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Jumper Without A Cause (Jumpchain Creative Mode)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Leingod, Nov 4, 2017.

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  1. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Well damn, swell my head some more, why don't you?:oops:

    Seriously though, thanks a lot for the feedback. Any constructive feedback is great for my drive to keep writing, and I'm really glad to hear you're enjoying it so far.

    Though I think maybe "seamless part of the plot" might be stretching it with how coincidental I made Ensei's first run-in with Ragnarok.
     
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  2. SonOfNenji

    SonOfNenji Aimless Wanderer

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    Pfff~

    This is normal for shonen or anime. It's actually a good thing in a story like this as it's more faithful to the original and adds to the seamlessness I mentioned earlier.

    Everything is going according to keikaku. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
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  3. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Ken'ichi, pt. 4
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    ‘Crap, I knew it was too good to be true when Miu asked to go shopping with her!’ Ken’ichi thought to himself. First Ensei decided to butt in on their trip and force Ken’ichi to carry the huge amounts of junk food he was buying, and now this!

    “This” being the dozen Ragnarok goons that had apparently found him totally on accident, which meant now he couldn’t even go shopping with Miu again once word got out!

    “Oof!” Lost in his own thoughts, Ken’ichi wasn’t able to dodge the fist of the group’s leader, who seemed to have some kind of boxing experience, given how similar his stance was to Tsukuba’s.

    “Man, you sure can take a hit, Shirahama,” the guy said, shaking his hand. “Think I messed my hand up more than your face, though it’s hard to tell with a face like that.”
    [​IMG]

    “Oh, ha-ha,” Ken’ichi said sarcastically, correcting his stance and focusing on his opponent now that his head was back in the game.

    “You know, Shirahama, we’re a lot alike,” the guy suddenly said without prompting. “I can tell you’ve put the work in, you’ve got the skills to be a big deal, but you don’t really have any rep yet through no fault of your own.

    “I’m the same way. But once I take you in to Kisara, I’ll be replacing that punk Koga as part of the Three-Man Army, and then everyone’s gonna know the name ‘Furukawa Takashi’!”

    “Are you done yet?” Ken’ichi asked, a little annoyed by the monologue. “I really don’t care about your career aspirations.”

    “Actually, one last thing,” Furukawa said. “A question, actually.”

    “… Yeah?”

    “Who the hell are those freaks of nature!?” he screamed, pointing to where Miu and Ensei were crushing Furukawa’s comrades with contemptuous ease. Miu, in fact, sprang into a handstand to knock the wind out of a downed thug and then launch herself feet-first at another even as he said it, while Ensei was giving one thug pointers while the guy completely failed to touch him. In all, eight of the eleven other gang members were already on the ground.

    “Jeez, it hasn’t even been a minute!” Ken’ichi exclaimed. ‘Aw man, it’s one thing to be shown up by Miu, but if this keeps up there’s no way Ensei won’t rub it in that I didn’t even beat one guy!’ he thought to himself.

    Seeing Ken’ichi looked to be distracted again, Furukawa threw a right cross at Ken’ichi’s head, only for Ken’ichi to do the same thing without noticing his opponent’s attack.

    Ken’ichi took a step back from the blow, touching a hand to his stinging cheek. Furukawa, on the other hand, took several woozy steps to regain his footing, one hand clenched to a bleeding nose.

    “Blood…?” he muttered to himself, looking down at his fingers, stained with red. Suddenly, he started screaming as though he was dying.

    Ken’ichi blinked in surprise. “Umm… are you oka-”

    “I’m bleeding! You bastard, I’m bleeding! I’ll kill you!” Furukawa screamed. A manic gleam entered his eye as he pulled out-

    “Is that a knife!?” Ken’ichi screamed, staring with utter terror at the short length of sharpened steel in Furukawa’s hand. ‘No, it’s okay, I can just block it and then-’

    Ken’ichi’s mind, and his body, froze in utter shock as Furukawa lunged forward with the knife. He almost wondered if he’d see his life flash before-

    “What kind of half-assed grip is that?” Ensei said as he kicked the underside of Furukawa’s hand, sending the knife flying up into the air. Without looking at it, he caught it by the handle.

    “Uh… what?” Furukawa asked, his brain seeming to have shut off completely from what had just happened.

    “Really cheap quality, too,” Ensei continued, looking at the knife critically. “You don’t have a clue how to take care of it, either.”

    “G-give that back!” Furukawa demanded, starting to realize what was happening.

    “Why? You clearly don’t know how to use the damn thing. Do you have any idea how stupid it is to pull a knife you don’t know how to use in a street fight?” Ensei demanded. “You’re a danger to yourself and others with this thing, swinging it around like you’re trying to swat a fly.”

    “Listen here, you-”

    There was a loud crunch as Ensei folded up the knife and smashed it hard into Furukawa’s face, breaking his nose and sending ribbons of blood through the air.

    As Furukawa clutched at his broken nose and cried out in pain, Ensei hooked a leg so that he fell to the ground when he staggered backwards.

    Wordlessly, Ensei took the knife out again, pressed the flat of the blade up against the side of a nearby traffic light, and started applying pressure. Within seconds, the blade snapped loudly.

    “See what I mean about the quality?” he asked, holding up the now-broken knife. “If this happened in a fight, you’d take someone’s eye out, probably your own.”

    “Ken’ichi, are you okay!?” Miu called out, running over after finishing off the last of the Ragnarok thugs and seeing the still visibly frightened Ken’ichi.

    “Y… yeah, Miu, I’m fine,” Ken’ichi said shakily. “I just… I just almostdiedholycrap-!!!!

    ---X---

    “… and that’s why Ken’ichi’s moping in the corner,” I concluded, biting into a “pizzaman,” which was apparently nikuman (meat buns) with the meat replaced by cheese and tomato sauce; it tasted pretty good, though I decided that I preferred real pizza. Thankfully, I was able to get it without mayonnaise.*

    “Ah. Facing a weapon for the first time is a terrifying prospect, especially so early in one’s training,” Koetsuji said with a nod. “And there is only one solution!”

    “More training?” I guessed with a sly grin.

    “Exactly,” Koetsuji said with an enigmatic smile. “Of course, we need to make sure that Ken’ichi is ready to face a weapon-using opponent as quickly as possible; you and Miu won’t always be there to protect him, after all.”

    “So, you’re saying he’s going to need some special lessons in weapons, right away?” I asked.

    “Exactly. I hope we can count on you to act as his sparring partner for this, as you do when he trains in muay thai with Apachai?” he asked, lifting an eyebrow.

    “Definitely. But who’s going to train him?” I asked, not even bothering to keep the sarcasm out of my voice anymore.

    “Well, it would be best if it was someone who specialized in weapons,” Koetsuji answered, his smile growing by the moment. “Unfortunately, while there are jujutsu techniques regarding the use of knives and short swords, I have always emphasized the empty hand in my own approach. Shigure, do you perhaps know someone who might be willing to teach Ken’ichi?”

    The two of us finally turned to Shigure, who had apparently spontaneously started going into a complicated kenjutsu routine in front of Ken’ichi. She froze for a moment, then suddenly sheathed the sword and failed miserably at looking casual.

    “Nothing better… to do…” she said softly, studiously avoiding our eyes.

    “W-wait, I just want to learn how to not get killed by a weapon, I’m not going to use one!” Ken’ichi protested.

    “Well, the best way to learn how to fight weapons is to learn how to fight with weapons,” Koetsuji replied as he herded Ken’ichi over to the practice area. “You must understand the unique properties of weapon combat to effectively use an empty hand against them.”

    “Besides, weapon and unarmed combat have a lot of overlap,” I added. “Most of the unarmed attacks in arnis are based on the weapon techniques, after all. Where do you think the ‘bolo punch’ comes from?”

    “I don’t even know what that is,” Ken’ichi said.

    “Doesn’t matter. Point is, the best way to get over your fear of weapons is to master weapons. It’s fine if you don’t ever intend to use them, but deliberately keeping yourself ignorant of them is just limiting yourself as a martial artist,” I replied.

    “We’re here…” Shigure said. Suddenly, she pulled out two short swords from… somewhere. “Here. We’ll start with… swords…”

    “Oh dear, I was afraid of this,” the Elder muttered to himself, having suddenly appeared out of nowhere while we weren’t looking.

    “The hell we will!” I exclaimed. “Who starts a guy off with live swords!?”

    “Isn’t that… normal?” Shigure asked, her brow furrowing just the tiniest bit, the only hint of expression on her face.

    “In what world could that possibly be normal!?” Ken’ichi yelled.

    “Look, let’s do this the arnis way and use these, alright?” I asked, withdrawing two rattan sticks hidden in my clothes.

    “Wha- You too? Where were you keeping those?” Ken’ichi asked.

    “That’s… fine,” Shigure agreed. “Ken’ichi, take one and… take your stance.”

    “Uh, like this?” Ken’ichi asked. Not really knowing what stance to take, he seemed to have just defaulted to something like a mix of different things; his legs were spread apart and he was keeping low to the ground, with his arms in front of him. His free hand was loose, as if he wasn’t sure what to do with it, and he was facing me head-on.

    I jabbed the fleshy “web” of his free hand with the stick, causing him to jump back, shaking his hand. “Ow!” he exclaimed.

    “Why did you… keep your hand out?” Shigure asked. “Did you want him… to take it? If… you’re not going to use it… then keep it out of the way.”

    “But he’s got his hand out in front of him, too!” Ken’ichi protested. I’d have pointed out that I was still using the stick to cover my free hand, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious, but I figured it’d be easier for him to learn the hard way.

    “Then… hit it,” Shigure said simply.

    With a yell, Ken’ichi tried to charge forward with the stick, swinging it downward at my free hand. Before he could complete the motion, I just grabbed his wrist and quickly twisted his arm around, causing him to yelp in pain and drop the stick. I rapped him once in the side for good measure before pushing him back.

    “Kali** calls that… ‘live hand’,” Shigure explained in her usual slow, halting pace, but with an air of authority to it suddenly. “The body… is a weapon. The weapon is… part of the body. So… they use both.”

    “Yep. The good thing about an amateur pulling a weapon is that they’ll usually ignore the rest of their own body and only attack with that. Just like you did just now,” I noted. “Of course, that’s not a license to just drop your guard and only pay attention to the weapon in their hands.”

    “You need to stop… thinking of weapons as something different,” Shigure continued. “If you look at them with dread… they have power over you. What quality… does a swordsman need?”

    “Uh… technique?” Ken’ichi guessed.

    Shigure shook her head. “Conviction. If you hesitate in a battle of weapons… it’s over for you. You have to… be brave, even if you’re scared.”

    Ken’ichi closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, there was a fire in his eyes. “Alright!”

    ---X---

    Tsukuba Saizō sighed as he swept the empty dojo himself. Normally, Ensei would be helping, but his training with Shirahama was apparently running overtime. ‘Damn it, why does this dojo only have the one other student?’ he thought to himself. It was a bit too big for just the two of them to be able to clean it easily.

    Well, he wasn’t going to complain too much. He’d only been going here a little while, but he could already feel that he was growing as a fighter here at the Southern Martial Forest. Even if the training was a small slice of Hell…

    “I’m home,” Ensei announced as he walked in. “Sorry I’m late; some dude attacked Ken’ichi with a knife, so now we’re adding dealing with weapons to his training regimen.”

    “A knife? What crazy bastard pulls a knife on someone he’s trying to recruit?” Tsukuba asked, dumbfounded.

    ---X---

    “Lady Kisara, we’ve just gotten word that…” Shiratori stopped to check the report that had just been handed over, “uh, ‘Furukawa Takashi’ and his group were defeated trying to bring Shirahama to you.”

    Kisara looked up at her right-hand fighter and functionary, deep in thought, before finally drawing a blank look. “Who?”

    ---X---

    “I didn’t catch his name, I just know his taste in knives was garbage,” Ensei said with a shrug. “I swear he must have picked that balisong up out of the trash.”

    “I’m starting to get a little glad I got out of Ragnarok, if that’s the kind of guys they’re letting in these days,” Tsukuba said, shaking his head.

    “Oh, now that hurts,” came a sarcastic voice, causing both of the dojo’s students to turn their heads as someone walked in unannounced. Tsukuba’s eyes widened in horror.
    [​IMG]

    L-Loki!” Tsukuba whispered, stricken with fear.

    “I see my reputation precedes me,” the intruder said smugly, struggling with a wire puzzle all the while. “So, you’re Tsukuba, and that makes you the young man who defeated Koga the Kicker.”

    “If you’re here for lessons, we’re closed for the day,” Ensei said calmly. “Come back tomorrow.”

    “Oh, I think you know very well I’m not here for lessons, my young friend,” Loki said, still working on his wire puzzle. “Though if this dojo is the reason you got so strong, perhaps I should, eh?

    “But really, I’m here to make you the offer of a lifetime,” he continued.

    “And is this one of those offers you’re going to tell me I can’t refuse?” Ensei asked flippantly.

    “Oh, I wouldn’t say you can’t, per se. It’s just not advisable.”

    “Really? And I suppose you’re going to make me pay the price if I do?” Ensei replied with a smirk.

    “Ensei, don’t goad him!” Tsukuba exclaimed, shaking in fear. “He’s the Fourth Fist, Ragnarok’s Fighting Tactician!”

    “You should really listen to that stray dog you picked up off the street, Ensei,” Loki said, now starting to look frustrated, clearly struggling to solve his wire puzzle. “After all, he’s the one who’ll pay the price if you aren’t willing to hear me out. After all, it’s not like you can watch his back all the time, now can you?”

    Ensei’s confident look turned into one of surprise, then cold anger. “You’ve got a minute before I feed you that puzzle. Talk.”

    “I’ll keep it brief then,” Loki said, still struggling with his puzzle but now grinning widely. “We want you to join Ragnarok as its Eighth Fist. There, is that quick enough?”

    Wh-what!?” Tsukuba exclaimed.

    “Oh, it’s true, we usually screen applicants more,” Loki admitted casually, “but our leader, Odin, has let it be known that he wants the Seven Shadows to become Nine, as soon as we can without compromising on quality. And you gave an impressive enough showing that I thought it best to see about fast-tracking you, as it were.”

    Ensei tilted his head in thought for a moment before replying. “So, what? I say ‘Yes,’ and that’s it? I’m the Eighth Fist?”

    “Oh, not quite. We’re not fast-tracking you that much. But we’ve got two other applicants that we’ll be testing, and you’ll be standing alongside them,” Loki answered. “Usually, you’d have to be a member for quite some time before even being considered for becoming an Executive Officer. You’ve really made an impression on us.”

    Ensei was quiet for a moment before giving his reply. “You know what? Sure, why not. But if I do this, you leave Tsukuba and this dojo alone.”

    “Excellent!” Loki said, finally giving up and just pulling the wire puzzle apart with simple muscle. “Your first test begins now!

    Reaching into his long coat, he pulled out a collapsible baton and extended it to its full length. Tsukuba took a step forward. He had no chance against a Fist, but if he could at least grab onto him-

    Like lightning, Ensei’s leg lashed out and kicked the baton out of Loki’s hand, the smell of ozone and a crackling sound as it sailed through the air giving away that it was electrified.

    Before the Fourth Fist could respond, Ensei spun around completely and caught him in the side of the side of the face with his other foot. Hardly a second after the fight had started, it ended as the Fighting Tactician fell unconscious to the floor.

    Tsukuba almost didn’t notice Ensei walking over to the door and opening it. “Hey! One of you assholes get out here and take your friend home. Then you can lead me to the real Loki.”

    Tsukuba almost didn’t have it in him to be shocked anymore after what he just witnessed, but he found some room as four more Lokis filed in. Two of them picked up the unconscious one from the ground.

    “Sorry about the deception-” one of them began, only to stop as Ensei cut him off.

    “Don’t worry about it, I wasn’t fooled for a second,” he said, his cocky grin back in full force. “Now come on; I’m sure the real Loki has some special sales pitch for my ears only or something.”

    As he and the imposter Lokis stepped outside, Tsukuba wasn’t even sure what to think anymore.

    Well, maybe he had one or two thoughts. ‘Wait… if Ensei becomes one of the Fists… could he make me a member of Ragnarok again?’

    -x--X--x-

    *No, seriously, the Japanese are disgusting with the stuff they’ll put mayo on. Not that you should be surprised, with the way that topping their omelets with ketchup is normal and accepted behavior there rather than culinary heresy.

    **Another common name for arnis/eskrima.

    AN: Looking over my notes, I realized that this chapter would either be really long or just be nothing but setup, so I decided to just crank it out as fast as I could so we could get to the actual substance sooner.
     
  4. moon so bright

    moon so bright Shining Light

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    Does he really want to be part of Ragnarok again? Regardless, I am really enjoying the subtle changes that his presence is causing to the story so far. Loki coming out sooner, Kenichi a bit more aware of his weapon issues, and so on. Thanks for the tale, especially delivered at such speed. :)
     
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  5. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Well, when the thought came to him it wasn't a serious thing, just a thought that popped into his head. Who knows if he'll follow up on it?

    #20 will be crushed when she hears that.
     
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  6. moon so bright

    moon so bright Shining Light

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    Oh, I only just now noticed that! Ha, that's so true, though. 20 will be crushed, poor lass...
     
  7. anhrefn

    anhrefn Self-proclaimed Villain

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    Dude, I will love if he really joins Ragnarok, it will be fun!
     
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  8. SonOfNenji

    SonOfNenji Aimless Wanderer

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    Ragnorok pulled a heel-face turn in canon if I remember correctly.

    If the SI remembers that he might consider joining to contribute to that turn.
     
  9. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    In canon, five of the Eight Fists ended up joining the Shinpaku Alliance (Loki became a private detective and did freelance work for Nijima, while Odin and Berserker joined YOMI). Most of them didn't really have any strong loyalty to Ragnarok in the first place and were impressed or inspired enough during one fight or another that Nijima was able to get them to join with a bit of nudging (though Hermit never stopped being tsundere about it).

    So Ensei probably won't see any need to go around trying to nudge them around unless things really start going off the rails.
     
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  10. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Ken'ichi, pt. 5
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    “… and Miu said that muay thai and karate are my best options for learning how to fight a boxer in time,” Ken’nichi concluded, throwing a series of jabs and elbows.

    “That sounds about right,” I said with a nod, making sure to keep moving the mitt around so he wasn’t just hitting a stable target. “Boxing revolves around competitions, and the training and ethos center around the rules of the ring. It’s a very specialized way of fighting that’s great at what it does, but if you can make a boxer fight you somewhere outside of his comfort zone, he’s gonna be a lot easier to deal with. And both karate and muay thai have things that the typical boxer has no answer for.”

    “That’s right, Ensei! If you need to kill a boxer, then you use muay thai!” Apachai said with a happy, encouraging grin as he oversaw Ken’nichi’s exercises in hitting the mitt, correcting his form and technique as need be. He would’ve been holding the mitt himself, but uh… Well, Kensei and Koetsuji said that Ken’nichi wasn’t concussed, so there’s that.

    I suddenly swiped Ken’nichi with the mitt, smacking him in the face with it. “Ken’nichi, you need to pay attention to Ensei’s shoulders to see how his arm will move!” Apachai chided. “How are you going to kill your opponent if he kills you first?”

    “But I’m not trying to kill this guy, I just want to learn how to beat him so he won’t punch my face in! I don’t even want to hurt him, really,” Ken’nichi protested.

    “Think about stuff like that when your opponent’s dead!” Apachai exclaimed in a weird voice, using his fingers to push the edges of his eyebrows up and giving a comically deep frown. “When you fight, all your brain should think about is how to kill!

    “That was my impression of my master. What do you think?” Apachai asked excitedly, reverting back to his usual expression and voice.

    “Uh… I’ve never met your master, Apachai,” Ken’nichi pointed out.

    “Yeah… anyway, Ken’nichi, my advice as far as muay thai against boxing goes is that you should take advantage of muay thai’s greater versatility,” I said, changing the subject. “Boxers are only allowed to strike with their fists, and if this guy trained for the pros that’s definitely what he’s got the most training in. Muay thai doesn’t just allow kicks, but it also allows elbows and knees, which makes it much more dangerous in the clinch than boxing.”

    “Right! Boxers punch hard, and good ones are hard to catch, but get them in the clinch and it really easy to win,” Apachai added. “Lot of martial arts for sports don’t allow elbows and knees.”

    “Why’s that?” Ken’nichi asked.

    “Because if you get hit wrong, you die,” Apachai answered simply.

    “Or crippled,” I added. “Muay thai has roots in martial arts made for the battlefield, and even though it’s taken on a lot of the trappings of Western competition martial arts like kickboxing to adapt it for the modern world, it still allows for elbow and knee strikes, and even emphasizes their use.”

    “How come?” Ken’nichi asked.

    “Because if you hit right, you kill,” Apachai answered simply.

    Ken’nichi stopped hitting the mitt and looked down at his hands, wrapped in tape. “… Should I really be learning this, then?”

    “Oh, don’t’ mind Apachai’s talk about killing too much,” the Elder said, once again having seemingly appeared out of nowhere. “It’s just a holdover of his past; he has no intention of killing anyone. That said…”

    He started stroking his beard. “All martial arts training ultimately centers around efficiently destroying your opponent’s ability to keep fighting. Whether in a strictly regulated, official karate match or a ring made of sand in the muay thai underground, that doesn’t change. Everything beyond simply defeating your opponent is beyond your training. It is up to you, the man behind the technique, to decide what it’s all for.

    “Certainly, if you were to use what Apachai is teaching you for selfish gain, or a cruel desire to harm another, it would become mere violence. But if you fight for something greater than simply destroying the fighter in front of you, then any technique, fatal or not, transcends violence and becomes martial arts.” He lifted his eyebrows, seeming to search Ken’nichi’s face. “Let me ask you, Ken’nichi; do you intend to ever use what you are being taught here to make another person miserable?”

    “Of course not!” Ken’nichi exclaimed.

    “Then all is well,” the Elder said with a nod. “Techniques alone have never harmed anyone. The will behind your fist is what decides that. If your will is untainted by selfishness or cruelty, and you cultivate the proper discipline and restraint in your techniques, you will never commit an act of mere violence.”

    Ken’nichi gave a sincere smile at that, his passion to keep studying muay thai renewed.

    “By the way Apachai, your training time ran out while the Elder was giving his lecture,” Koetsuji said. “It’s Sakaki’s turn now.”

    All was silent, until I couldn’t hold it anymore and started laughing.

    ---X---

    While Sakaki forced Ken’nichi to spar with Miu to get over his stupid “won’t hit girls” thing (good luck with that), I took a break until they needed me for his training with Shigure, lying on the floor and resting my eyes.

    “You know, Ensei, you seem a bit tired today,” Koetsuji said, suddenly playing a game of go with Ma Kensei next to me. “I hope there’s nothing wrong; it could cause problems with both Ken’nichi’s training and your own if you’re pushing yourself too hard.”

    ‘Seriously, why does every Master turn into a damn ninja?’ I wondered.

    “It’s nothing serious, I just got carried away hanging out with friends last night and didn’t get much sleep,” I lied.

    “Ah, I see. Well, please be more aware of your sleep cycles in the future, alright?” Koetsuji asked.

    “You should really listen,” Kensei added. “As a doctor, I couldn’t tell you how many of my patients would be better off if they’d stop trying to fool their own bodies and just sleep a full eight hours…”

    As he started talking shop, I leaned back and closed my eyes again, my mind going back to the previous day…

    ---X---

    I took in the room, my arms crossed and no expression showing on my face.

    It wasn’t especially fancy, though it was pretty big, and there was a lot of comfortable furniture. To my left side, standing so the three of us were in a line, were a slender, tomboyish-looking girl with a very… well-developed lower body. In the martial arts sense. And nothing else. *cough*
    [​IMG]

    The other was a beefy guy with an unruly mop of hair, wearing an old-school uniform like a stereotypical delinquent. He kind of looked like he’d be the protagonist of some shonen manga about street-fighting delinquents with hearts of gold.
    [​IMG]

    Arrayed in front of us were a collection of seven young men and women (okay, six men and one woman). Some were sitting casually, others were standing on full alert. The “Seven Fists,” the leaders of Ragnarok. I let my eyes roam over them, not bothering to hide that I was sizing them up; they’d expect it of a prospective new member.

    I was, admittedly, just a little bit nervous. Even with my training harness on (which it was, I hadn’t had the time to take it off discretely and I’d rather not having Loki know about it), I could probably take on numbers Four through Seven with just a bit of trouble, though Five and Six would take a lot to put down and keep down. Two or Three would be harder, but I was pretty sure it’d be doable. Numero Uno… I wasn’t entirely sure I could beat him without taking it off first.

    But even if I took the harness off, taking on all seven in one night, even if they took turns? That might get a little dicey. So, it looked like I’d need to make sure not to piss them off too badly.

    Good thing I don’t make that a habit or anything.

    It was obvious who the leader here was, even if you didn’t know him on sight. Even if the others weren’t loosely centered around him, it was clear through presence alone that everyone here was afraid of him, deferred to him. Even the Sixth Fist clearly didn’t want to mess with him, no matter how standoffish and detached he tried to be while standing by at the edges.
    [​IMG]

    “Greetings, you three,” he said softly, adjusting his glasses with gloved hands. “As you’ve been made aware before coming here, my Master, the great martial artist known as Kensei*, is the true founder and leader of Ragnarok. We, the Seven Fists, are the only ones who have the privilege to know this, and to receive instruction from him at his leisure.

    “Recently, Master Kensei has asked that we induct two more worthy fighters at our earliest convenience, so that the Seven Fists can become Nine,” he continued. “Thus, we have looked within – and without,” he said, giving me a glance that was hard to read before continuing, “for fighters who might prove worthy of taking up the seats of the Eighth and Ninth Fists, and the three of you are the only candidates we have found who might be worthy of this honor.

    “Your ascension is not assured,” he stressed. “You must prove to us that you are worthy, and if at any time you do not, you will not be given a second chance. And as you can see from your numbers, one of you will lose out regardless.”

    The only woman present spoke up as soon as the leader fell silent. “Each of you has been monitored, approached, and endorsed by one of the Seven Fists as a worthy candidate. But there will be no favoritism from your sponsor… or else.
    [​IMG]

    “Tsuji Shin’nosuke, you have been endorsed by the Seventh Fist, Thor, as a potential leader of Ragnarok. Do you accept this honor, and this burden?” she asked, looking at the mophead to my and Kisara’s right.

    The mophead gave a big grin and punched his palm loudly. “Yes, ma’am!” he shouted. “I’m ready! This has been my dream since I joined Ragnarok!”

    Without acknowledging him further, she moved on. “Nanjō Kisara, you have been endorsed by the Fifth Fist, Siegfried, as a potential leader of Ragnarok. Do you accept this honor, and this burden?” She gave no hint of emotion, despite addressing the subordinate who’d turned her back on her.

    “Yes, Lady Freya,” Kisara said, not quite quietly, but just loudly enough to carry to the others, and gave a slight bow. Freya didn’t spare her a second look.

    “Kimura Ensei. You are not a member of Ragnarok, and in fact have attacked members of Ragnarok on two occasions,” she said, breaking the pattern as she looked at me. “You would normally not be considered for this position, regardless of your obvious strength, but as you have been endorsed by the Fourth Fist, Loki, as well as the Sixth Fist, Hermit, we have seen fit to make an exception. Do you accept this honor, and this burden?”

    “Only if we lay down a few grounds rules, first,” I said, arms crossed as I stared them all down.

    A chilly silence engulfed the room. Kisara and Tsuji stared at me, dumbfounded at my “presumption,” while the Seven Fists had several different reactions. The prevailing emotions, though, seemed to be either amusement or apathy. Loki looked a bit pissed, though.

    “Oh?” Odin tilted his head, his tone putting him in the “faintly amused” category… for now. “You have demands of Ragnarok, in the position you’re in? You truly are confident in your skills, aren’t you?”

    “I’m not one for false humility,” I replied. “I’m more than good enough a martial artist to join your little club, and you’ll see that when you do whatever tests you feel like doing. But I don’t particularly care about any of the perks of joining your little group, so you’re going to need to sweeten the pot.”

    “With what, exactly?” he asked. His tone wasn’t any different, but there was a clear chill in them all the same as his eyes bored into me.

    “Just something I want to make very clear, so none of us go into this with any misconceptions. My family’s dojo has nothing to do with any of you,” I announced. “Just because I join up with you guys doesn’t mean it’s Ragnarok property. It’s not going to be your recruiting ground, your training ground, your front, or anything unless I okay it. Its students are not members of Ragnarok unless they specifically join, and if anyone in Ragnarok attacks them for any reason other than being attacked first or provoked, they’re the ones who get punished for it. Deal?”

    Odin leaned back in his chair, adopting a small smile. “I had no intentions of bothering with that dojo, so I see no reason to say no,” he said.

    ‘Which means you suspect that my masters are Masters and know better than to try anything funny,’ I thought to myself. More than could be said for some people…

    “Then yeah, I’ll become a member. Do we get to pick our own nicknames when we become Fists?” I asked.

    “Of course.”

    ‘Good, because half of you idiots aren’t even really on-theme,’** I thought to myself.

    “If that’s all, then it’s time for your first test,” Odin continued. “Well, second for one of you. I’m sure you’re expecting some physical challenge or fight, but we need more than brainless brutes leading Ragnarok, and Master Kensei has no interest in training them.

    “One of the important qualities of a martial artist, and a leader of an organization, is being able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of others with very little information and sizing up the competition at a glance. And that’s what you will do here. Each of you must state which of the three of you is the weakest, and which is the strongest. Take all the time you need… within reason.”

    “I don’t need any time!” Tsuji declared, stepping up past Kisara and I. “I already know that I’m the strongest of the three of us! And the weakest one… is you!”

    I looked down at his outstretched finger, pointing right at me. I tried very hard not to laugh honest.

    “Oh? Why don’t you explain your reasoning?” Odin “asked.”

    “Simple! A man’s quality is clear in how many men he can get to follow him! I’ve got more followers than Kisara, and this punk doesn’t even have a single one! His school even only has one dojo, and that’s just some flunky he picked up out of Ragnarok’s trash heap!” he exclaimed.

    “I see. Ensei, since he’s declared you the weakest, why don’t you give your opinion next?” Odin said.

    “I’m the strongest one here,” ‘And no, there’s no unspoken qualifier there,’ I thought. “As for the weakest, Shaggy here just proved who it is by mouthing off like a moron.”

    “Why you-”

    Quiet,” Odin said calmly, but firmly, and the tone made even the mopheaded dope shiver. “Kisara?”

    Kisara gave Tsuji a single glance before giving a dismissive scoff that had him fuming, but she looked me carefully up and down.

    “See something you like?” I asked jokingly. Her only response was to roll her eyes and turn back to the Seven Fists.

    “He’s right, ‘Shaggy’ here doesn’t have a clue,” Kisara answered, but her amused grin faded as she struggled with the next part. “And… I think he’s a bit stronger than me. A bit.”

    That’s… really impressive,’ I thought to myself. I was cheating, after all; fighters of our level usually need to see someone in action for opinions and comparisons to be even slightly accurate. But then, Kisara was the only one of the main disciples in the series who never trained with a Master at any point. An absurdly keen eye for martial arts is only the beginning of what she’d need to keep up with that.

    He managed to keep it out of his voice, but I could tell from Odin’s eyes that he was just as impressed as I was. “I see. That concludes the first test, then. Now for the second one.

    “We have no need of Ten Fists, and weaklings need not apply. The tests to come will weed out the weak regardless, but there is no reason not to remove the weak link from this chain immediately,” Odin lectured, adjusting his glasses again.

    “Tsuji Shin’nosuke. Both Kisara and Ensei have decreed that you are the weak link.”

    “But that’s-!” Tsuji started to protest, but took a step back at the intensity of Odin’s glare at his interruption.

    “You are not among our number yet. Speak to us when spoken to,” he commanded, his voice like icy daggers. He closed his eyes and took a breath before continuing, calm again. “Because you have declared that Ensei is the weak link, the two of you will duel, here and now, to prove who is correct. The winner gains a clear advantage in standing among us. The loser is no longer a candidate to become one of the Nine Fists of Ragnarok.”

    Tsuji grinned at those words. Turning back to me, he started cracking his knuckles and popping his neck. “Ha! Now that’s a test I can get behind. You ready for this, short stuff?”

    “One second, Mophead,” I said, holding up a finger and turning my head back to the assembled Seven Fists as Kisara walked off to the side. “Hey, is this a strictly unarmed fight?”

    At my request, Loki nodded approvingly, and Freya tilted her head slightly, as if in thought. Thor frowned, but the rest didn’t seem to care.

    “Either of you may use whatever weapons you have with you… within reason,” Odin answered.

    “Tch, weapons? Come on, a real man lets his fists do the talking!” Tsuji declared.

    “My fists don’t really have anything to say to your face,” I said glibly, pulling out one of my many hidden weapons. Specifically, two hardwood sticks connected by a metal chain.

    “Wh-Nunchaku? What do you think this is, a Bruce Lee flick?” Tsuji asked, incredulous.

    “To start with, these are not nunchaku,” I explained, warming up with some tricks by rapidly swinging them around my arms and torso, switching the weapon between my hands seamlessly. “These are tabak-toyok, sometimes called ‘chako’ for short, and they’re from Filipino martial arts, not Okinawan. They are closely related, of course, but the chain is longer and the handles are shorter. That’s because nunchaku are primarily meant for defense; you’re supposed to use them to catch and disarm weapons, and striking is a secondary goal. It’s the reverse in the Philippines.

    “Secondly, catch,” I said, reaching into my pocket and tossing something at Tsuji. He caught them – barely – and looked at me like I’d just grown a second head.

    “Why the hell are you giving me brass knuckles!?” he asked, loudly (I was starting to think he didn’t know what an “inside voice” was).

    “Use them or don’t, but when you lose, I don’t want to hear any complaining that it was because I used a weapon and you didn’t,” I said.

    “Oh, you’re dead!” he growled, but tossed the brass knuckles off to the side. “I’m going to feel your face break on my bare hands and enjoy it!”

    “You’d die trying,” I said with a mocking smirk. “And finally, this one is an open question to everyone in the room: who here knows what the Southern Martial Forest dojo actually teaches?”

    “From what I’d heard, it seems you practice Arnis there,” Odin answered.

    “Koga’s description sounded like muay thai,” Kisara chimed in.

    “Eh, you’re partly right,” I said, not bothering to correct Kisara. “We practice so much more, though. And that’s because the Southern Martial Forest…”

    I then proceeded to completely ham it up, doing a complex routine with the weapons with lots of kicks and pointless hand motions, all while doing the Bruce Lee noises. I struck a pose, now well and truly having made everyone think I was a complete and total tool but feeling like a total kung fu badass.

    “… teaches the hybridization and optimization of martial arts on the physical and philosophical level,” I finished. “In other words: Jeet Kune Do!”

    “… Just fight already,” Odin sighed, head in his hands.

    Tsuji tore his shirt off for… some reason, and charged at me, giving a loud yell.

    He threw a punch that I easily sidestepped, catching his arm on the chains of the chako as I went and pulling his arm back as I stepped around to his back, drawing a yelp of pain as his muscles and tendons started to strain from the unnatural position. He put surprising strength into trying to pull his arm back, but I held it firm, and his attempts to shift position were similarly beaten as I simply followed him to keep to his back.

    “Give up now and you get to keep your arm,” I said calmly.

    “A real doesn’t give up a fight just to spare himself some pain!” Tsuji declared. Gripping his captured arm with his free hand, he used the added strength to pull hard.

    Not really wanting to seriously injure the guy, I let go of one handle, sending the chako flying straight into his face as he freed his arm. Despite the fact that there was already a lump forming on his forehead, the pain didn’t even slow him down as he turned around to start furiously throwing punches.

    It was trivial to dodge the punches, but even as I laid into him with the chako, he seemed to not even feel it, despite peppering his body with deep bruises.

    He’s used to street fights,’ I noted as he started to cool his head and began fighting dirty. He tried to turn punches into grabs, clapped his hands in front of my eyes to try to disorient me, tried to step on my feet to make me trip or stop moving.

    Of course, I was well prepared for it all, my parents having taught plenty about the rules (and lack thereof) in a street fight.

    Eventually, he was beaten, weary, panting hard and covered in bruises. Meanwhile, I had barely worked up a sweat, rapidly circling him with light, shifting footwork that let me cover a lot of ground with little actual movement.

    It probably looked like I was toying with the guy, but honestly, I was really having trouble putting him down without seriously hurting him, or giving away too much about my fighting style in front of Odin, who was in contact with Ogata, i.e. #2 on my “Don’t Catch This Master’s Eye” list, right between Jenazad and Fortuna.

    Tsuji was a lot sturdier than I’d thought, and he had too much tenacity for pain alone to keep him down. I was hoping Ken’nichi would get to fight him soon to help polish his skills, but at this rate…

    “Quit dancing around with those stupid sticks and fight me like a man, damn it!” Tsuji bellowed, calling up as much of his strength as he still could and rushing at me again. The guy had no fighting style to speak of, but sheer tenacity, strength and experience in brawls had gotten him far. I had to respect that, even if he was an idiot who didn’t know how to stay down.

    “Fine,” I said. I stopped spinning the tabak-toyok, and instead gripped both handles like a pair of baston, the chain hanging loosely between them.

    When Tsuji got into range again, I jabbed one handle into his neck, being careful to not hit it straight-on to avoid crushing his windpipe, and hooked the other around his arm again, but this time instead of circling around his back I used my leverage to lift myself up and do a flip that drove my heel into his face.

    Righting myself behind him, I swept his legs out from under him while he clutched his broken nose. As he fell, I dropped my knees down onto his torso, knocking the wind from him. But I needed to make sure he’d stay down so I wouldn’t have to break a limb or something.

    ‘Punch with the forearm, relax the elbow and keep it bent, use your body’s motion to impart power,’ was the mantra in my head as I laid out a chain of rapid punches and chops to Tsuji’s chest, neck and head, not giving him the chance to even think of blocking or countering.

    When I stood up, careful not to put my weight back on my knees before getting off of him, Tsuji was barely conscious. Blood flowed freely from his broken nose, his torso was covered in bruises that were already starting to grow purple, and his breathing was ragged and pained; I hadn’t intended to, but some of my blows must have cracked a few ribs. He covered his face – and his eyes – with his hands, but I could see a droplet of clear liquid run down his eye. I didn’t think it was sweat.

    I forced myself to look away as Tsuji tried desperately not to cry, whether from pain or loss or both. My eyes rested on Kisara, who was looking between the both of us with something that might have been horror or disgust.

    I looked away again. Thor and Siegfried had the same looks as Kisara. Freya, Hermit, and Odin looked indifferent, even now.

    Berserker had an approving smile on his face, and Loki was all but clapping.

    “It’s decided, then,” Odin said softly. “Ensei, you remain a favored candidate as the Eighth Fist. And if Tsuji can still hear me, he is allowed to remain an Executive Officer, but is no longer in competition to join our ranks.”

    I barely heard him. I felt numb, except that I also wanted to throw up or cry. This… this wasn’t martial arts.

    I was lying to myself. I walked out, not caring if anyone called out or followed, not caring if they were done with their stupid kid’s games or not. I was furious. I did toy with Tsuji, at least at first. He was beaten, maybe even broken in ways that weren’t physical, and for what!? So I could show off and play with my new toys?

    ---X---

    “… it is not a kindness to refuse to face a fellow martial artist seriously, “Ken’nichi,” the Elder warned as I forced myself to stop thinking about it and came back to the present. “You insult Miu by refusing to treat her as someone worthy of your attention now, and if you take an opponent lightly in a true fight they will see it only as a humiliation.”

    I opened my eyes. “Elder?” I asked, turning my head toward the grandmaster of Ryōzanpaku, who stopped from his lecture of Ken’nichi to meet my eyes with his own. The look in them made me flinch.

    “Yes, Ensei?” he asked, his voice kind.

    “What you said earlier, about the different between martial arts and violence, and now, about facing your opponent seriously…” my tongue felt thick, I almost didn’t want to know the answer. “If someone breaks those rules, is there anything they can do about it?”

    The “Invincible Superman” gave the same tired, weary sigh of an old man with a lot of regrets. “We can never take back what we’ve done, Ensei. When you throw a punch, there is no taking it back. Whether you can make it right… that very much depends on you, and on them. All martial artists are ultimately responsible for what they do with their techniques.”

    I flopped back onto the floor. “Right.”

    He didn’t need to be the world’s biggest badass to hear the bitterness in that. “I’m sorry, but there are no quick and easy answers I can give for this sort of thing. Especially when I don’t know the particulars,” the Elder said. “You must find a solution that you can accept, and hope it will be enough to the person your violence has harmed. Given how young you are, I believe that should still be possible.”

    I turned back toward Ma Kensei and Koetsuji, who were still playing a game of go. “How much do you two charge?” I asked. “The patient has a lot of bruises, a broken nose, and possibly some cracked ribs.”

    I didn’t think it was enough, but it would be a start.

    -x--X--x-

    *No, not that Kensei, if you’ve never read the manga. Japanese is confusing. Ma Kensei is just the Japanese reading of the Chinese characters in his name (剣星). The “Kensei” that serves as Ogata Isshinsai’s callsign as a member of Yami is spelled differently ((拳聖) and has a totally different meaning. “Kensei” is a title that is often translated in English as “Sword Saint,” and historically referred to great swordsmen who were living legends of transcendent skill; the most famous in the West is Miyamoto Musashi. Ogata uses a different character that is pronounced the same (as “ken”), which means “fist” instead of “sword;” the obvious implication being that he is the unarmed equivalent to a Sword Saint.

    **Warning: Nitpicking rant imminent. I mean, the clear theme with the Eight Fists is supposed to be that they’re named after the Norse pantheon, right? The leader is Odin, after all. And you’ve got Freya, Loki and Thor, who are all perfectly within that theme.

    But then you’ve got the rest of them, and it becomes obvious that Japanese people (like pretty much everyone else, of course) don’t know or give a damn about actually keeping a foreign-sounding theme so long as it still sounds sufficiently foreign.

    Siegfried is a German name for a Germanic/Norse hero; if you must deviate from the godly theme and start putting in mythical heroes, you could at least go with the actual Norse and call him Sigurd! But that’s the least objectionable of the four I have a problem with.

    Because then there’s Valkyrie, which would be perfectly fine… except that there’s already a group named the Valkyries who work for Freya as members of Ragnarok, whom Kisara even used to be one of. At least pick a specific Valkyrie to name yourself after! Like the most well-known one, Brynhild (though that would, admittedly, make the fact that Siegfried/Sigurd is the one endorsing her to become a Fist a little bit funny).

    Berserker is even worse, since the term is no longer something that has a purely Norse vibe to it like Valkyries. Beowulf would be a perfect fit for the motif that he’s going for, too!

    And man, f*ck “Hermit.” What the hell screams “Norse” about a guy calling himself Hermit? Nothing, that’s what. If I were picking his nickname, I’d make him Tyr or Heimdall.
     
  11. anhrefn

    anhrefn Self-proclaimed Villain

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    *rolls my eyes*

    shouldn't you be used to it?
     
  12. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Beating people up? Sure, if it was just that he wouldn't have given a second thought. But Ensei brutalized and, more importantly to him, thoroughly humiliated Tsuji in front of people he admired.

    I always liked Ken'nichi as a character partly because I got bullied a lot as a kid until I was able and willing to fight back. To this day, people bullying others brings up some very strong feelings.

    And whether Ensei intended it or not, he felt like he was using his strength to turn Tsuji, who's a hot-headed dunce at worst, into a beaten joke in front of his peers. I'd HATE other people who did that to someone.
     
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  13. shipenterce

    shipenterce Getting out there.

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    Eh, I think your SI is overreacting. He did his best to not injure the guy. Their difference in skill would have been obvious halfway through the fight and anyone who wasn't a meathead would concede at that point. And it's not like his situation was worsened beyond the injuries (which are probably about the same as what kenichi would have dealt him), as he never even has a chance to fight in front of the 7 fists in canon. At least here he's able to show off what skill he's developed without a master's support, as well as his tenacity.

    That said, your SI is like 13 and fights are pretty visceral, I assume.
     
  14. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Overreacting? Yeah. It's pretty much motivated by my own hangups that aren't always rational. The Elder would probably have told him as much if he'd had the details.
     
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  15. Axone

    Axone Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    I understand where the author is coming from here. Experience has shown me in the past that even when you hate a guy and win a fight, you can still feel pretty ashamed of yourself afterward if you feel you overdid it. The SI in this case had nothing against the guy, but brutalised the poor sod and left him with severe injuries after toying with him in front of a group he admired. All because he got annoyed that his opponent didn't go down quickly.

    I'm not bashing the SI here, just stating that these situations do happen in real life and it is very possible that the winner can feel awful regardless. Taking the guy seriously would have resulted in a less bitter taste for all involved.
     
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  16. anhrefn

    anhrefn Self-proclaimed Villain

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    And now he's paying a doctor for him... that poor lad
    the beating wasn't enough, now he's adding salt into the wound
     
  17. shipenterce

    shipenterce Getting out there.

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    So, were Kisara/Thor/Siegfried's reactions tainted by the SI's self-shame? I feel like they would have seen worse, what with being leading members of a gang focused on fist fights. I'm not really sure how bad the guy looks, since the SI is probably an unreliable narrator.
    BTW enjoyed the chapter, is a fun story. One of only two good HSDK fics I know. The other being History's Strongest Shinobi by Kenchi618 over on fanfiction.net
     
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  18. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Avoiding expounding on Thor and Kisara, Siegfried just considered it ugly. He's an artist who fights because he finds his muse in battle, so he just hates fights that bring bad tunes to mind.
     
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  19. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Well, that's annoying. Working on the update, but progress slowed to a crawl as soon as it stopped raining. Guess that means I should move to New England or something? Hopefully it'll be done by tonight, though.
     
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  20. SonOfNenji

    SonOfNenji Aimless Wanderer

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    Have you considered background music to help set the mood?
     
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  21. shipenterce

    shipenterce Getting out there.

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    Youtube has plenty "the sound of rain" videos if it really helps. Personally hearing rain when I'm inside just makes me relaxed and sleepy.
     
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  22. Extras: Chinese Kung Fu, pt. 1
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Presented here is a list of traditional Chinese martial arts and what little I know about their philosophy, teachings, provenance, etc (which means you could get a lot of this info from Wikipedia). I’ll also note which styles specifically that Ensei has some level of training in. This is mostly for my own convenience and consultation, and I figured there was no reason not to put it here (except of course possibly as a surprise, but oh well).

    Short note: a lot of styles have “quan” or less commonly “zhang” as a suffix. That just means “fist” or “palm” literally, and can be taken as shorthand for “style,” such as with, say, Bajiquan/Eight Extremities Fist/Style. It’s kind of like how Japanese martial arts styles are appended with “-ryū.”

    ---X---

    Bafaquan: “Eight Methods Fist.” Not to be confused with Liuhe Bafa. This style was created by Li Demao in the early 20th century, shortly before the end of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), and was synthesized from Fanzi, Paochui, Tantui, Tongbei and Xingyi. The style is based on the theory of the “Eight Methods” of attacking; training for this style includes training the spear, straight sword and curved sword. Its training for the use of a very long spear, both on foot and on horseback, is considered a specialty of the style.

    Because it’s essentially a condensed amalgamation of several locally popular martial arts in its native Shanxi Province, it’s hard for an untrained eye to distinguish it on sight, and it’s hard to talk further on what kind of distinguishing features it has.

    Baguazhang: “Eight Trigram Palm.” Bagua is one of the three styles referred to in contemporary martial arts as “Wudang styles,” a term (drawn from legends about the origins of these styles and their shared qualities as largely internal styles) meant specifically to contrast with the largely external styles of Shaolin. This term also denotes a contrast in religious inspiration; Shaolin is (obviously) Buddhist, while the Wudang styles are seen as being largely inspired by Daoist thought, generally speaking. In fact, the name “Eight Trigram” refers to one of the canons of Daoist thought and belief, the Yijing (more well-known by the now-outdated Romanization “I Ching”).

    To avoid getting into some heavy Daoist philosophy, I’ll just say that “bagua” in the Yijing are eight symbols used to represent the fundamental principles of reality, each represented by a series of three straight lines that are broken or unbroken (this tripartite structure is why we call them “trigrams” in English). The Yijing is essentially a listing of the 64 pairwise permutations of the trigrams, called “hexagrams,” and contains commentary on the meaning of each one. The Yijing is used and consulted in many various ways, but most popularly as a method of fortune-telling. It’s also influenced traditional Chinese beliefs about things like geomancy, astrology, geography, anatomy, etc.

    The creation of Baguazhang as a formalized martial art is attributed to Dong Haichuan (date of birth disputed as either 1797 or 1813; date of death is 1882, so he was either 69 or 85 when he died), a devoted martial artist who is said to have learned from various Daoist and Buddhist masters while training in the mountains. Many authorities actually dispute the Buddhist origin, claiming that his instruction was purely or at least overwhelmingly Daoist in origin, citing the name of the style and several of its techniques and stances, the frequent reference in its philosophy to Daoist ideas and relative lack of Buddhist ones, etc. It’s also pointed out that the attribution to Buddhist teachers only started coming from the 2nd generation teachers, i.e. Dong’s students, several of whom were Buddhist.

    Dong Haichuan was a devoted student of the martial arts from a young age, learning the (probably Shaolin-derived) martial arts practiced in his local area. Since his family was very poor, as a young man he set out to find work of his own so as not to burden them with feeding him, and by many accounts spent years as a penniless wanderer who often got into trouble. He studied a lot of Daoist methods, including circle walking (which is not actually unique to Baguazhang) and synthesized it with his previous studies, creating an art he called Zhaunzhang (“Turning Palms”). Sometime around 1864 he arrived in the capital, Beijing, and was hired as a servant in the household of the Prince Su (which is not a name, but a hereditary title of peerage given to a specific branch of the imperial house), who eventually gave him a job collecting taxes, which he did for the next 10 years along with his first student, Yin Fu (1840-1909). After that, he left the prince’s employ and devoted himself fully to teaching publicly and further developing his style.

    The exact details of what Dong taught are disputed; some claim that only the first three of the Eight Palms that he taught a student remained consistent for all of them, while the remaining five were varied based on the student’s skill and experience. Others claim he taught considerably more than that, and that his teaching was more-or-less consistent. Regardless, his style grew popular and acquired the name of Baguazhang. Because of how popular Baguazhang eventually became, it’s hard to say exactly what’s fact and fiction about Dong’s last years; there’s a lot of claims, for example, that he gave demonstrations to the Emperor in the Forbidden City and impressed him enough to gain imperial patronage, or that he and his students became bodyguards to the imperial family. Might be true, might not, I don’t have the evidence either way. What is known is that some of Dong’s students participated in the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), so there’s that bit of fun trivia.

    Dong Haichuan’s nine most famous disciples each taught the arts he passed on to them, but each of them approached his teachings in different ways, and many synthesized it with their own prior education in the martial arts. This pattern continued, and in the modern day there are almost 20 separate styles/schools of Baguazhang, each with minor or major differences from each other, though the dominant ones are the Yin style (founded by Yin Fu), the Cheng style (Cheng Tinghua), and the Liang style (Liang Zhenpu). Each of them emphasize different things and have differing focuses in their instruction, so it’s hard to make generalizations about Baguazhang as a whole except for the basics.

    What are the basics? The one baguazhang is most famous for is the practice of circle walking, sometimes called turning the circle; this is a method of training stances, movements and footwork that all styles utilize as an integral part of training. Practitioners walk the edge of the circle in various stances, facing the center, and periodically change direction as they execute forms; as they advance, the diameter of the circle shrinks. This trains up flexibility and proper body alignment through the basic exercises, then the more complex forms teach mechanics of generating and using internal power.

    Hilariously for the style that inspired Airbending in Avatar: The Last Airbender, baguazhang is actually famous for training in the use of a diverse array of different weapons, from swords to spears to a weapon unique to this style, the crescent-shaped “deer horn knives.” Baguazhang is also known for training with extremely oversized weapons, such that extremely outsized straight and curved swords are called bagua jian and bagua dao, respectively. Other weapons include the staff, the spear, the cane, and hook swords, and many styles of baguazhang take pride in being able to use anything as a weapon using the principles they teach.

    In addition to the use of many different weapons, baguazhang is also very versatile in unarmed combat, with a variety of strikes with just about every part of the arm, lots of kicks, joint locks, and throws, all to complement its evasive footwork that give baguazhang practitioners a reputation for being able to “flow” around an opponent’s attacks; all that circle-walking makes them very good at quickly circling behind an opponent without ever turning their back to them. The main differences in a lot of styles are in what they emphasize here in particular; Yin style, for instance, specializes in long-range (i.e. fully extended) strikes, while the Cheng style emphasizes going in close to wrestle and lock your opponent.

    Finally, all baguazhang styles are internal styles. So… what does that mean? A lot of the mysticization of kung fu would lead you to believe that internal power is some magic life force or whatever, but an “internal” style just means that it emphasizes on building power through means other than pure muscular strength, which is what an “external” style does. In baguazhang, power is built both from centripetal force from the circular motions and steps as well as what pretty much every internal martial art does: the generation of power through an understanding of the body’s mechanics and how to move the body in such a way that you can generate a lot of force that doesn’t come from your muscles. Movements of the waist are key to this, which is probably why the Chinese have always believed that energy comes from the stomach.

    And as far as History’s Strongest Disciple Ken’nichi goes, the very first lesson in martial arts that Ken’nichi learned (from Miu, rather than any of the Masters) was the unique “stepping method” of Bagua, which allowed him to very quickly pivot away from Daimonji’s attacks without the karateka being able to tell where he was moving (because with this method the upper body stays in place the longest, and Daimonji was too stupid to watch his feet instead of his upper body). In addition, the “Three-Headed Dragon” was a team of Chinese martial artists during the “Desperate Fight of Disciples” or “D of D Tournament” hosted by YAMI. The “Three-Headed Dragon” each used one of the three Wudang styles in conjunction to very nearly defeat Ken’nichi and Miu; the Baguazhang user was the only woman of the group, Yinlin Chou (whose actual Chinese name would be Zhang Shelin). Also, as a master of all Chinese martial arts who specializes in soft and internal styles, Ma Kensei frequently uses baguazhang, though it’s never specifically called out as such. And, of course, Ensei knows it.

    Baihequan: “White Crane Fist,” this style is also known as Fujian White Crane (after Fujian Province), or Yongchun Baihequan (“Eternal Spring White Crane Fist”). One of the major animal styles often associated with the Shaolin Monastery, it is one of the most influential of Chinese martial arts.

    Legend traces this style’s origins to a woman named Fang Qiniang, who lived in (of course) Fujian in the mid-17th century, a place known for being home to many cranes. Her father was a martial artist, and having no sons he taught what he knew to his daughter instead. One day, as she was doing her chores, a white crane landed nearby. She tried to scare it off with a stick without hurting it, but failed. When she tried to lightly hit it on the head, the crane moved its head away and flapped its wings, knocking away the stick. When she tried to hit its wings, it grabbed the stick with its talons. When she tried to poke its body, the crane jumped back and grabbed the stick with its beak. Qiniang then decided to study the crane’s movements, combining them with her father’s teachings to develop her own style of martial arts that she named after the crane.

    There are, of course, many variations of this story, but the point is that Fang Qiniang learned from a crane to emphasize evasion and attacking an opponent’s vulnerabilities rather than relying on strength. It is most often associated with the way practitioners will move their hands and arms in ways that imitate the way a crane pecks with its beak and flaps with its wings (Crane Stance is meant more as an exercise to develop balance, before you ask). Strikes are fast and precise, aimed at vulnerable points on the body to disable an attacker even if the practitioner is not very physically strong, as befits a style supposedly created by a woman, which is even now a popular subject in women’s self-defense classes in parts of China.

    As I mentioned before, White Crane is very influential in the development of many famous styles of martial arts, and not just Chinese ones; karate was originally developed in Okinawa, where there was a significant Chinese presence and a great deal of influence from Chinese martial arts in the development of their own methods of combat, which were eventually popularized in the rest of Japan; White Crane in particular is noted as an inspiration for some of the oldest formal schools of karate.

    In addition, one of the most famous and direct of White Crane’s descendants is Wing Chun. Remember that alternate name, the “Eternal Spring” one? Well, “Wing Chun” is Cantonese; the Mandarin is “Yong Chun;” though it uses a different character (thus the name means “Spring Chant” instead of “Eternal Spring”), the homage is very apparent in both the name and the fighting style, particularly in the rapid strikes with the arm and hand.

    Ensei is somewhat familiar with this one, though he personally considers it kind of "obsolete" compared to a certain other one he knows.

    Bajiquan: “Eight Extremities Fist.” Originally, it was called Baziquan (“Rake Fist”) after the way the fists, held slightly open, are used to strike downward in a rake-like fashion. As the style grew in popularity and prestige, the original name was deemed to crude and was changed. The term “Baji” comes from the Yijing, much like Bagua, and is a term that signifies something that extends or moves in all directions simultaneously; essentially, you could translate this style’s name as “All-Encompassing Fist” or “Universal Fist.”

    The first recorded master to teach this style was Wu Zhong (1712-1802), but the most famous of the style’s practitioners was a man from Hebei by the name of Li Shuwen (1864-1934), who acquired the nickname “God Spear Li” for his incredible spearmanship. A Beijing Opera performer by training (hey, just like Jackie Chan! And Sammo Hung. And Yuen Biao. And…), Li Shuwen is famous as claiming that, “I do not know what it’s like to hit a man twice.” Li Shuwen’s students included Huo Diange (bodyguard to Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China), Li Chenwu (bodyguard to Mao Zedong), and Liu Yunqiao (secret agent for the Guomindang and instructor of bodyguards for Chiang Chuncheng, a.k.a. Chiang Kai-shek); to this day, bajiquan retains a reputation as a popular style for bodyguards in China and Taiwan.

    Bajiquan specializes in battle at extreme close range, using a distinctive charging step to close in, then focusing on strikes with the elbows, knees, shoulders and hips. Fighters use these close-range attacks to forcibly open the opponent’s guard to quickly attack vulnerable areas like the throat, groin, joints, etc. The essence of baji quan lies in jin, or power-issuing methods, particularly fa jing (explosive power). The bulk of the damage is dealt through the momentary acceleration that travels up from the waist to the limb and further magnified by the charging step; this requires strenuous lower body training.

    Despite this focus on infighting, there are eight weapon styles that the style teaches, including spears, straight swords, curved swords, staff, two-handed swords, and polearms. These aren’t really ever given much spotlight or attention as far as I can see.

    Bajiquan shares similar roots with the style Piguaquan, and it is said that Wu Zhong, the first known teacher of these styles, taught them together, but as time went on they drifted apart. Li Shuwen was the one who recombined them, and it is said that this was a big part of his incredible success and fame as a martial artist. To this day, the two styles are considered incredibly complimentary, to the point that a proverb states, “When pigua is added to baji, gods and demons will all be terrified. When baji is added to pigua, heroes will sigh that they are no match for it.”

    In the manga, Bajiquan is one of the two primary martial arts used by Natsu Tanimoto (Hermit), who combines it, of course, with Pigua. This Baji-Pigua is also used by his master, Ma Sōgetsu, though like his brother Kensei he’s a master of all Chinese martial arts (specializing in the hard and external styles), as well as another Master-Disciple pair in YOMI, Ro Jisei (Lu Cizheng) and Chou Enshin (Zhao Yuanchen). The former is noted by Kensei as having contributed to Sōgetsu’s turn toward Satsujinken, and the latter was killed in a battle by Tanimoto to secure the winner’s place in YOMI.

    Bak Mei: “White Eyebrows.” The name (which is Cantonese; the Mandarin would be Bai Mei) comes from one of the legendary Five Elders – five survivors of the destruction of the Shaolin Monastery by the Qing Dynasty (an event variously placed as happening in 1647, 1674, or even 1732); many accounts claim that Bak Mei betrayed the temple to the imperial government. Like all of the Five Elders, he shows up a lot in Chinese works of fiction (and in Kill Bill, Vol. 2, where he’s called Pai Mei and played by Gordon Liu).

    As an aside, the original Shaolin Monastery was built on the north side of Mt. Shaoshi, the central peak of Mt. Song, one of the Sacred Mountains, located in Henan Province (in northern China). It was first built in 477 by the Northern Wei dynasty by Emperor Xiaowen, but was burned down various times throughout history for varying political reasons and eventually rebuilt each time. A number of traditions and tales talk about a Southern Shaoling Monastery located in Fujian Province, sometimes called Changlin Monastery. Associated with the stories of the burning of the Shaoling Monastery by Qing forces or presented as a place of refuge for survivors of the northern monastery’s burning, this monastery (along with the burning of the temples) is a cornerstone of Chinese popular history, fiction, and the traditional accounts of many of the most famous martial arts… that could very well never have even happened. There is in fact a non-zero chance that every single bit of that was either invented whole-cloth long after the fact or just extremely exaggerated. *sigh* Reality is so discouraging sometimes.

    As an example of how varying accounts of the Five Elders are, sometimes Bak Mei betrayed the temple to the government. Sometimes it was another Elder, Ma Ning-Yee, or sometimes it was both of them. Sometimes Fung Do-Duk also betrayed Shaolin with the two. Sometimes “Bak Mei” is just a nickname for one or the other. Sometimes all these completely different accounts make you seriously doubt that this wasn’t all just made up by wuxia novels and the anti-Qing mythology dreamed up by revolutionary societies like the Heaven & Earth Society that spread like a (secret) wildfire in China during the 19th century.

    Regardless, the fact that this style is named after a supposed traitor has led to very real tensions with practitioners of the styles purportedly founded by the guys that their namesake purportedly betrayed. Some provide alternate accounts that Bak Mei didn’t so much betray the other Five Elders as much as refuse to join them in fighting Qing, others that he was simply banished for accidentally killing several disciples when practicing the new martial art he’d made (which has the added bonus of hyping up Bak Mei the style). Other accounts Bak Mei as being forced into betraying the temple, or of seeing the writing on the wall and selling out a few so that he could spare the traditions of the temple and keep them going. Others take the disciple-killing story and gleefully accept the distinction of being a “traitor,” claiming that the fact that Bak Mei was able to kill several Shaolin brethren and escape retribution proves the strength of their style.

    As a style, Bak Mei emphasizes fighting in close quarters and focuses especially on the hands and arms. A particular emphasis on the style is, instead of blocking or avoiding attacks, to instead intercept and “jam” an attack before the opponent builds up force, then countering with vicious strikes, throws, locks and takedowns. It’s noted as having a lot in common with Leopard Kung Fu, one of the Five Southern Animal Styles for its emphasis on aggression, speed, and counterattacks.

    Baoquan: “Leopard Fist,” i.e. Leopard Style, and one of the famous Five Animal Styles of Southern kung fu. In contrast to its fellow animal style Tiger Style, the Leopard does not overwhelm the opponent with strength, but instead relies on outmaneuvering them with speed; the style combines speed and aggression, focusing on elbows, knees, low kicks and “leopard punches” in close range. Fast footwork is used to step into range and then out of it, with counterattacks that are sudden, quick and indirect, with the aim of striking at vulnerable areas to debilitate and cripple the opponent.

    Leopard Style does not block when it could attack (or to do both at once), and stances never sacrifice speed for stability. The style was supposedly based on the hit-and-run tactics of a hunting leopard, which allows it to take down prey larger than itself, so that a fighter could overwhelm and destroy a larger opponent. As a Shaolin martial art, this is one of the Chinese styles that Ensei is familiar with, though his actual training in it is limited.

    Choy Gar: “Choy Family Fist,” known as Caijiaquan in Mandarin. This style was founded in the 17th century by Choy Gau Lee, one of the “Five Family Elders;” this is different from the Five Elders of Shaolin, but closely related to them. One of the Five Elders, Jee Sin Sim See, taught five students who all founded famous martial arts styles that they passed on through their own family lines; these are the Five Family Elders.

    Choy Gar is a style created with self-defense in a specific environment in mind. Stances are low and stable and footwork is swift; the body and arms mimic the quick strikes of the snake. Unlike the many wide stances and open techniques of Northern martial arts, Choy Gar’s more contained movements and tighter stances make it better utilized in the cramped, crowded alleys and streets of the many megacities of Southern China. In Choy Gar, the strength of the lower body is paramount; strong legs are considered a necessity to practice the style because of the low style and the prevalence of powerful kicking techniques used to capitalize on openings made by the quick, deceptive strikes with the arms.

    Choy Li Fut: Known in Mandarin as Cai Li Fo. This martial art was founded (and named after) an amalgam of styles learned by its founder.

    Choy Li Fut was founded as a style in 1836 by Chan Heung (1806-1875), who learned Choy Gar from a Buddhist monk named Choy Fook, Li Gar from a man named Li Yau-San, and Fut Gar from his uncle, Chan Yuen-Wu. Having learned three of the Five Family Styles, Chan combined them into a style he created to honor them all and the heritage they represented. He founded his school at the local family temple in the village of his birth, but as his reputation spread. Hundreds of people came from surrounding villages to learn from him. In 1839, Chan Heung was forced to close his school temporarily to fight in the First Opium War (1839-42); his experiences with the ineffectual bureaucracy and corruption of the Qing government, which he blamed for the war’s loss, inspired Chan to leave his home to set up many Choy Li Fut schools throughout Southern China to spread both his martial arts and anti-Qing revolutionary sentiments. This connection with anti-Qing revolutionaries has given the style a fairly interesting history that’s been the subject of many a story.

    As noted above, Choy Li Fut is an amalgam of several martial arts that ultimately derived from Shaolin; as such, it incorporates various aspects of Northern and Southern styles: the powerful arm and hand techniques of several Shaolin animal styles from the South, with the extended circular movements, twisting body, and agile footwork of Northern Shaolin. The style is noted for dramatic twists of the upper body and “whipping” motions of the arms to build up greater power, as well as stances whose height strikes a middle ground between the very low, rooted stances of styles like Hung Ga and the very high, agile stances of styles like Wing Chun, to try to attain a middle ground between stability and speed. It is a very comprehensive martial art system, with strikes at various ranges, locks, grapples, takedowns, and weapon techniques.

    Bruce Lee, otherwise noted for being very critical of many other Chinese martial arts as being ineffective in modern contexts, complimented Choy Li Fut highly: “Choy Li Fut is the most effective system I’ve seen for fighting more than one person. It is one of the most difficult styles to attack and defend against. Choy Li Fut is the only style that traveled to Thailand to fight the Thai boxers and hadn’t lost.”
     
  23. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Ken'ichi, pt. 6
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    AN: Sorry for the silence on this front. At some point I let it get like all my other stories, even though the whole point of it was that I could just skip over stuff and not get bogged down like I do in a lot of my other writing endeavors. I’m not going to just immediately go for the “one post per jump” thing I see some do their Jumpchains, but I’m definitely going to make this more compressed going forward.

    ---X---

    “Ugh, you can’t be serious!” Kisara groaned, leaning back into the comfortable couch that made up her “throne” in the renovated warehouse she’d made her base.

    “I’m sorry, Lady Kisara, but it’s true,” Shiratori confirmed. “Both Ukita the Thrower and Takeda the Puncher were defeated by Shirahama on the same day.”

    “Geez. Why haven’t we ever heard of the guy if he’s this good!?” the prospective Fist groaned.

    “Ha! I told you that boxer was all talk.”

    “Oh, go back to your own gang, Tsuji,” Kisara snapped at her fellow executive officer. “If you’re healed up enough to talk trash about my troops, then get out of my sight already.”

    “Alright, my bad, sorry,” Tsuji said with a crooked smile, holding his hands out in surrender. She wasn’t wrong though. His nose was still bandaged – mostly because he kind of liked the look – and underneath his uniform his body was still a tapestry of bruises, but they were all yellowed and fading fast. Other than that, though, Tsuji Shinnosuke was pretty much healed.

    “Screw it, then,” Kisara grumbled as she stood up from the couch. “I’ll handle this punk myself, one way or the other.”

    “Hold up, Kisara,” Tsuji said, holding out a hand.

    “Are you still here?” Kisara asked pointedly, quirking an eyebrow. “I thought I told you-”

    “I’ll bring this Shirahama guy to you,” Tsuji interrupted, pointing at himself with a smile. “I don’t want people thinkin’ I’m not a man who pays his debts, so let me handle this and we’ll call it even.”

    Word of Tsuji Shinnosuke’s defeat and injury had spread through Ragnarok like wildfire. He was ambitious and had risen high and quickly in Ragnarok, which meant there were no shortage of rivals and would-be upstarts who smelled blood in the water when they heard the news.

    Ragnarok didn’t allow outright insubordination or civil war, but it also recognized no greater authority than strength; anyone who could be defeated by someone lower than him on the gang’s totem pole clearly didn’t deserve their position, and anyone who wasn’t already one of the Seven Fists could be challenged to single combat whenever Ragnarok wasn’t actively engaged in conflict with some rival gang. In other words, taking a higher rank atop your predecessor’s unconscious body was a perfectly valid means of climbing the ladder in Ragnarok, so anyone who had achieved a rank as high as Tsuji’s had to constantly be on guard to protect it, especially while injured. But challenges explicitly had to be one-on-one and with witnesses, so if no one could find and challenge Tsuji while he was recovering…

    Well, suffice to say that he owed Kisara a solid for having let him crash at her hideout while his nose and ribs healed. Especially since they’d never exactly been what you might call friends. He hadn’t been expecting the offer, and he wasn’t about to be an ingrate over it.

    Kisara sighed and sank back into her couch. “Fine, whatever. Guess I might as well get something outta dealing with your fat mouth the past few days. Knock yourself out.”

    ---X---

    “Get back here, you ponytailed bastard!” I heard some punks yelling as Takeda Ikki, a beat-up Ken’ichi slung over his shoulder, ran toward the bridge I was standing next to. His eyes widened as he saw me, skidding to a halt and trying to take a fighting stance despite the dead weight on his back. I could see a hint of fear in his eyes as a bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face.

    I shook my head with a rueful smile and jabbed a thumb at the bridge behind me. “Don’t worry about me, just get Ken’ichi to Ryōzanpaku,” I said with a smile as I walked past him.

    The tanned boxer looked at me in bewilderment for a moment before breaking into a sprint as Tsuji and his goon squad’s footsteps started getting louder.

    Tsuji and his boys came to a stop as they saw me standing in front of the bridge. “Ensei? Hell are you doing here?” Tsuji asked, then gasped. “Wait, that boxer and Shirahama!”

    “I don’t think you’ll be catching up to them,” I noted as I looked back to Takeda’s retreating form. “For a boxer, he’s got really fast legs, even if he doesn’t really know how to defend them in a fight yet.”

    “Why didn’t you stop them!?” the Ragnarok executive demanded.

    “Why would I do that?” I asked, arching an eyebrow. “I don’t see anyone else in Ragnarok bothering to help Kisara with her problems. Heck, you’re just doing it because you owe her, aren’t you?

    “More importantly, how was the fight?” I asked. “Your injuries bother you at all?”

    Tsuji scoffed. “What, you still on about that stupid crap? You’re gonna be one weird-ass Eighth Fist, you know that?”

    I sighed and shook my head. “Forget it, then. So, you’ve fought Kisara’s personal embarrassment. How was it?”

    “Hmph. He wasn’t bad, but he still doesn’t know what a real fight is. Soon as I track him down, he’s toast,” Tsuji bragged.

    “Really? From what I could tell, he’s stronger than you, and only experience in dirty fighting let you turn the tables,” I noted. “As soon as he gets a bit more experience and you can’t just cheap-shot him in a pinch, a rematch isn’t likely to end well for you if you stay as you are.

    “But you know what would help with that? Joining my family’s dojo,” I offered. Hey, had to try.

    “Please. I’ve never needed anyone to teach me how to throw a punch, and I’m sure as hell not gonna start now!” Tsuji declared, holding up his fist. “I guess I’m what you might call a self-made man!”

    ‘You’re closer to what I might call a stubborn jackass,’ I thought to myself, rolling my eyes as his flock of fair-weather groupies started voicing their support for his stupidity with a chorus of stuff like “Yeah, Boss Tsuji doesn’t need some lame dojo to teach him how to kick ass!” or whatever.

    “But hey, thanks anyway,” Tsuji said magnanimously. “Maybe I’ll see if some of the guys in Ragnarok are interested. You’ve only got the one student, right?”

    “How did you…?” I began to ask, then clicked my teeth. “Loki better not be spreading info on me or something. But if you must know, no, we don’t just have one student anymore. I’ve been recruiting at Kōryō High School.”

    “Kōryō? Why there?” Tsuji asked.

    “Oh, I just had the good luck to meet someone who was nice enough to point me to some people who might be interested,” I lied with a shrug. “I got a few ‘Maybes,’ but two of them ended up signing up right away.”

    ---X---

    “And why exactly should I give you this kind of information?” Nijima Haruo asked the weird middle schooler claiming he was Ken’ichi’s friend. He’d have to verify that kind of information later, but for now it wasn’t changing his stance on sharing information, i.e. Pay up, sucker! Knowledge is power!

    “Because I can tell you where Ken’ichi’s been going and what he’s been doing to get so strong so quickly,” the kid replied bluntly. “In fact, I can take you there right now and prove it to you.”

    “… I’m listening.”

    ---

    Mizunuma Manabu, formerly the 2nd-most bullied student at Kōryō High School and now the 1st, was dabbing at his latest bruise with his handkerchief. Looking at himself in the mirror, he sighed.

    “I wonder how he did it…?” he wondered aloud. Shirahama Ken’ichi had once been the only student at school who was picked on even more than himself, but now suddenly he was unstoppable; he’d even saved Mizunuma himself from bullies twice. “How did he get so strong?”

    Mizunuma practically jumped out of his skin as one of the stall doors that hadn’t seem occupied suddenly blew open and a young boy in a middle school outfit burst out. “Well it’s about time you asked that question!” he exclaimed. “Do you know how annoying it was waiting for you to give me an opening like that?”

    “W… what?” Mizunuma asked, blinking rapidly as he tried to understand what was going on.

    “Forget about it,” the boy said with a wave of his hand. “Anyway, I know exactly how you can get stronger really quickly.”

    “Y-you do?” Normally Mizunuma wouldn’t believe it, but it had all happened so suddenly that his mind couldn’t really catch up enough to be properly skeptical.

    “Sure. You need proof?” the boy asked, tilting his head a bit and holding up a hand in front of him. “

    ---

    Takashima Chihiro, once the ace of the Gymnastics Club and now playing second fiddle to a first year, was sneaking into the gym to find some way to sabotage the recently transferred student who had usurped her cherished position.

    “Let’s see, what can I use to put her in her place…?” she thought to herself as she examined the room.

    “You know, it says a lot about you that you spend so much time thinking of ways to tear someone down instead of trying to build yourself up,” a boy’s voice came, seemingly from nowhere. “I mean, I don’t necessarily condemn sabotage, but this is just kinda low.”

    “What!? Who’s out there!?” Chihiro yelled, looking around frantically. How could someone have realized what she was planning!?

    With catlike grace, a boy who looked about 13 or 14 dropped down from the ceiling in a roll and landed perfectly on his feet, not looking the least bit disoriented.

    “Do you really think you’re ever going to get your position as ace back with petty sabotage and cheap tricks?” the boy asked, pointing at her and giving a smug little smirk. “You’ll need a lot more than that, and I can give it to you. I can tell you where Miu’s skill comes from… and how you can get the same kind of skill. Interested?”

    ---X---

    Truly, it had been a happy day. Cleaning a dojo with only one other person sucks.

    …And, you know, helping out my parents and better securing our finances and all that. That was great, too.

    “Well, it’s a slow start for getting underlings, but don’t worry, we can’t all be as charismatic as me,” Tsuji said proudly as he jabbed a thumb at himself. “Besides, going from 1 to 3 is like a 150% increase, right? So that’s pretty good.”

    “… You should consider cutting class a bit less,” I said, shaking my head. “Anyway, glad to hear you’re all healed up. Maybe I’ll even let you serve under me when I become the Eighth Fist.”

    “Pft. Cocky brat,” Tsuji grunted, though he had a bit of a grin as he said it. “Talk big once you actually outrank me!”

    ---X---

    I caught back up with Takeda just as he was leaving the dojo, having left the unconscious Ken’ichi in Koetsuji and Kensei’s capable hands. The moment he saw me, he took up a boxing stance instantly despite his shock.

    Hmm. Man, Ragnarok really lost out for losing him. His left arm might not be anywhere near fully healed yet, but even like this he’d still be a decent match for Tsuji. Now that I knew what that really meant in martial arts terms, the tragedy of his injury just seemed even worse… Glad it had a happy ending.

    “You followed us!” he exclaimed. “You wanted me to lead you back to-!”

    “I already know this place, actually,” I interrupted. “I’m not here for Ragnarok’s sake.

    “So… you know who I am?” I asked, even though he’d pretty much just confirmed it.

    “… Yeah. Everyone in Ragnarok’s talking about you,” Takeda replied, still wary and not dropping his guard. “You’re Ensei, Loki’s secret weapon.”

    “Loki’s what?” I asked, incredulous.

    “I guess you can’t believe everything you hear, then?” Takeda smirked. “Look at it this way: Out of the blue, Loki sponsors some no-name kid we’ve never heard of, who makes a total chump out of one of Ragnarok’s strongest executive officers. Everyone’s talking about how happy Loki looked watching you beat Tsuji into the ground; there’s all kinds of rumors that you’re his brother or his student or whatever.”

    “Pft. Like there’s anything he’d be able to teach me about fighting,” I scoffed. Just looking at them assembled together had made it clear to me that Loki was the weakest of the Seven Fists.

    “Whatever. Look, I’m not Loki’s ‘secret weapon,’ and I don’t really care about any of Ragnarok’s bullcrap,” I said. “I’ve got my own reasons for joining up with them, but I’m not your enemy, or Ken’ichi’s.”

    “And how can I be sure about that?” Takeda asked.

    “Just ask the masters; I’ve been helping the guy train for a while now. If I were planning to hurt Ken’ichi, they wouldn’t have let me within a mile of this place.”

    Well, they might, at least if Ken’ichi weren’t injured. Masters don’t interfere in fights between disciples, after all. But Takeda didn’t really need to know that.

    Takeda still looked wary, but he eased up on his stance a bit. “I’ll make sure to do just that, but I think I’ll take you at your word for now. Glad to hear I’m not gonna have to punch out a kid,” he said with a cocky smile.

    “Oh whatever, ‘kid,’ I’m like three years younger than you!” I snapped.

    “Listen, just… Do you mind not telling Ken’ichi? About me joining Ragnarok?” I asked. “You can talk about it with the masters or whoever, but I don’t want Ken’ichi to know. Or Miu, since she’d just end up blabbing anyway.”

    Takeda blinked in surprise at that request. He gave a long, steady look, before his smile came back, warm instead of cocky. “Alright, I promise. You don’t want him to get dragged into whatever’s forced you into Ragnarok, huh? I can respect that. Consider your secret safe with me.”

    ‘Actually, I just kinda want to see the look on his face when he finds out that I’m the Eighth Fist, but sure, let’s go with that,’ I thought.

    Takeda Ikki. A proud boxer who never abandoned his sense of fair play and chivalry, even when the world tore away his dreams and his faith in friendship. Also kind of a credulous airhead. As he walked into the setting sun without looking back like some Clint Eastwood character, a promise between men having been made, I wasn’t sure whether to think he was cool as hell or kind of a dope.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 9:03 PM
  24. Par Tzu

    Par Tzu Not too sore, are you?

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    why not both?
    awesome chapter!
     
    Dogsigh and Leingod like this.
  25. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    That is the correct answer, yes. And thanks!
     
  26. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Kennichi, pt. 7
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Ryōzanpaku was unusually quiet as I knocked on the door, and unusually, instead of Apachai or the Elder it was Kennichi who opened it.

    “Hey Kennichi. Aren’t you usually tied up to some weird contraption this time of day?” I said as a greeting.

    “Oh, ha ha.”

    “No seriously, where is everyone? No one told me this was your day off,” I said as Kennichi closed the door behind us. I hate walking to places and then finding out there was no point.

    Kennichi looked around, as if just now noticing the unusual quiet and lack of the masters’ presence. “Huh. Where’d they all go? I guess I got too caught up thinking about that spar…”

    “Look out!” I yelled, jumping away as the door flew open, sending Kennichi rolling away from the impact.

    “Come out, Masters of Ryōzanpaku!” a large, beefy man in a karate gi and kabuki facepaint exclaimed, striking a pose as a bunch of other guys in the same gi ran in and made a line on either side of him.

    [​IMG]

    “Come out, for Kumatori Gonzui is here!” the man continued.

    “W-Who the heck are you!?” Kennichi exclaimed as I helped him to his feet.

    That was a good question. Who was this kabuki reject? I didn’t remember him at all. Some one-off villain of the weak to help Kennichi learn a lesson? I think there were a lot of those early on.

    The man tilted his head dramatically. “What’s that? Did I just hear that you don’t know who I am? Then let me say it again! I am Kumatori Gonzui, founder and master of the Kokyukai Dojo, and I come with a challenge!”

    Jeez, this guy loves to hear himself shout,’ I thought with a mental eye-roll. Yapping drama queens like this never amounted to much in stories like this, so no wonder I didn’t remember him at all.

    “Now, where are the masters of this dojo!?” he demanded.

    “J-Just a second!” Kennichi yelled as he took off like a shot. Not wanting to be left alone for this guy to pose at me, I followed him at a leisurely pace.

    “What do you mean no one’s here!?” I heard Kennichi yell in a panicked voice as I approached.

    “Let’s see, Sakaki went to buy beer, Koetsuji and Kensei are working at their clinics…” Miu counted off. “Grandpa left on one of his trips, and Apachai and Shigure are out playing mahjong with Honoka.”

    “Oh geez, of all the days for them to leave us alone…!” Kennichi moaned, head in his hands.

    “Well, I’d better go meet them. It would be really rude to just leave them to wait outside!” Miu said nonchalantly, completely oblivious to Kennichi’s breakdown.

    ---

    Mr. Kabuki’s eye started twitching as Miu set down a steaming cup of tea in front of him. “I’m sorry if the quality isn’t very good, but please have as much as you’d like,” she smiled.

    “Master, don’t drink it! These cowards are trying to poison you!” one of the generic disciples crowding behind the guy yelled.

    I clicked my teeth in annoyance. These assholes clearly had no respect if they were willing to throw around baseless accusations at another dojo like that.

    My opinion of them didn’t improve as Mr. Kabuki flipped his teacup over on top of the table and then stabbed his finger into the bottom, causing a fountain of hot tea to come spurting out as he drew his hand back and shower the table.

    “Hey!” Miu exclaimed. “That’s rude!”

    “We’re not here to play nice!” he replied. “We’re here for a challenge.”

    “Fine,” Miu huffed as she pulled out a ledger. “Please write down your name, address and the name of your school, then. The Elder’s articles on challenges are right here on the first page.”

    “What!? Ten thousand yen per challenger!” he roared as he read it.

    “If you pay an addition ten thousand, you can fight the entire dojo in succession instead,” Miu pointed out graciously. “I’m sorry, but we’ve had so many challenges in the past that we needed to include measures like these.”

    More like you’re so broke you needed to include them,’ I thought wryly.

    “How dare you show such disrespect-!” the same flunky started shouting, before being cut off by his boss throwing out an arm.

    “Fine,” he said, tossing the bills on the table. “There will only be one challenge. I will fight Sakaki Shio and prove the strength of my karate.”

    Miu gave him a long, hard look before replying. “I’m sorry to say, but Sakaki is out at the moment, so we’ll have to wait until he comes back for your challenge,” she finally said.

    I blinked in surprise. Wait, she wasn’t going to fight him herself?

    Mr. Kabuki’s fist slammed down on the table, breaking it into splinters. He stood up and roared, “You little brat, are you toying with me!?”

    As he raised his fist again, Miu and I both took our stances, but a voice rang out from the doorway.

    “Hey Crab-Head! Get away from Miu!” Kennichi called out.

    “Kennichi!” Miu cried out, sounding worried. Personally, I was just wondering how I didn’t think of that name first.

    “I’m Ryōzanpaku’s #1 Disciple!” Kennichi said. “If you want a fight right now so badly, then leave her alone and fight me!”

    “First I get played for a fool, now I’m insulted by some scrawny kid,” Crab-Head muttered to himself.

    “Kennichi, stop!” Miu yelled.

    Without a word, Crab-Head took a horse stance, and as if on cue some of his flunkies started breaking wooden bats on his muscles.

    “You like that, you Ryōzanpaku cowards!?” one of the flunkies started bragging. “This is the pride of our karate! We can make our bodies as strong as steel and take any hit without flinching! Scared yet?”

    “I’m scared to think how many idiots would think something like that qualifies as a martial art in itself, yeah,” I retorted. There was only so much of this idiocy I could stand. “Are you seriously bragging that your best move is a knockoff of the Iron Shirt technique? What do you call your karate, ‘My Face to Your Fist’ style?”

    “Ensei, what are you doing!?” Miu whispered as Crab-Head started glaring at me through gritted teeth, causing me to blink.

    “Wait, are you… Are you actually intimidated by this clown?” I whispered back.

    “Ensei, can’t you tell!? He’s an Expert!”



    “Oh shit,” I whispered.

    Much like in building trades or crafts such as carpentry, you don’t immediately jump from Disciple (or apprentice) to Master. “Expert,” at least in this world, is the common term for the martial arts equivalent of a journeyman; they’ve graduated from their apprenticeship, but are not yet true Masters of their art. For a dedicated martial artist, it is a dangerous and difficult time in one’s life, as they must face the challenges of the martial arts world without either the protection or the skills of a Master. Many were broken before they could reach true mastery; others simply stagnated, as they reached a dead end in their progress for whatever reason and lost their chance as their bodies began to atrophy with age. Underneath the face paint, this guy looked about middle-aged; he might not even realize it, but he was probably even in the latter category.

    But even a failure of an Expert was more than any of us could take on, and he was looking mighty pissed off at me.

    “Uh… How about a three on one?” I suggested.

    “How about a hard lesson in running your mouth?” the karateka said as I started choking and sputtering, flailing to try to get him to release his grip on my throat.

    “Ah!” he yelled out in surprise, dropping me as Kennichi, whom he’d apparently forgotten about, punched him right in the funny bone, his first two knuckles raised up a bit to focus the impact better.

    “You hardened your body by steeling your muscles, but there are parts of the body where that just won’t work,” Kennichi pointed out as Kumadori tried to wring out the painful numbness in his arm.

    “I’ve had it with you brats!” he yelled, raising a leg in front of himself and slamming it down on the down hard enough to shake the floor. Dropping into a deep stance, he wheeled his arms around, and I could faintly sense the gathering of ki, my eyes widening as he struck out with twin palms at Kennichi…

    “Hey hey hey, what do you think you’re doing pulling out moves like that on Disciples?” Sakaki said, grabbing the man’s arms and pulling them just short of Kennichi from behind, to the shock of everyone else in the room.

    “M-Master Sakaki!” Kennichi exclaimed as Sakaki let go of Kumadori’s arms and walked around him.

    “Glad to see you got over your little problem, Kennichi,” Sakaki said brightly before turning to me. “But you’ve got a bit of a mouth problem on ya, huh? Don’t go getting a swelled head just ‘cause you can beat up street punks, alright? It’s not gonna end well if you keep mouthin’ off before you even take someone’s measure.”

    “… Right. You’re right,” I admitted, dropping my head. Damn it, I hate people who mouth off and talk big all the time.

    “Don’t get too worked up about it,” he said, rubbing my hair (over my protests). “This is the time in your life for you to learn from mistakes like that.

    “As for you,” he said, turning back to Kumadori, who had the presence of mind to gulp in fright as the “100-Dan Brawler” stared him down and started cracking his knuckles. “I guess I oughta thank you for being so patient with these disciples, huh?”

    The next few seconds only need two words to describe them: Total Annihilation.

    ---X---

    AN:
    Surprise! I don’t really like leaving everything just as canon except for butterflies the SI himself creates. The in-universe justification is that Jump-chan doesn’t either, so there’ll be some minor curveballs here and there to keep Ensei on his toes. First one being, Kumatori Gonzui isn’t a total chump.

    Also, I hope Ensei talking smack and making unfounded assumptions doesn’t feel like it comes out of the blue. I hope I was able to foreshadow in previous chapters that Ensei tries to be humble about his skills and ends up failing because all his statements of others’ skills are basically backhanded ways of saying, “But I could totally kick their ass, so it doesn’t matter” when he isn’t talking about out-and-out Masters. I figure that even a normally humble person would get kind of arrogant when just handed badass kung fu skills on a silver platter, and I don’t consider myself a person who’s humble by nature; I just try to be because I hate unfounded arrogance in others.

    That said, this is honestly kind of just a short interlude I wanted to bang out as a quick “Thank You” and apology for taking so long to bring this back, as well as a way to get across that not everything in these Jumps are going to be exactly as they should before introducing any major deviation.
     
  27. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Ken'ichi, pt. 8
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    These days, very few people were willing to go anywhere near the city’s park once night fell. First, it had become a popular hangout for the growing epidemic of delinquent gangs that had been forming recently; the causes and effects of this explosive growth in delinquency and violence were all over the news.

    With the rise of the gang called “Ragnarok,” however, it had gotten even worse. What had been a mere gang hangout became a regular scene of moonlit violence, as various gangs challenged each other to try to bolster their strength in the face of the growing threat that Ragnarok represented. The park had become a sort of status symbol among these gangs, and the longer one was able to hold it, the more support they would receive from other gangs who hoped to try to oppose Ragnarok.

    That ended tonight. Cries rang out amidst the sounds of bones cracking and boots hitting flesh. In a single night, the executive officer Nanjō Kisara defeated the gang that was currently dominating the city park.

    “Boss!” several thugs cried, as a large, beefy young man collapsed to the ground with a broken jaw.

    “Looks like you guys weren’t all you were cracked up to be, huh?” the taekwondo student taunted as she adjusted her cap. “Boys, clean up the leftovers.”

    “Yes, ma’am!” came the resounding cry, followed by a merciless beating as her thugs fell upon their demoralized enemies.

    As Kisara turned away, her right hand, Shiratori, wordlessly handed her a towel, which she accepted gratefully.

    “Damn it, this isn’t good, this isn’t good,” a very strange-looking young man muttered as he wrote furiously in a notebook, hidden a safe distance away in the bushes. “This throws off all my plans, how has she been able to complete all those tests so quickly?”

    “Well, they weren’t all that hard,” I piped up behind him, looking a little amused as he jumped in shock and let out a panicked scream before quickly hiding himself again. There was a tense (for him) moment as Kisara and Shiratori looked our way for a few seconds before dismissing the sound.

    “Y-you!” Nijima Haruo exclaimed in a whisper, pointing accusatorily at me. “You’re the kid who- And you’re the-!”

    “Yep,” I confirmed simply. “Just wanted to make a few things clear to you. I know what you’re planning to do with this ‘Shinpaku Alliance’ you’ve got cooking, and I want to lay out a few ground rules and give you some advice…”

    ---X---

    Two nights later, I managed to catch a faint impression out of the corner of my eye.

    ‘He’s really good at this,’ I thought to myself. ‘If I didn’t know he was going to try to spy on this, I don’t think I’d even have caught him.’

    I didn’t break my stride as I walked past the hidden Nijima Haruo alongside Kisara, coming into view of the assembled thugs that were pretty much all that was left of Ragnarok’s “competition,” such as it was. Suffice to say, I wasn’t impressed.

    The man who had managed to become the head of this ragtag alliance, a big, beefy-looking guy, clicked his teeth in annoyance. “Are you kiddin’ me? Only two of you even bothered showing up?”

    “Nine, actually, for all the difference it makes,” Odin said as the Seven Fists walked out from behind us. I could swear he’d choreographed the entrance, as the seven of them were all backlit dramatically by streetlights and looking suitably mysterious and imposing.

    ‘He tries to play it cool, but he’s totally a drama queen,’ I thought to myself as I put on the pair of black gloves I’d been given. The Roman numeral “VIII” had been stitched onto the back in gold, otherwise identical to the ones given to Kisara, which had the numeral “IX” instead.”

    “You arrogant bastard!” the leader shouted. “Hell do you think you’re gonna do with just 9 people!? I’ve got 50 fighters behind me ready to tear you to pieces!” An affirmative cry rang out from the assembled thugs, who variously cracked their knuckles, rattled bike chains, or hefted baseball bats or wooden swords as appropriate.

    “Don’t misunderstand me. All nine of us would be complete overkill against the likes of you,” Odin said calmly as he adjusted his glasses. “The only reason we’re here is to see our two newest members complete their ‘final exam,’ so to speak.”

    “Looking down on us, you bastards!?” he leader yelled out. “Fine, better for us that way! Kill’em!”

    I pulled out a pair of chako* as the thugs began to charge at Kisara and I, who were standing side-by-side.

    “Pft. You really need that against these losers?” she chided.

    “It’s not about ‘need,’ Number Nine,” I retorted. “It’s just going to be quicker with this.”

    ---

    ‘Holy crap, what am I watching1?’ Nijima Haruo thought to himself as he watched 50 armed thugs get taken out by just two fighters.

    ‘Are all the Sev-er, Nine Fists like this!?’ he wondered frantically, staring at the other Fists, who were just watching impassively as their newest members annihilated the last of their gang’s opposition without any comment or expression that he could see.

    Frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that he now had a man on the inside – not that he trusted the kid as far as he could throw him, but he was sure he could use him up before the runty punk tried to pull whatever it was he was planning – he’d be reconsidering a lot of his recent life choices. Honestly, he was still more than a little worried as to whether Ken'ichi would get strong enough to crush these guys for him in time…

    “I’ll need to redouble my efforts to make sure this is as unfair a fight as possible,” he asserted to himself slyly. “I’ll start by spreading even more rumors about that Tsuji guy…”

    ---

    “And that makes 28 for me and only a measly 24 for you, Number Nine,” I said loftily as Kisara took down the enemy leader with a single kick.

    “Screw you, leaders are worth 5!” Kisara retorted.

    “Not when they’re that weak they aren’t. He’s worth 2, at best,” I replied.

    “Regardless of the exact count, you’ve both done well,” Odin cut in. “Congratulations on your entry into the Seven, now Nine, Fists of Ragnarok.

    “Kimura Ensei, you are now the Eighth Fist. Do you have a preference for your title?”

    “Think I’ll go with ‘Heimdall,’” I answered.

    “Good. Nanjō Kisara, you are now the Ninth Fist. Have you decided your title?”

    “… ‘Valkyrie,’” Kisara said, after a moment’s hesitation.

    ‘Ugh,’ I groaned mentally.

    “Good. Again, welcome to the Nine Fists,” Odin said as he and the others began to scatter.

    “W-Wait! Can I ask, when are we going to meet Master Kensei?” Kisara asked.

    “That is for Master Kensei to decide,” Odin said without turning back. “You will be informed when he makes that decision. Until then, strive to come to his attention.”

    Yeah right. I’d rather fight that fucking psychopath than train under him,’ I thought to myself. ‘At least then he’d only probably kill or cripple me.’

    “You gotta be kidding me,” Kisara griped as the two of us were left alone. Well, alone as any two people amidst 50 unconscious delinquents can be.

    “… If it helps, I’ll let you count the leader as 3,” I offered.

    “Oh, shut up.”

    ---X---

    Tsuji Shinnosuke. Just a short while prior, he’d been one of the top executive officers of Ragnarok, highly respected for his skills in a fight which had allowed him to gather one of the largest groups under himself, dubbed the “Tsuji Army.” He had even been considered for the position of one of the Fists of Ragnarok.

    But all his work in making a name for himself and building up his army had come to nothing. He had lost, badly, to Kimura Ensei in the very first test to become one of the Fists. His crushing defeat there had been a humiliation in its own, but something he could have recovered from. However, a whisper campaign had spread all kinds of rumors about him; one by one, his subordinates all drifted away from the Tsuji Army, until he had only two supporters left.

    Led to believe the whisper campaign had been carried out by Nanjō Kisara, he had confronted her, only to be taken out in a surprise attack by Shirahama Ken'ichi. Word had quickly spread in an exaggerated retelling that Tsuji had tried to ambush Shirahama like a coward and been utterly crushed, further making Tsuji a laughingstock within Ragnarok.

    Finally, he had tried to confront Shirahama and defeat him once again, to prove that the stories had been nothing but a lie. Instead, an opponent that Tsuji had once been able to best due to his greater experience instead completely overpowered him and defeated him in a single blow.

    ‘It’s… a complete loss,’ Tsuji thought to himself, barely able to sit up after a single punch from Shirahama. His last two followers had to help him up.

    “You guys… should find a new gang,” Tsuji said quietly. “There’s no point in sticking with me now.”

    “We can’t do that!” one of them exclaimed.

    “We’re your personal guard! We can’t just leave!”

    “It’s the end of the Tsuji Army,” Tsuji admitted. “I’ve always said that a man’s worth is in how many people are willing to follow him. Look at me! There’s nothing left…”

    “What kind of stupid talk is that, Mop-Head?” Shirahama retorted.

    “W-What?” Tsuji asked, turning around to see that his enemy had stuck around after his victory.

    “You’ve got two good friends who are willing to stick by you, no matter what happens,” the boy pointed out. “That’s worth a lot more than even a hundred ‘troops’ who abandon you as soon as you aren’t on top.”

    Tsuji shakily got to his feet. “Friends, huh?”

    “Yeah, friends!” one of his personal guard exclaimed. “You’ve still got us, Captain!”

    “Right! We stuck by you from the very beginning, and we promised we’d be with you ‘til you made it to the very top!” the other affirmed.

    Tsuji turned away as his eyes began to sting. “You stubborn bastards. Alright, fine, we’ll withdraw for now, but the Tsuji Army ain’t done yet!”

    “Yes, sir!”

    “Oh, wait up. Shirahama!” Tsuji exclaimed, turning back.

    “Huh? Yes?”

    “Your friend… Takeda Ikki. Ragnarok doesn’t let anyone just leave. He’s going to be beaten into a bloody mess; that’s the ‘Quitter’s Lynching.’ Kisara’s group is going to be the one to do it, since she was his superior. And the Sixth Fist, Hermit, is going to oversee it, ‘cause she’s a new member. You and he had better lay low for a while. In fact, skip town if you can!”

    Tsuji and his personal guard walked away as Shirahama Ken'ichi absorbed this new information. They hadn’t gotten far, though, before a familiar face stood in their path.

    “Hey Tsuji. Saw you get your ass kicked; so much for not needing any lessons, huh?” the Eighth Fist said tauntingly. “Couldn’t even take a punch from him. That’s the difference actual training under a Master makes, you know. Relying on experience from brawls on the street’ll only take you so far as a fighter.”

    “Are you going somewhere with this, ‘Heimdall?’” Tsuji asked testily.

    “Yeah. My offer from before still stands,” Ensei said. “You and your friends here should sign up at my family’s dojo; we’ll whip you all into tip-top shape in no time.

    “Heck, if you really want, I’ll even let you stay on as an executive officer, under me,” he continued. “What do you say?”

    Tsuji chuckled. “Really? You’re gonna accept a guy the rest of Ragnarok has laughed off as a washout? That’s big of you, what’s your angle?”

    “My ‘angle’ is that I’m not stupid enough to write someone off just because he’s down on his luck,” Ensei answered. “You’ve fallen behind, Tsuji, but you’ve got what it takes to go far if you’re willing to swallow your pride and learn from your mistakes.”

    Tsuji nodded thoughtfully. “… What kinda tuition fees we talking about, here?” he asked. “The Tsuji Army ain’t exactly flush with cash right now.”

    “Don’t worry about it, we don’t charge that much.”

    ---

    “And so, we go from one to seven,” I said with satisfaction as I watched my subjects uh, kohai, do the scut work of cleaning the dojo while I polished some of the equipment. “Now this is how a dojo is supposed to work.”

    And as soon as Nijima’s ‘Shinpaku Alliance’ plan gains enough steam to compete with Ragnarok, we’re going to be drowning in new students,’ I thought to myself. ‘Speaking of which…’

    “Hey, Mizunuma, has Nijima laid out his plan for stopping Takeda’s ‘Quitter’s Lynching?’” I asked.

    The Shinpaku Alliance member stopped polishing the floor to look at me in surprise. “How did you…? Uh, well, he hasn’t told me, but he seems pretty confident, so I guess he must have something in mind…”

    “Well, far be it for me to question his acumen as a strategist, but I think he still doesn’t really get what Ragnarok’s capable of,” I replied. “If it was just Kisara, I’m sure Ken'ichi could deal with it, but Hermit’s keeping an eye on her while she undergoes her ‘probationary period’ to see how good she is as a leader, and the two of them at once is a death sentence as he is now.”

    Actually, I was kind of lying. Even if Ken'ichi didn’t have his dumb aversion to fighting girls, he still wouldn’t have much chance against Kisara right now, but Miu would handle that part just fine. But there was always the chance that Hermit decided to be a bit more “active” this time around in dealing with the threat Ken'ichi and the Shinpaku Alliance represented.

    “Tell Nijima that I won’t step in to help against Kisara, but if Hermit tries anything, I’ll make sure to draw him away,” I told Mizunuma.

    ‘Let’s hope I’m not wrong about how willing Hermit is to overlook his loyalties to Ragnarok for the sake of a challenge,’ I thought to myself. I still wasn’t remotely worried about Loki’s (unbeknownst to him) empty threat against the dojo, but if he tried targeting some of the students first… Other than Tsuji and Tsukuba, none of them were yet at the point where I could trust them to hold their own against Loki’s posse without me. If Hermit reported me…

    ‘Well, I guess if it really comes down to it, I'll just have to live up to my new title and be the one to take out Loki preemptively,’ I mused.

    ---X---

    AN
    *If you’ve forgotten, it’s the eskrima/arnis version of the Okinawan nunchaku; the only real difference is a longer chain and shorter handles, which makes it more suited for longer ranges than you would use nunchaku for.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 9:04 PM
  28. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Ken'ichi, pt. 9
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Takeda Ikki, formerly “Takeda the Puncher” of Kisara’s elite “Three-Man Army.” He had once been an aspiring professional boxer with a bright future ahead of him. At that time, he and another talented rookie named Akeshita had been close friends.

    So, when Akeshita made a panicked call one night to Takeda when he was cornered by a gang of armed delinquents outside of a convenience store, Takeda had only hesitated for a moment before rushing to his aid; it hadn’t even been the thought of being hurt or beaten that had given him pause, but the fact that getting involved in street fights could get him banned from boxing and, on top of that, he had an important match the very next day.

    Takeda and Akeshita managed to fight off the thugs together, but Takeda was in no shape to fight the next day. In fact, he was in no condition to box again: a blow from a thug’s wooden sword took away his ability to raise his left arm. Akeshita, on the other hand, went on to have a successful boxing career, but distanced himself from the friend who’d given up everything to help him. Despondent, Takeda lost his way, became cynical about friendship and the good nature of people, and became a delinquent himself for lack of any other path in life that he could see.

    So, when he was tasked with finding Shirahama Ken'ichi and bringing him to Kisara – either for recruitment, or to get the shit beaten out of him after he’d beaten Tsukuba Saizō – Takeda managed to pin down Ken'ichi, who was trying to avoid a confrontation, by taking two of Ken'ichi’s former bullies hostage after hearing them loudly affirm that they were his friends (in an attempt to get close to Miu through him), banking on the fact that Ken'ichi would act as Takeda himself had and come to the aid of others.

    The resulting fight had ended with the two becoming friends, and with Takeda feeling eternally grateful to Ken'ichi and to Ryōzanpaku. Ken'ichi restored his faith in people, and through Koetsuji Akisame’s medical prowess, Ryōzanpaku gave him the chance to box again by fixing his crippled arm. Takeda thus chose to sever his ties to Ragnarok, but gangs don’t tend to just let you quit, and Ragnarok is no exception.

    Ken'ichi, of course, had no intention of letting Takeda face a “Quitter’s Lynching” on his own, and had taken to staying by his side whenever he could and forcing a promise from the older boy to call him if anything happened while Ken'ichi was away. But with Takeda’s past – and self-sacrificing nature – in mind, it was almost a foregone conclusion that, when Kisara showed up with Shiratori, the other two members of the “Three-Man Army,” and a couple of assorted thugs, Takeda would refuse to call Ken'ichi and let him risk himself to save him.

    Luckily, I have no such hang-ups, and as I watched Kisara corner Takeda from a nearby rooftop I pulled out my cellphone and rang the future “#1 Disciple” myself.

    “Hello?” Ken'ichi asked.

    “Hey Ken'ichi, it’s Ensei.”

    “Ensei? How did you get my number?”

    “An alien told me,” I answered jokingly.

    “Nijima? Why-?”

    “I figured Takeda wouldn’t want to call you himself, and I thought I’d save you some time tracking him down. Kisara and her goons are cornering Takeda right now. I’d help him, but I’ve got my own thing to deal with right now, so you and Miu will need to hurry over here ASAP.”

    I gave Ken'ichi the address and hung up before he could ask any more questions, then turned around to face the hooded young man staring me down with his arms crossed. The gold “VI” on his black gloves were clear to see.

    “That’s blatant treachery, Heimdall,” the Sixth Fist said flatly. “You may have just become a member of Ragnarok, but you should already know the price of betrayal, Eighth Fist or no.”

    “It’s not betrayal if you don’t get caught,” I said cheekily. “And I haven’t been ‘caught’ until someone tells Odin.”

    “Alright, let’s stomp him all down at once!” Koga “the Kicker” shouted gleefully down below, interrupting our conversation. I mentally rolled my eyes at the sound of his voice. Normally I hate people who beat on someone even once he can’t fight back anymore, but I was kind of regretting not kicking his ass a little more thoroughly when I’d recruited Tsukuba.

    “Wait!” exclaimed Ukita “the Thrower,” putting a hand on Koga’s shoulder. “I’ll do it.”

    Ukita started to monologue. “You’ve always been a weird bastard, Takeda. When you won a fight, you’d compliment the guy you just beat and try to cheer them up. If I used any sneaky moves, you’d get mad and lecture me. People lumped us together as a ‘Three-Man Army,’ but you always stood out. We were delinquents, but you still had the heart of a sportsman. You really got on my nerves.”

    “That’s too bad. I always thought you were kind of fun, Ukita,” Takeda said wistfully.

    Ukita let out a loud kiai, but it was followed by shocked gasps from Kisara’s men. I didn’t need to look back to know he’d just grabbed Koga and thrown him where he belonged – in a pile of garbage.

    “Ukita Kōzō is done with Ragnarok!” he shouted. “If you’ve got a problem with that, come down here and say it to my face!”

    “… Idiots,” Hermit commented.

    “Eh. I think it’s pretty cool,” I said with a shrug.

    “That’s enough for you to decide to betray us like this? And you think I’m just going to forget about that?” Hermit asked coolly. “You’d better not think you can threaten me into silence.”

    “Threaten? No chance. I’m going to bribe you,” I said with a grin. “And I’m going to do it with the only thing that matters to you: A fight.”

    “What are you babbling about?” Hermit asked testily.

    “You’re right, I do know the rules of Ragnarok already, and that includes the part where Odin’s little pet Fists don’t get to actually duke it out with each other,” I explained, noting the little twitch in Hermit’s hooded face when I said “pet.” ‘Bingo, right in the superiority complex.’

    “You’re no more invested in Ragnarok as an organization than I am, Hermit,” I pointed out. “True to your name, you have no underlings, and you only even bother showing up to meetings and such when Odin gives a direct order. You’re only here because you were told that the Fists would get personal training from ‘Kensei.’ But you’ve never even gotten to see the guy, much less train under him, and in the meantime, you’ve been stuck on the bench, not allowed to fight the only opponents around who are worth anything and doing Odin’s bidding on top of it.

    “So how about this? We fight, here and now, and Odin doesn’t have to know,” I offered. “And if I win, or last until the fight down below is over one way or another, then Odin really doesn’t have to know. What do you say?”

    “Trying to buy time for those reinforcements you called for?” Hermit noted. “Cute. And why wouldn’t I just beat you into the ground here and now and bring you to Odin personally?”

    “Because if you turn down my offer I’m must going to run like hell,” I said cheekily. “Even if you beat me, you don’t get the kind of fight you want, and if I escape… Well, ask yourself, is Odin going to leave me to someone who already failed to take me out, or is he going to send an attack dog he actually trusts?”

    Hermit’s nigh-perpetual frown deepened. “Berserker…”
    “Exactly. Odin only ever gives you an important mission when Berserker has to do something else,” I noted.

    For someone who thought he was some brilliant schemer, Loki gossiped like a fishwife. Probably because he loved the chance to show off his knowledge of peoples’ patterns of behavior. Not that I was complaining.

    “So, what do you say, Hermit? A fight with one of your fellow Fists, here and now, until that scrap down below is over or one of us wins? Or you just chasing me down and either taking me out from behind or getting put on the bench again while Berserker gets all the fun?”

    After just a few moments of thought, a slight smirk crept across Hermit’s face as he took his stance: His body was held almost perpendicular to mine, knees slightly bent, the arm facing me almost fully extended while the other was held back but still facing me, and both hands held in a “knife-hand” rather than a fist.

    I continued facing him head-on, knees bent just slightly, shifting my weight from foot to foot in a rhythm, arms held so that my fists were level with – and loosely in front of – my face.

    He struck with very little warning: Rather than the apparent opening of my midsection, he feinted a knife-hand at my face before dipping down into a split one smooth motion, whipping his arms around to build up force and lashing out like a whip at my ankles as he dropped.

    I jumped back to dodge, only for him to rise up in the same smooth, flowing motion, his arms rotating again to build up force for upward, diagonal strikes to my head as he darted forward in a charging step to build up even more momentum.

    I checked both strikes with my arms, wincing as I was forced to block attacks that could dent steel. My eyes widened as I touched down on the ground and realized my heels were planted at the edge of the slanted roof; his strikes had forced me back farther than I’d thought.

    He looked almost disappointed as he charged forward with one last, whip-like strike that would send me tumbling over the edge.

    The disappointment vanished as I grabbed his arm in mid-swing and used his momentum for my own, swinging myself around 180 degrees and sending him flying off the roof.

    He spun around in midair to plan his feet on the neighboring roof, slap a palm down onto the roof and then kick off to flip himself up and over, turning around so that he landed facing me.

    “You actually thought it would be that easy for a moment, huh?” I asked him, grinning cheekily.

    “Hmph. More like I was afraid you were all talk,” Hermit huffed. “I guess there’s something to back up that arrogance, at least. But if you’re satisfied with so little…”

    One of the tiles on the roof had come loose from my throw. I stepped on it and then used my foot to launch it at his face. His arm lashed out and it shattered into powder.

    “Very nice,” I admitted. “You’ve been training a long time for your arms to be so sturdy. Ma Sōgetsu’s a good teacher.”

    His eyes widened. “How do you know my master’s name?”

    “The better question is: How did that kid with the band-aid down there learn to fight like that?” I replied, jabbing my thumb at the ongoing fight below us. Hermit turned and saw Ken'ichi, who had shown up in the short scuffle between Hermit and me. In that time, he had laid out most of the thugs and started duking it out with Shiratori while Kisara squared off against Miu.

    ‘I guess he doesn’t realize that Shiratori’s a girl, huh?’ I mused. ‘Although, he keeps holding back from decisive blows, so maybe not? Or…’

    As Kisara hit the ground unconscious, Shiratori turned around to yell her name in shock, causing a punch she would have dodged completely to graze her chest. As Ken'ichi froze in his tracks and his face went stark white, my question was answered.

    “Looks like the fight’s over, too,” I noted, as Nijima and six others, including Mizunuma, charged out with bats at the ready, a flag waving proudly and reading “Shinpaku Alliance.” Realizing the fight was over, Shiratori rushed over to scoop up the unconscious Kisara, followed by their thugs.

    I guess I really underestimated how quickly that fight was over once Ken'ichi and Miu showed up… Kinda disappointing, actually.

    “Heimdall! Why do I see my master’s moves in that half-baked punk!?” Hermit demanded, not really seeming to care that Ragnarok had just been decisively beaten by what appeared to be a new gang. Guess I was right about him.

    “I think that’s a question you should ask him yourself,” I said. “Though before you rush in and beat him up here and now, I think there’s something you should know.

    “A very short time ago, that kid couldn’t even beat Tsuji, but just yesterday he laid the guy out with one punch.”

    “And?” Hermit asked, obviously annoyed I wasn’t answering his question.

    “He’s still improving, and at a pretty rapid rate. But Odin’s not going to think much of it and first; I bet he’ll leave it to you just because you’re on hand and then forget about it,” I pointed out. “If you, say, take your time just a little, I’m sure he won’t really care.”

    “… So, you’re working for them, are you?” Hermit deduced. “This ‘Shinpaku Alliance’ stupidity is your angle?”

    “Do you actually care?” I asked him. “Odin’s been treating you like a benchwarmer, and Ragnarok hasn’t had an actual challenge since its inception. This is the first time one of the Fists has actually lost a fight; why should you waste the opportunity to have a fight that actually matters?

    Hermit looked down thoughtfully at Ken'ichi, who was helping Takeda and Ukita to their feet and having a heart-to-heart with the boxer. His gaze turned dark.

    “I could crush him like a bug as he is now,” he concluded.

    “Like I said: He’s improving quickly.”

    “… Could Master Ma really have bothered training someone that pathetic?” Hermit asked quietly, clearly to himself rather than to me.

    “And hey, if you wait a little while before you fight him, I’ll face you down again, no time limits!” I promised.

    Hermit turned his back and started to walk away. “Don’t think you’re the one who gets to decide how I operate, Heimdall!” he exclaimed as he left. “I know you’re trying to play me, I just don’t care. I’ll let that idiot grow enough to at least be worth the effort of crushing, but once I do, you’re not getting out of this.”

    ‘Sure thing, Vegeta,’ I thought as I waved him off flippantly, though, truth be told, I was kind of dreading having to fight the guy full-tilt.

    Not because I couldn’t beat him, obviously. But that guy was so ridiculously “Shounen Willpower” when it came to losing a fight that I just couldn’t see myself keeping him down without leaving him a broken wreck as he was right now. So, I’d leave that to Ken'ichi… for now. Once his cold shell cracked a bit and he turned into Ken'ichi’s tsundere rival, I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to face down a user of baji-pigua for real.

    “Oh man, that’s going to be so cool!” I whispered to myself. “He’ll be all trying to hammer me with elbow strikes and spinning arms and I’ll be like-!”

    “Did you hear something?” Miu suddenly asked down on the ground. I clapped my hands over my mouth before I started making Bruce Lee noises again, as I realized what I was about to start doing.

    ‘You’d think actually knowing martial arts now would keep me from being such a Goddamn dork,’ I thought ruefully.

    ---X---

    AN: There’s a proverb in Chinese martial arts that translates to, “When pigua is added to baji, gods and demons are all terrified. When baji is added to pigua, heroes will sigh knowing they are no match for it.” This saying was coined by those who witnessed the skills of the “God Spear” Li Shuwen, who once claimed he never needed a second strike. Among his students were Huo Dian’ge, who was bodyguard to Puyi, China’s last emperor; Li Chenwu, who was bodyguard to Mao Zedong; and Liu Yunqiao, a secret agent for the Guomindang and instructor of Chiang Kai-shek’s personal bodyguards. The baji-pigua these men learned under Li Shuwen thus gained a strong association with bodyguards. Just a cool factoid.

    Also, that proverb above? Put the first part of it (in Chinese, obviously) into Google Translate and you get, “The eight poles are hanging, and the gods are afraid.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018 at 9:05 PM
  29. Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    Currently writing the next chapter. In the process of writing and doing a little bit of research to add some authentic touches, I ended up getting really hungry for first lo mein, then adobo. I just kind of felt like sharing that and letting you come to your own conclusions as to what led me down that path. In related news, I learned a lot about the international chicken feet market today.

    Next chapter's coming... Probably not today, but definitely sometime tomorrow at the latest.
     
  30. Threadmarks: History's Strongest Disciple Ken'ichi, pt. 10
    Leingod

    Leingod Immaculate Blooming Lotus

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    “… And then Naoki said that we should fight again, once he manages to score a hit on that tengu and gets to visit the city,” Ken’ichi said, finishing his story.

    “A jujutsu Master and his son out in the mountains, huh?” I mused aloud. Truth be told, I’d forgotten that ever happened, so I guess this “Yamamoto Naoki” kid and his father Taiki never really showed up again. But he sounded like someone who could be…

    Nah. Kid’s the same age as Honoka, it’d be messed up to involve him in the mess that comes later.

    “Oh, he also said he really wanted to fight you, Ensei!” Ken’ichi continued, drawing me out of my thoughts.

    “Me? When did I come up in that conversation?” I asked.

    “Well, he was making fun of me for losing even though I was older, so I told him age had nothing to do with it and kinda used you as an example,” Ken’ichi admitted ruefully. “He seemed kind of excited to learn there was a kid his age learning martial arts, though.”

    “Huh.” Not really knowing how to respond to that, I changed the subject. “So, with your special mountain training over, think you’re ready for the next time Hermit knocks you off a bridge and fights you on top of a moving bus?”*

    “I don’t think anyone should need to be ready to fight for their life on top of a speeding bus,” Ken’ichi complained.

    “Well, you gave up on a normal life when you joined this dojo,” I pointed out, getting up from the floor. “You ready to pick back up on training?”

    “Yeah, I… wait, what time is it?” Ken’ichi asked, suddenly looking serious as he noticed Master Ma sitting and reading a magazine.

    When I told him the time, his eyes widened in shock. “That’s the time Miu and Shigure take a bath! And Master Ma is… still here!

    “Master Ma always tries to peep on the girls and gets into a fight with Shigure!” Ken’ichi shouted, pointing a finger accusatorily at the Chinese master. “Are you… an imposter!?”

    “Hey now, don’t-!”

    “No, really though, jokes aside, what’s up, Master Ma?” Ken’ichi asked, suddenly calm again as he sat down beside his master. “Something must really be putting you off.”

    “That’s your idea of a joke?” Kensei complained. “And nothing’s wrong at all. Just because I-”

    “Your nudie mag is upside down,” I pointed out.

    “Ah. Uh, well, you know, this is an old one that I’ve read a lot, so it’s a little boring if I don’t find a new way of looking at it, you know?” Master Ma bluffed.

    “Right…” Ken’ichi and I said simultaneously.

    ---

    “Yeah, that is kinda weird coming from Kensei,” Master Sakaki admitted. He was sitting on a couch, drinking beer and eating out of a bowl of mixed nuts that he was futilely trying to keep Apachai from digging into.

    “He’s been like that ever since I asked him about what Tanimoto said to me,” Ken’ichi noted.

    “Eh? What’d he say?” Sakaki asked.

    “He asked me if I was taught by a man named Ma Sōgetsu.” Ken’ichi replied.

    “What!? Ma Sōgetsu!?” Sakaki yelled in shock. Collecting himself, his expression became unreadable, and he tipped the bowl of nuts straight into Apachai’s mouth without a word.

    “Listen, Ken’ichi, don’t pry into this,” Sakaki said with a sigh. “Kensei’s got his own baggage with that name, and that’s all I’m gonna tell you. It’s his problem to deal with, not ours.”

    ---

    “I really don’t know anything about the masters’ pasts, do I?” Ken’ichi mused to himself as he lay down on his futon. “Actually, what do I really know about them at all? It’s kind of weird that I know so little about the people I’m living with now…”

    The sound of footsteps on the creaky floorboards drew Ken’ichi out of his thoughts and toward the door. Peaking out, he saw Kensei walk out, a bag slung over his shoulder.

    ‘Where’s Master Ma going with that luggage at this time of night?’ Ken’ichi wondered.

    ---

    “E-Ensei!?” Ken’ichi shouted in a whisper. “What are you doing here!?”

    “Riding on the train, obviously,” the younger boy said with a smile. “I’m following Master Ma because I wanted to see what he’s up to, what do you think I’m doing here?”

    Unable to just leave things the way Master Sakaki had told him, Ken’ichi had decided to try to follow Master Ma; it was a testimony to just how out-of-sorts the Chinese martial artist was that, as far as Ken’ichi could tell, he hadn’t spotted him yet.

    But as soon as Kensei and Ken’ichi had walked into the train, he’d noticed Kimura Ensei sitting on the train, making sure to stay out of Master Ma’s line of sight just like he was.

    “Do your parents even know you’re out here?” Ken’ichi pressed.

    “They didn’t stop me, so I assume they’re fine with it,” Ensei said with a shrug.

    “That’s not something you should just assume!” Ken’ichi chided.

    “It is if you don’t want him to hear you,” the boy said, pointing to the man they were shadowing.

    “Ugh, fine, but we’re not done with this conversation.”

    ---X---

    “Why the heck are we in Yokohama?” Ken’ichi blurted out, staring awestruck at the large entrysign to the Yokohama Chinatown.

    “Well, this is the biggest Chinatown in Japan,” Ensei pointed out. “He might know someone here.

    “Wait, we can’t lose sight of him!” Ken’ichi realized, rapidly looking around for Ma Kensei, only to realize the man himself was standing not five feet away and mimicking his movements.

    “Ah! We’ve been spotted!” Ken’ichi yelled.

    “You know, you could have tried talking to me before you started shadowing me,” the Master replied as he pulled out a banknote. “Here, eat some noodles or something and go home.”

    “After coming all this way? Not a chance,” Ken’ichi said.

    “Just to be clear, I’m not saying ‘No’ to getting some noodles,” Ensei cut in.

    “It might be a little dangerous for you to follow me on this trip, you two,” Kensei said, unusually serious. “I’ll ask you again: Go home.”

    “Master Ma, I’m sharing bed and board with you, training under you… It’s not right to do all that and not share your worries, too!” Ken’ichi answered, just as serious.

    “Uh… I’ll hang around and eat Chinese food, I guess,” Ensei said with a shrug.

    “I really don’t know what will happen. You’re sure?” Kensei asked a third time.

    “Yes!”

    The short Chinese man let out a sigh and turned around, the two following close behind. “Oh, very well, I guess I’ve got not choice. My little pupil’s telling me to throw him into a bottomless pit. Even if he dies, he says!”

    “Please don’t talk like that,” Ken’ichi said with a shudder.

    ---

    “We’re seriously getting Chinese first?” Ken’ichi asked as the three stepped into the “Emperor’s Wrath Chinese Restaurant.”

    [​IMG]

    A balding old man only slightly taller than the diminutive Kensei greeted them just inside. “I see you’ve finally come to visit, Nephew,” he said with a bow of greeting.

    “I’m sorry for taking so long to see you again, Uncle,” Kensei said respectfully, bowing in turn. “Ken’ichi, Ensei, this is my uncle, Ma Ryō, though many people call him Hakubi. Uncle, these are Shirahama Ken’ichi, my disciple, and Kimura Ensei, who, uh…”**

    “I’m just here for the dim sum,” Ensei said with a smile and a bow. “Though it’s an honor to meet you, Master.”

    ---

    “Hey Ken’ichi, you should ask Master Hakubi for some fung zaau,” Ensei said in-between bites of lo mai gai. “It’s a great way to expand your horizons.”

    “As much as I appreciate the taste of marinated chicken feet, I don’t think young Ken’ichi is quite ready to go on that particular culinary adventure,” the elder Ma said with a laugh as he refilled their tea.

    “Chicken feet!?” Ken’ichi exclaimed, almost choking on a spring roll.

    “It really isn’t that bad,” Ensei shrugged. “Once you get over the way they look they taste alright. Really chewy and gelatin-y, though.”

    “Geez, have you actually eaten stuff like that?”

    “Ken’ichi, I’m part-Filipino. My people decided the best way to improve chocolate rice pudding was to add dried herring to it.”***

    “Ugh, sorry I asked…” Ken’ichi replied.

    “So, Nephew, I can think of two reasons you might have decided to pay me a visit at this time,” Master Hakubi said, stroking his beard thoughtfully. “Is it, perhaps, my other nephew?”

    “So, he really is in Japan?” Kensei asked gravely.

    “Indeed.”

    “… Then I must meet him.”

    “Are you sure? My sources say that the Triads have hired him as a bodyguard,” Hakubi explained.

    “Sōgetsu is my brother; he is my responsibility,” Kensei explained.

    “Your brother is your responsibility!? How about the rest of your family!?” yelled a voice from above.

    “As I said, there were two reasons I thought you might’ve come here,” Hakubi chuckled, as a girl about Ken’ichi’s age leapt down from the balcony and shattered the thick wooden table with a single kick, sending their food flying.

    “Hey, I wasn’t finished with that!” Ensei yelled angrily, trying to catch as many dishes as possible before they hit the ground.

    Kensei, who had been right in the path of the girl’s flying kick, was now standing just to the side of where she’d flown through the air to hit the table. “Whoever you are, you’ve got nice muscles, but you’re a hundred years too early to try to get the jump on me,” he explained airily. But as he actually looked at the girl he was lecturing, he blanched.

    “Ahh!” he gasped.

    “What’s the matter, Papa? So shocked to see your daughter again?” the girl asked, her voice dangerously low.

    “Wait, Papa? Daughter? Is she… a student escort?” Ken’ichi asked.

    “Well, she’s definitely dressed for the part!” Ensei said angrily, laying out the dishes he’d saved onto a neighboring table.

    “You idiot! She’s my actual daughter, Renka!” Kensei exclaimed. “Honestly, what do you think of me!?”

    “You have a kid!?” Ken’ichi yelled, sounding almost horrified.

    “He has three,” Hakubi corrected. “All from his wife, too. Surprising? We all thought so, too. No bastards, even… so far as we know.”

    “Nice to see my family has such a high opinion of me…” Kensei muttered irritably.

    “And why do you think that might’ve happened!?” Renka yelled as she threw a weighted rope, catching him by the wrist.

    “You’re coming home with me right now, Papa!” she yelled. “I had to become a foreign exchange student just to look for you, and I knew you’d visit Uncle Hakubi for something eventually!”

    “Ooh, my nephew’s in trouble,” Hakubi said with a chuckle.

    “Accept it and come with me, you dirty old man!” Renka exclaimed, pulling hard on the rope.

    “Give up,” Kensei said simply, slicing the rope with a swipe of his hand. The sudden loss of tension sent the girl tumbling backward into the ruined table.

    “Not yet!” she replied, throwing a second rope as she fell. Before anyone but Hakubi could see, Kensei had shoved his student in the way, the rope wrapping around his throat.

    “Erk!”

    “Thank you for your sacrifice, my beloved student,” Kensei said loftily as he shoved his “beloved student” into his daughter, the two getting tangled up in the rope somehow as he made his escape.

    “Agh! Damn it, he’s getting away!” the girl yelled, struggling futilely to escape the ropes.

    “Ah, stop, you’re making them tighter!” Ken’ichi exclaimed.

    “Father and Master of the Year right there,” Ensei said sarcastically as he pulled out a butterfly knife and started cutting the ropes.

    “Now now, let’s not talk about him like that when he isn’t around,” Hakubi chided gently, though he didn’t seem willing to dispute it much further than that.

    ---

    “Why are you so intent on bringing him back to China, anyway?” Ken’ichi asked. Master Ma’s daughter had just run out as soon as Ensei’d cut them loose, and without really thinking, he had followed.

    “You don’t know anything, do you!?” Renka snapped irritably. “Papa’s the grandmaster of the Phoenix Alliance, the biggest martial arts organization in China. Papa led 100,000 dedicated followers, but one day he just turned it all over to Mama, with nothing but a note saying, ‘This is getting to be too much bother’ and disappeared! Do you have any idea how hard Mama’s had to work to keep things from falling apart!?”

    “… Yeah, that sounds like him,” Ken’ichi admitted sheepishly.

    “Now where’s he going?” she asked him.

    “Huh? I don’t know,” Ken’ichi answered, coming to a stop. “I just followed you because you started running. I figured you’d know where he’d be going.”

    “If I knew where he’d be going, I wouldn’t have had to wait at Uncle Hakubi’s!” she yelled. “Speaking of which, who are you, anyway? Why were you with Papa?”

    “Uh, I’m Shirahama Ken’ichi. I’m a first year at Kōryō High School and Master Ma’s student.”

    Renka looked at Ken’ichi for a long moment, her expression unreadable. Then she punched him in the gut, sending him crashing to the ground.

    “Why…?” Ken’ichi groaned.

    “What was that?” Renka demanded. “You’re Papa’s student, when you can’t even dodge that? This is just too sad!”

    “Geez, sorry for being talentless,” Ken’ichi grumbled as he stood up, rubbing his stomach. Renka blinked in surprise.

    “You’re already up?”

    “Haha, Master Ma’s told me I have a talent for taking hits,” Ken’ichi said ruefully.

    “Ugh, has being in Japan addled Papa’s brain? What’s he thinking, abandoning the Phoenix Alliance for a dope like you?” Renka said bitterly.

    “Gyah!” a man yelled as he was thrown bodily out of a store window, crying out in pain as he cut himself on the shattered glass. Two men who looked like gangsters walked casually out the door, one of them easily more than six feet tall and built like a wrestler.

    The smaller one, smoking a cigarette and dressed in a gaudy suit, looked down at the bleeding man without pity. “So, mind explaining exactly why you thought you could get away without paying your dues?”

    “Go to hell!” the man yelled defiantly despite his injuries. “Mr. Hakubi won’t let you Traid punks get away with throwing your weight around for much longer!”

    “Master Ma’s uncle? What are they talking about?” Ken’ichi asked.

    “Those guys are Triads; Chinese mafia,” Renka said, looking disgusted. “Lately, they’ve been coming from the mainland and trying to take control of overseas Chinese communities like this one.”

    “That’s some brave talk, but I don’t see Old Man Hakubi or any of his students around here, do you?” the thug asked. The bigger thug picked up the defiant storeowner and threw him again, sending him flying. Before he could land head-first on the ground, Ken’ichi grabbed him out of the air and righted him.

    “You okay?” Ken’ichi asked.

    “What the? Who the hell are you?” the thug asked.

    “Thugs like you don’t get to call him ‘old man,’” Renka said. “You have 5 seconds to get out of here before I teach you a lesson.”

    “Shove off, little girl!” the beefy thug yelled.

    “And what are you, his child bride? I knew he was just another dirty old man,” the smaller thug joked.

    “Four,” Renka counted off. “Three.”

    “A countdown? Cute,” the bigger man scoffed, winding up his fist as Renka continued counting. He threw a punch as Renka counted “One”.

    “Zero,” Renka said as she easily batted his arm to the side and drove her fist into his stomach. Though it looked like one punch to the other bystanders, Ken’ichi could tell that he struck him three times in that one instant. He collapsed to the ground, groaning in pain.

    ‘Wow. I guess I shouldn’t expect any less from Master Ma’s daughter,’ Ken’ichi thought.

    ---

    I had finished my food and was sipping lightly at the last of my tea as Master Hakubi had a whispered conversation with someone who came running into the restaurant. He sat down across the table from me.

    “Little Renka and Kensei’s student have just had a run-in with the Triads who’ve been causing trouble recently,” he explained to me, pouring a cup of tea for himself. “They interrogated one of them and are going to their hideout right now… Renka is seeking Sōgetsu, no doubt because Kensei intends to confront him as well.”

    “Well, that’s reckless as hell,” I replied. “Ma Sōgetsu’s a brutal murderer who cut his ties to the Ma clan to pursue the path of the ‘Killing Fist,’ right? What makes her think he won’t just punch her head off?”

    The old man sighed. “It’s surely our own fault. She’s always had the protection of the Phoenix Alliance and the Ma clan. In China, that made her virtually untouchable, but here in Japan, and with Sōgetsu involved…” he trailed off, his gaze dropping into his teacup.

    “No offense, Master, but why aren’t you going out to stop her or keep Sōtetsu away from her, if you’re worried?” I asked.

    He rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses. “I led the Phoenix Alliance before passing it to my younger brother, Kensei and Sōgetsu’s father,” he explained. “During that time, I expanded the organization’s influence, but made many powerful enemies who were willing to stoop to any means. I lost… many loved ones, in the fighting that ensued.

    “There was no way for me to prevail, and even if I did, I had already lost too much,” he said, his eyes misty and distant. “I ceded leadership to my brother and washed my hands in the golden basin****. Were I to reenter the power struggles of the martial arts world…”

    “When you say ‘enemies,’ you mean YAMI, don’t you?” I asked. His flinch at that name confirmed it.

    “They were powerful even in my time, but now, their expanse grows by the day, and I am very far from my prime,” he lamented. “I have not told even Kensei yet, but Sōgetsu… I believe he has joined them. Were I to engage him in combat and reenter the world of the martial arts, even if it saved Renka at that moment, I believe that neither she nor any of those close to me now would be safe again. They may mouth compliance with the rules of the martial arts, but in truth they worship only strength, and if he is powerful enough then even a monster who follows the Demon Way is allowed within their highest eschelons…”

    “Jenazad,” I whispered. In Ensei’s memories of growing up, the man was an honest-to-God horror story Masters told their Disciples about how far a martial artist could fall. That YAMI had made him one of their top leaders said a lot about them.

    His expression darkened even further at the mention of that name. “I had a wife once. Children of my own… Perhaps Ryōzanpaku may be willing to challenge them, but they are only six, and I… I cannot take that risk again.”

    “For God’s sake,” I sighed as I stood up. “Tell me where they’re going, and I’ll see if I can’t pull their asses out of the fire. But if your nephew punches my head off my shoulders, I’m haunting you for the rest of your damn life.”

    ---

    ‘Yeah, this looks like the place,’ I thought as I ran through the smashed-in door and past a bunch of unconscious gangsters. I followed the screams of gangsters getting their asses kicked and skidded to a halt as I turned the corner and heard Renka cry out in pain.

    Ma Sōgetsu had used his palm to smash his own niece into the wall, leaving a crater where he’d driven her into the wall. She was both alive and conscious, but spitting up blood.

    “Stop that!” Ken’ichi yelled. “She’s Ma Kensei’s daughter! She’s your niece!”

    Sōgetsu barely spared Ken’ichi a glance. “And? A child is still a martial artist, and she raised her hand to me. Besides…”

    “Besides, what do honor or family mean to a murderous goon?” I supplied, stepping up beside Ken’ichi.

    “Another one?” Sōgetsu mused, seeming utterly disinterested. “Get out of here, brat.”

    “Let the girl go and we’ll do just that,” I countered.

    In response, he applied a bit more pressure, deepening the crater and drawing a breathless scream from Renka. Ken’ichi cried out in protest, but I stared Sōgetsu down.

    “So, this is it? This is the ‘truth’ of the martial arts you left the Ma family and abandoned your brother for?” I spat. “You’re a grown man beating up a child who’s no threat to you, and you have the balls to call yourself a martial artist? To call other people weak? What a disgrace.”

    Before Sōgetsu could reply, if he truly intended to, a crash through the window took his attention, and he jumped away from Renka as Kensei sent a flying kick where his arm had been, then grabbed his wounded daughter from the air.

    “As sad as it is, I must agree with this boy,” Kensei said darkly, passing the barely-conscious Renka over to Ken’ichi and facing down his brother. “Is this truly where the path you chose to take has led you, Brother?”

    Sōgetsu didn’t bother replying. “Kensei. It’s time to settle matters.”

    “Ken’ichi, Ensei, take Renka and leave,” Kensei said.

    “Hmph. That older boy… I take it he’s a student of yours?” Sōgetsu said, his eyes only briefly flickering over to the three of us. “I still don’t understand you. Wasting your time on a talentless kid… how unfortunate.”

    “It is unfortunate, that you’re so lost on this misguided path that you can’t even understand this much,” Kensei said sadly. “Do you even remember how things used to be, Brother? When we trained and laughed together?”

    “What does it matter? Those days are gone now,” Sōgetsu replied.

    “Whatever I must do, I will not let you continue to disgrace the martial arts with this senseless violence!” Kensei declared. He gave the salute of a martial artist, a hand wrapped over a fist in front of his heart. But he wrapped the right fist over the left, rather than the other way around.

    To do this was a sign that this was a duel to the death. Ken’ichi gasped in realization as he saw Sōgetsu do the same.

    “No! Master Ma, don’t do it! Brothers shouldn’t fight like this!” Ken’ichi yelled.

    Neither gave any sign they heard him, as the two brothers, both acknowledged as some of the greatest masters of Chinese martial arts in the world, began their duel…

    [​IMG]

    ---X---

    AN: No joke, in China chicken feet sell for more pound-for-pound than chicken breast. Lo mai gai is chicken, mushrooms, etc. wrapped up in a ball of rice that is itself wrapped up in a lotus leaf and then steamed. Both are served in dim sum restaurants, and chicken feet are actually cooked in a variety of ways. Most Chinese grocery stores and supermarkets sell them ready-to-eat as snacks, in fact. Since the chicken’s feet are almost entirely skin and tendons, they have a very gelatinous texture, and there usually isn’t much flavor on their own, hence why they’re usually served with some kind of sauce or other flavoring.

    Chicken feet are eaten in a lot of other places, too, but China is by far the biggest consumer of chicken feet globally. Funny enough, Korea also has them, as do many other countries close to China, but Japan doesn’t. In the Philippines, they’re often sold as street food and called “adidas” after the brand of shoes.

    *Since it’s come to my attention that not everyone reading this Jumpchain is actually familiar with the source material, the story so far is that Hermit’s “civilian” identity is a perfect student named Tanimoto Natsu, who is a member of the drama club. For reasons of his own, he got close to Ken’ichi and Miu by recruiting Miu for a performance of Romeo & Juliet. This got Ken’ichi jealous, but he put that aside and made friends with Natsu anyway because he seemed nice, and even defended the production from some thugs because of that and because Miu was excited to perform. This actually started getting him labeled as a violent thug himself, though, because Tanimoto brutalized said thugs himself once he was out of his “secret identity” and Ken’ichi got blamed for their hospitalization.

    Kisara, though forbidden from crushing the Shinpaku Alliance by Hermit, chose to attack the play (because Miu isn’t a member), which Ken’ichi defended by simply refusing to move from his spot and let them past, refusing to attack Kisara or let her past him. Kisara normally despises the “I don’t hit girls” talk because in her experience from when she was in a dojo it was always just ass-covering excuses from guys who didn’t want to admit they couldn’t beat a girl, but Ken’ichi willfully let himself get beat up and refused to go down, and his conviction convinced Kisara that he was different from the meatheads at her old dojo and she left, impressed and kind of put off by the strength of his conviction.

    The play was a success, though Koetsuji (insightful man that he is) laments to Tanimoto that the performance would have been much better if he didn’t hate acting so much, shocking him. Pissed off that he was seen through, Hermit says “F*ck it” and attacks Ken’ichi, knocking him off a bridge and fighting him on a moving bus, showing off his Piguaquan skills in the process and claiming that everything Ken’ichi saw of “Tanimoto Natsu” was just an act and that it’s human nature to lie and deceive others. He also asks Ken’ichi directly if they were taught by the same man, but Ken’ichi affirms that he was taught by Ma Kensei, a name Tanimoto nonetheless seems to recognize. They fight a little more but end up getting knocked off the bus, and Hermit tells Ken’ichi they’ll settle the score later. Ken’ichi, though, has recognized a melancholy in Tanimoto’s eyes similar to his own before meeting Miu, calling them the eyes of someone desperate for a friend, and is determined to get through to him.

    Recognizing that Ken’ichi needs some special training, he takes him to the mountain where a fellow Master and jujutsu practitioner named Yamamoto Taiki lives with his son and disciple, Naoki, to teach Ken’ichi about the use of tactics. Ken’ichi doesn’t really grasp the concept of deceit in combat, though, instead just putting himself through even more special training in secret to overcome Naoki’s superior tactics. Koetsuji makes fun of him for his straightforwardness but admits that his hard work is a talent in its own. Also, Naoki is super-sheltered and has never gotten to see the city; his father won’t let him go see the world outside the mountains until he gets a hit in on a “tengu” living in a nearby cave, which is actually Taiki himself in disguise. At the end, Koetsuji subtly chides Taiki for this and convinces him to ease up on Naoki at some point, which he sheepishly agrees to.

    **Okay, here’s a note on the names of the Ma family: the Japanese do this thing with Chinese characters where they pronounce them in a certain way; basically, they change Chinese words to fit the Japanese syllabary, and this is a distinct way of reading Chinese characters separate from the Japanese language’s own use of Chinese characters, i.e. kanji. This is why anime has so many Chinese characters with obviously Japanese-sounding names. For whatever reason in localization the “Ma” is preserved (in the Japanese way of pronouncing it, it would be “Ba” instead, which is why you’ll see some scanslations spell his name that way), but everything else is read in the Japanese way. To wit:

    “Ma Kensei” would be read in Mandarin as “Ma Jianxing.” His brother “Sōgetsu” would be “Ma Qiangyue,” his daughter “Renka” would be “Ma Lianhua,” and his uncle…

    Okay, his name in Mandarin is “Ma Liang,” and his nickname “Hakubi” is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese “Bai Mei,” which means “white eyebrows.” In addition to both the name and nickname being that of a historical personage from the Three Kingdoms Period of China, “Bai Mei,” rendered in Cantonese as “Bak Mei,” is the nickname of one of the “Five Elders,” legendary warriors who supposedly survived the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple when it was destroyed by the Qing government (neither the destruction or the temple itself have been proven to have ever happened/existed, BTW). In most versions of the story, Bak Mei was the one (or one of the ones) who sold out the temple to the Qing.

    Apropos of nothing, the two brothers share a name scheme: “Jianxing” is made up of the characters for “sword” and “star,” while “Qiangyue” is made up of the characters for “spear” and “moon.”

    *** A lot of Filipino food is absolutely delicious, but some of it is, well, chocolate rice pudding with dried, salted herring in it. That kind of contrast is a big thing in Filipino cuisine, but it’s an acquired taste at best, at least in my experience.

    … Man, I could really go for some chicken adobo. It’s been so long.

    **** In classical wuxia, the world of martial arts, separate from the ordinary world of farmers and kings, is known as the “jianghu.” To leave the jianghu and the endless rivalries, feuds, blood oaths and power struggles that define it, one undertakes a ceremony in which they wash their hands in a golden basin, symbolically washing their hands of all involvement in affairs of the jianghu. To “wash one’s hands in the golden basin” or just “to leave the jianghu” is sometimes used as slang for retirement in China.
     
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