They sit on the edge of a small patio, attached to the body of the dojo and facing the waterfall, the forest above it. The town’s wall, tall stalks of bamboo that has yellowed with age, terminates at the woods’ edge. Kiori dangles his legs in the air, kicks them back and forth with the impatient energy of all children. He looks up at the waterfall, over to the trees and down the road in turn, his attention never remaining in one place for long. His father simply stares straight ahead, feet planted, but knee twitching uneasily.
“You’ve fallen behind in your training, again.”
Kiori’s legs stop moving, then begin again with increased speed and intensity, but his eyes are focused straight down at the stone walkway. They remain there, as though stuck, while his father takes the rare opportunity—his youngest son, listening!—to continue speaking.
“Practice is important for everyone, Kiori. It’s the only way we get better.”
“Why should I get better?”
He is visibly taken aback by his son’s answer.
“Father, Eiji and Akira are both better than me, better than I’ll ever be. It comes so easily to them, but it’s a struggle for me to learn even the most basic kata. Why shouldn’t I find something to which I’m better suited, leave the fighting to them?”
They’re his older brothers, true. The thought raises questions in Jin’s mind that he’d been holding back. He has two tremendously gifted, loyal sons who will carry on the family style and name when he has passed. What is truly left for his youngest child?
“Who put these ideas in your head, Kiori?”
The boy shrugs.
“It’s just what makes sense. I’m the slow one, the awkward one. If it ever came down to it and the clan was left to me alone… What could I possibly handle that Eiji and Akira couldn’t?”
The sun begins its decline, downward arc leaving a trail of light through the sky. Has he truly been looking so long as to see that? Jin shakes his head, puts a hand on Kiori’s back and stands. The boy looks up at him—he smiles—and hops down from the patio, joining his father. They walk to their home, the clan manse, past the trees whose leaves flaunt the richly colored foliage of autumn, into a small shrine set in the rear of the grounds, chiseled into the side of the sheer cliff-face that forms one of their natural borders.
Jin stops at the threshold, catches his son’s hand and holds him back, releases the arm and bows low from the waist. Kiori does so in turn and they enter. They light lanterns, thin rice paper diffusing the light and bathing the simple interior in soft, dim tones. It is most plain, save for the statue at its innermost point. The intricate detail is the work of a master, casting a man’s body as accurately in stone as it had been in life. Perhaps superior, even, as the countenance of the statue never changes, maintains an eternal, beatific gaze of supreme comfort and inner peace.
“This, Kiori, is why you must learn.”
The boy cocks his head to the side, confused.