen years old, she had mastered much of the physical side of Jian Dao, but she had only scratched the surface of the spiritual side.
Fay held a long bamboo shoot behind her back. She didn't make eye contact with Grace while she spoke; instead, she surveyed her surroundings. As always, they trained at dusk, when the last sliver of day set under the tree line. Fay seemed to be actively examining everything, taking it all in. Her focus darted from the fleeting flash of a firefly to the silhouette of the pale moon rising in the sky that had yet to blacken with night. Grace concentrated on her breathing and absorbed every word, chewing and tasting every syllable in her mind.
"You have extensive knowledge and practice in Jian, swordsmanship, but there are four other arts that make up Sword Philosophy. In time you will learn to master calligraphy, zither, chess, and painting.
With the bamboo shoot, Fay begin tracing in the dirt.
"Calligraphy is the art of breathing life into written words," said Fay as she traced a curved symbol that resembled a budding flower.
"Zither emphasizes the artistic, musical nature of Sword Philosophy," she drew a rectangular symbol with five straight lines dividing the center.
"Chess helps the swordsman practice discipline and patience because learning is a gradual process," the symbol for chess was a simple circle with a square in the middle.
"Painting focuses on tradition because the roots of Jian Dao extend back through centuries," the symbol for painting reminded her of a tree with no leaves. "You didn't know it when you were a child, but you were already practicing a sacred art, even if you were just doodling," Fay smiled.
"These arts require more thinking, attention to detail, and spiritual connection than physical sword technique. They represent a well-rounded warrior capable of both martial and civil responsibilities. There is strong emphasis on balance between hard and soft, power and finesse."
The Way of the Sword provided Grace with an outlet for her energy. Instead of running, climbing, and wandering around aimlessly, she devoted her attention to mastering every form and set. It was as if learning Sword Philosophy harnessed all of Grace's untapped energy and focused it on one thing. The results spoke for themselves. Fay knew her daughter was a prodigy after the first week of training. The girl instinctually picked up the basics like footwork and stances. What struck Fay was how quickly the girl understood more complex concepts. Every time she expected Grace to have trouble with a new technique, the girl always proved her wrong. Jian Dao became a source of discipline in Grace's life; it was her remedy.
Fay handed Grace the bamboo shoot, "We'll start with calligraphy."
Skeptical, Grace asked, "Don't I need paper and something to write with?"
Fay gestured to the ground, "The world is your canvas."
Her daughter rolled her eyes, "Okay, you were definitely waiting to use that one this whole time."
"Maybe," Fay grinned. Returning attention to the ground she said, "Let your creative inspiration flow. Remember, there is a close relationship between the sword and brush; they are both extensions of yourself."
Taking this into account, Grace began tracing in the dirt. She tried to make efficient, defined lines like her mother, but it was harder than she expected. The lines circled and spread from one point. Judging from the uncertain look on Grace's face, Fay concluded her idea wasn't going exactly as planned.
"Take your time. Don't rush."
"Don't worry, I'm almost done," said Grace as she added in the final touches.
Fay put a hand over her mouth to stop herself from laughing.
Shamefaced, Grace defended herself, "You know what? I was never a good artist, but I tried! I really did!"
She couldn't hold it in any longer, "So... It's an onion?"
"No, it's a sunrise!" Grace explained, "Look, there's the sun and those wavy lines are the ocean. Whenever the sun rises, it reflects off the ocean and looks like a complete circle. Give it some time, and you'll see it."
"I guess it can be considered abstract art," Fay mused.
"I'm not a fan of your sass."
"You are excellent with a sword in hand. What's so different about calligraphy? Both the art of the sword and the brush have two internals and two externals, equaling the four essentials: Form, Strength, Spirit, and Energy."
"I know, I know! I've heard this lecture a thousand times!"
Fay shook her head, "I'm not looking forward to the day when I have to teach you chess. Your patience is lacking, my esteemed daughter."
"Fine. The four essentials, please Mother, enlighten me,"
"What a lovely, polite young woman you are! Of course I'll enlighten you!
"Every brush stroke in calligraphy has a certain shape and form like that of a sword stance. The power in the hand, wrist, and forearm while holding a brush, or bamboo shoot in this case, applies to that of holding a sword. Form and strength are your two externals."
"The two Internals," she explained, "focus on the invisible that can only be sensed. A trained calligrapher can almost feel the emotion of a written character or word, and it reflects in the spirit of the piece. This is no different from a trained swordsman during practice, feeling the poetic or destructive nature of a particular stance. During writing, the controlled breathing could help steady your hand and concentrate. This is not too different from that of using a sword."
"When you say it like that, it actually makes sense," surmised Grace.
"Maybe you should listen to me more often," she smirked. "I'm going to go in and check on your father to make sure he doesn't get into trouble. I told him to fix that stove, but I don't really trust him; I feel like he's going to cause an explosion. Just take a few more cracks at calligraphy, but keep in mind what I said." Fay gave her daughter a reassuring look before she headed back to the house, her soft brown hair trailing behind her.
Fay entered the house and said, "How are you doing with that stove?"
Caught by surprise, Ren, who was tinkering inside the metal contraption, turned to look but banged his head on the top ledge. "Ouch," he winced, "would it hurt to knock?"
Even though the exchange was hilarious, Fay tried to control herself and not blatantly laugh at her husband's apparent pain. Instead, she lightly kissed his sooty cheek and examined where he hit his head. "You're going to have a nice little headache when you wake up."
He wiped his grease-smeared forehead with a rag, "I thought you were practicing with Grace."
"I was, but she doesn't really need my help for what she's doing. It's only calligraphy, so it's not like I have to monitor her every brushstroke." Fay took a long pause and then began in a serious tone; "I think we should tell her tonight."
Ren nearly choked on the water he was drinking, "Tonight?"
"Why do you think tonight is the right time all of a sudden?"
"I just...-" she trailed off. "I just think she's ready. She takes such a mature approach to training, and even if I joke with her, she has impeccable attention to detail. She didn't grow up all of a sudden, and I guess I've noticed it more and more recently, but she's not a little girl anymore."
"She approaches each lesson like an adult."
"Remember, the brush is like the sword," thought Grace.
She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and channeled her creativity. She tried to let her mind and spirit be free in an uninterrupted train of thought.
"Hmm, what is inspirational?"
"Komodo chicken wings!"
"Focus Grace. You can do this. You just need a revelation."
"My neck is itchy."
She scratched her neck. Opening her eyes, she stared at the blank patch of earth, devoid of calligraphy.
"Am I really going to attempt this?"
Her eyes darted back and forth, "Yeeaaahh, no."
Grace decided to leave and get a glass of leechee juice. She convinced herself she needed to refuel her think-tank.
"So, leechee juice, let me get some of that," said Grace as she barged into the house.
Ren and Fay sat at opposite ends of the table, and it was quiet.
Grace didn't pay notice to her parents as she poured herself a glass, chugged it, poured herself another, and chugged that one. She looked at the ring of juice at the bottom of the glass and then turned it upside down to get the last couple of drops. Wiping her mouth with her forearm, she noticed her parents out of the corner of her eye. Oddly feeling like the center of attention, she glanced around and said, "Umm, may I help you?"
"Come join us. Please, sit," said Ren.
She carelessly sauntered over and pulled herself a seat. Folding her arms, she leaned back and waited. Moments passed and she said, "What is with you guys? You seem so uptight."
"Your father and I have been discussing this ever since you were born." Fay bit her lip and looked at Ren, "Do you want to or should I tell her?"
"I can do it." Ren turned to his daughter, "There's no easy way for me to say this, but...we are going to leave the island."
The parents waited for Grace's initial reaction, but she didn't say anything so Ren continued.
"We've already made plans to board a ship that will be arriving in a month. Grace, dear, I know this made be hard for you but - "
"Mom, Dad, it's fine. Actually it's more than fine. I've always wanted to go places, see the world, all that good stuff."
"Oh, well that's, erm, great! I guess we don't have to console you or explain why this is best for the future." Fay whispered to her husband, "Didn't expect this."
"Yeah, I can't wait," Grace smiled.
"Luckily, we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to leave. Your mother and I have worked very hard for a long time because we promised we'd give you this chance. The world is a huge place, and none of us have any real idea about what's out there, but I've always wanted to travel, meet new people. What do you think? I'm just so excited," said Ren.
"I'm going to miss the friends I've made, people I've come to know, and familiar places on the island, but I think I'm ready. It's a new start," said Grace sincerely.
"Okay, this is really weird because we weren't expecting you to take this so easily. I thought you would be at least a bit upset," admitted Ren.
"You know, maybe I should be a little surprised, but for some reason I only feel content, almost enthusiastic. New places to explore: I think I can handle that."
Fay laid a hand on her daughter's shoulder, "There are so many possibilities out there. You can do anything you want. All your father and I want is for you to be safe, happy, and healthy. We want to give you the best opportunity to reach your potential, and let's be honest, your future is limited on this island."
Ren had a faraway look in his eye, "Ever since I was a little boy... - Oh never mind, neither of you want to hear my childhood recollections."
"This is true," Grace and her mother laughed. "We'll make new memories," Fay added.
Ren stood up and pushed in his chair, "Well, I'm tired of working on that stove all day, so I'm going to hit the hay. We can resume this discussion tomorrow morning." Fay followed her husband into their room, Grace heard the slight wisp of a candle going out, and then all was silent. For a few minutes, Grace sat in her chair at the wooden table, at a loss about what to think or feel, so she decided to try to sleep and see if she felt differently in the morning.
She changed out of her day clothes and into a comfortable robe. In front of her mirror, she watched her reflection mimic her movements as she undid the chopsticks keeping her hair up. Her long, white hair fell past her shoulders to the small of her back. Instinctively, she reached for the porcelain comb on her dresser and began running it through the knots. Once she was satisfied with her reflection, she yawned and turned to her bed. For a moment, she sat on the bedside before she plopped onto her back and closed her eyes.
She heard faint whispers from her parents' room.
"I'm just so happy. I never thought the day would come."
"It's like we always dreamed."
Grace smiled tenderly in the darkness. She loved knowing her parents were so excited. It's like they were still kids in a way. She knew how much they sacrificed for her. Before she went to sleep, she decided to do what she always did when good things happened: pray.
She lit six candles, placing three to her left and three to her right. The tiny flames flickered in the darkness of the room and cast warm glows. The calming incense alleviated her mind. Her soft features stared back in the dim reflection. She resumed her Lotus position, her palms facing outwards. Every time she breathed, the candlelight wavered ever so softly on the walls.
"Spirits, I've never really seen you, but I know you're there, watching over me and my family. Thank you for blessing us with so much fortune. Thank you for my amazing Dad. Even though he's a bit quirky and quite frankly freaky in his adoration of plants, he's the sweetest, most caring father I could ever ask for. He's always had my back ever since I was little, and I know he'll always support me wherever I go. Thank you for my Mom. I've never met a stronger, more beautiful woman than her. She's taught me everything I know, not just about The Way of the Sword, but also about life in general. Help me to be like her when I grow up. Also help me to not be a pain in the butt during training because she shouldn't have to deal with me when she's already given up so much; it just doesn't seem fair."
The candles seemed to glow a little brighter.
"I know I try to be tough and independent, but please be there for me, Spirits. Please watch over and guide me no matter what happens. We are about to go on a crazy journey, and I have no idea what kind of people there will be or what kind of places I'll discover. Just help me find my way so that I can be the best I can be."
Grace grinned, "I never plan prayers like this, so that's why it may seem like I'm rambling. I bet you're getting bored of listening to me, but I hope you are listening now because I really just want to say thank you for everything. This moment, right now, it's surreal. It's like the whole world has opened up, and I've never been happier; my family has never been happier. I hope one day I can go out into the world and make people feel this way, feel as blessed as I do right now."
She blew out the candles, and the smoke curled into the darkness.
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