118 Smallest of Saplings Pt.3

    "Tell me, Chim, how long has it been since you started learning the way of the sword?"

    As the pair continued their ascent across the mountainous terrain, the sound of young boys' grunting and the clashing of wooden swords echoed in the background. Jimin peered behind him to see a cluster of boys in bright amber robes relentlessly training under the sun. Equipped with only their wooden swords, the young boys exchanged blows with each other, their movements swift and lethal despite almost being performance-like.

    Jimin clenched his fist at the sight. Why couldn't he fight like that? "It has been five years, Teacher" he distractedly replied.

    "And this would be... your tenth summer?"

    Jimin nodded.

    "I see." The elder's lips were set in a hard line as he followed Jimin's gaze. From where they stood, they had a clear view of the temple and the large expanse of green that surrounded their home. The elder slowly turned away to continue with their hike. "Come now, Chim. We still have quite the distance to walk."

    Obediently, Jimin followed the elder as he led him deeper into the mountains. As they trekked further into the foliage, eventually straying from the usual path, Jimin began contemplating his earlier performance. Flashbacks of how the taller boy managed to strike a powerful blow replayed in his mind. The sensation of his opponent's bloodthirst aimed at him; the image of his wooden sword raised; the sound of his battle cry...

    The hair on Jimin's arms rose as his memories all converged into one.

    I am weak.

    Jimin shook his head fervently. It was only then did he notice that the monk was no longer in front of him. "Teacher?" Jimin inclined his head only to be greeted by a short bamboo stick being thrown at his feet. He jumped backward just in time.

    "Pick that up."

    Glancing up, Jimin found the elderly monk grasping a branch as if it were a sword. Against the backdrop of bamboo trees, the monk was poised ready for a fight.


    "Come, Chim," the elder beckoned. "Attack me."

    Reluctantly, Jimin lifted the bamboo stick from the ground while eyeing the elder warily. He had never seen the monk fight before. From his composed expression and kind features, Jimin had always perceived him to be docile compared to the other elderly monks at the temple. And it didn't help that his bony frame made him look like a fragile twig adorned in vibrant cloth. As Jimin reached for the bamboo stick, he spoke, "Teacher, I do not really wish to-"

    But as soon as he had a firm grip on the branch, the monk charged at him, startling Jimin into a defensive position. In an instance, the sound of wood splintering echoed in the forest as their bamboo sticks collided. Birds flapping their wings filled the silence as Jimin and the monk remained engaged in a deadlock, both refusing to bow down.

    Stunned by the monk's strength, Jimin shifted his weight against the elder, whose bamboo stick was pressing down against his. While his features contorted in strained effort, the monk, in comparison, was cool and composed. How is he so strong when he looks so feeble? Was the thought that passed through Jimin's mind. His scrawny arms, though not much different from the monk's, quivered against the force while the elder remained unfazed as if he were leisurely leaning against a wall.

    "Not bad, Chim" the elder complimented as he amusedly watched him struggle. "But you are too rigid." In one swift motion, the elder relaxed his arms causing Jimin to fall forward. But before Jimin had time to react, the monk deflected his stick to the side, leaving Jimin's head vulnerable for an attack. Jimin took in a sharp intake of breath as the monk aimed his stick right in between his eyes. "Again, you are leaving yourself wide open." Slowly, the monk lowered his pretend sword so that it was no longer directed at Jimin. "You still have much to learn."

    "I know I do" Jimin snapped once he had recovered his footing. He glared down at his hand which carried the bamboo stick before dropping it to the floor. "But no matter how hard I try, I always lose." Jimin kicked the branch out of frustration.


    "Everyone my age has already become so accomplished" Jimin spoke bitterly. "Even the younger boys, who are three summers my junior, have improved more than I." With tears of frustration, Jimin mumbled, "Maybe the other boys are right. Not only am I a runt but I will never amount to anything."

    The monk eyed Jimin pityingly. He was about to offer him words of comfort when he suddenly thought of a better idea. Wordlessly, he began walking away.

    Upon hearing the monk shuffling, Jimin hastily wiped his tears. How embarrassing, he thought. I must appear childish to Teacher. A dull pain squeezed in his chest. Maybe he agrees with the others... Maybe he thinks I am useless too.

    But before Jimin's train of thought could spiral downhill even further, the monk spoke, "Chim, come and look over here."

    Jimin directed his attention towards the monk and begrudgingly trudged over to join him. "What are we looking at, Teacher?"

    "These bamboo trees" the monk replied as he gestured to the wall of green around them.

    Jimin observed his surroundings and took note of the tall, green stalks that seemed to reach the sky.

    "They are tall and majestic, are they not?"

    Jimin hummed in response.

    The monk continued, "These bamboo trees have stood proud and tall for many years. They have withstood countless storms brought by Mother Nature's elements and still, they continue to grow and thrive in spite of every obstacle they face." He peered down at the young boy. "You and the bamboo tree are a lot alike."

    At this Jimin was puzzled. "Huh? How so?"

    "Like all life, everything started out as small." The elder crouched down to carefully unveil a bamboo sapling on the ground. "Even though some took root earlier than others, not all reach their full potential until much later." He met eyes with Jimin. "And with time and nurture, the smallest of saplings will grow to be the tallest of trees." The monk stood up and pointed at the tall bamboo in front of him. "Chim, like these bamboo trees, you have yet to reach your fullest potential. It will take time, so you must not be too hard on yourself."

    "But how long will it take until I am good enough?" Jimin asked. "I feel as though I am being left behind."

    "To live by the sword may not be the path for all." The elder reached for the bamboo stick that Jimin had kicked earlier. "But that does not mean you are without talent." He offered the bamboo stick to him.

    Jimin uncertainly accepted it.

    "Chim, your path is deeply entwined with the need to master all forms of combat." He gestured at the bamboo tree. "Like the bamboo, the path you will embark on in later life is full of battles that even the sword alone cannot conquer." He smiled as he prepared himself for another fight. "And as your teacher, it is my job to discover which form of combat will allow you to flourish faster..."
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