Middle Position
By Kakita Noriyuki, Shugyosha
(As translated by Jim Gallant)

The following is a letter written by me to my master, Kakita Toshimoko.

Beams of sunshine broke through the canopy of leaves on the tree behind me. I stood before my opponent and took my stance, ready to draw. The Dragon samurai took his stance five paces away. The breeze blew our kimono lightly, cooling us on the meadow outside the Kakita Academy. Focusing on my breathing, I put all things on my mind aside. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I made my draw, striking out sideways. The Dragon clan samurai drew, bringing his sword down from above. I slid sideways with my strike, moving forward toward my opponent. My opponent spun in place, adjusting his cut to an angle. Suddenly, I was past himů

A leaf fell to the ground.

Spinning, I moved my sword to the middle position, hilt held at my obi, blade held up at a slight angle. Before me, the Dragon samurai stood motionless. He held his sword loosely at his side. Slowly, he turned around, facing me. He nodded to me, saluting my skill and my victory. He fell to his knees, clutching his abdomen. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I sheathed my sword, flicking the blade to clean the blood off the blade. I fell to my knees and sat on my feet. I bowed to him, thanking him for the lesson.

A breeze blew through the meadow.

The Dragon looked to me. Nodding his head, he said, "Thank you for the lesson. Now I can go to my ancestors." He smiled and, closing his eyes, he breathed no more. Slowly he fell over and was caught by his second, his kaishaku. He was gently laid down and arranged for travel. Two heimin came with a litter and laid the Dragon on it. Slowly they lifted him and carried him away. My kaishaku, Kakita Kenshin, waited for me to rise. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I bowed to the departing Dragon samurai and rose, adjusting my kimono. Kenshin walked to me. He bowed to me and I bowed back.

A bird sang in the distance.

Kenshin and I started back to the Academy. We left the field and stepped onto a stone-lined path. We walked in silence, unwilling to speak. An old monk follower of Shinsei sat on the grass off to the side of the path. He bowed as we passed and I stopped to return the bow. Kenshin continued for a step or two then stopped himself.

"On a bright spring day
Is Paradise discovered
By the fallen leaf?

So said the monk to me.

I bowed to the monk. "Thank you oku-san, I think I understand." I returned to Kenshin and resumed our walk back to the Academy. Kenshin looked askance at me.

"Please remind me to write a letter of thanks to the Mirumoto Fencing Academy, Ken-kun," I asked.

"What did the monk say, Noriyuki-san?" asked Kenshin, utterly confused.

"My form was bad, Ken-kun," I said. "I lost the bout."

"But you won the bout, how could your form be wrong?" Kenshin looked perplexed by the statement.

"The Dragon's form was perfect. In his perfection, the Dragon found enlightenment. I was unready for the bout. His skill greatly outmatched mine; I should have known when we took our stance. He let me win. It was the only way I could survive the encounter. He did it so I could learn more and become enlightened before I die. The Dragon saved my life by seeing my folly in challenging him." I bowed my head in respect to the memory of the Dragon samurai.

Kenshin's eyes widened at my statement. "I am sorry, Noriyuki-san."

"For what?" I looked at Kenshin, smiling. "He honored me by giving me a second chance. Isn't it a glorious morning?"