Canto 115 – Archery Practice
The students of Ged Aero Sensei were seated on the grass in the courtyard of the Palace of 1,000 Years in a large semicircle. In the middle of the circle stood the archery sensei, Jai Chang, dressed in teal-blue Iga-shozoku ninja armor. He had his elegant handmade bow with an arrow already nocked.
“Okay, bone-headed ones, this is the first thing to know when shooting a bow. You must aim with the dominant eye. To find your dominant eye, look at the target with both eyes open. Point your pointer-finger at the bullseye. Then close the right eye. Open the right eye and close the left. One eye will move your finger off the target without having moved it at all. The other eye will leave the pointer finger aimed true to the center of the bullseye. This is your dominant eye. Your aiming eye.”
“Show us how it is done, sensei,” said Phoenix, seeming somewhat bored with it all.
Jai Chang frowned at the insolent red-haired boy. Then he aimed his bow at the target 300 yards across the courtyard. He let fly an arrow which arced straight into the center of the bullseye. Three of the students gasped audibly in a way that sounded as if they were impressed. Phoenix, Alec Songh, and Mai Ling all yawned as if they were bored beyond words.
“All right, insolent children. Who among you can do better?”
Phoenix stood and walked over to the bow master. He was lightly dressed, wearing only a loin-cover and tabi boots. He took the yumi to ya, the bow and arrow, from the master’s hand, nocked another arrow, and in a single smooth motion, lifted the bow and shot, almost without looking. The arrow plunged into the center of the bullseye so tight up against the previous arrow, one had to look carefully to see that there was more than one arrow dead center in the target.
Jai Chang frowned.
Phoenix handed the bow to Alec who immediately got off the third arrow, landing within the bullseye circle less than an inch away from the other two arrows.
Alec tried to hand the bow to Mai Ling, but she took only a single arrow out of his hands. Then she stood with the arrow in her left hand and her back to the target. She threw the arrow back over the top of her head and spiraled into the center of the target, splitting the shaft of Jai Chang’s first arrow.
“I suppose it is pointless to tell you that it is wrong to use your stupid little mind powers to do this task. The purpose is to learn precision, skill and discipline. Not to use Psion witchcraft to take the easy road.”
Phoenix glared at the bowmaster.
“I learned the way of the bow from Bone Daddy in the Black Spider Palace. Hundreds of hours of practicing with a painful slap across the face for every miss as the only reward. Alec had to endure the same. And as for Mai Ling, her skills are incredible and made all the more amazing by the practice she has been doing with me late into the evenings. We do this while everyone else is doing their Tai Chi, meditation, and prayers. Some things give greater focus to the spirit force than mere words and empty sayings.”
“Well, then, bow master, perhaps you would like to be in charge of the archery lessons. You have to learn them. It is a part of Shen Ming’s program of study for all students in the Palace.”
“Yes, happily,” said Phoenix with a voice that sounded more like sarcasm than obedience.
“Ah, I do not like what I am hearing,” said Shen Ming, the frail old man seeming to appear out of nowhere at the edge of the green. “There is no honor and respect in the voices of either the master or the student. This is not the way of the White Spider.”
“Apologies, Shen-sensei. But honor and respect have to be earned, don’t they?”
“Yes, and granted when a fine display of skill earns it. And, young master Phoenix, one must always show respect to a dedicated teacher whose very existence has earned it. Is that not so?”
Phoenix and Jai Chang both nodded agreement with eyes to the ground.
“But I would like to see the three young bullseyes help Chang-sensei to teach this class. Teaching others teaches the self more thoroughly, and this is an impressive set of skills to share with students and classmates alike.”
“Yes, Shen-sensei,” said all the students together.
“And now, Jai Chang-sama, I would speak with you further. Attend me in my office. We have much to discuss.”
As the old man who had a spotty face that looked eerily like the face of Alfred E. Neuman on the cover of Mad Magazine, walked away from the students, Shen Ming’s smile grew even broader and his eyes actually began to twinkle.