Chapter 3.14 – Dummy

Mark spends the next day training with the other students in the Academy. Jiang Xi had told him that he must master his silence; whatever that means. He is paired with a young local girl named Mei. She regards him coldly and speaks only to let him know when he is doing something wrong.
For the first part of the morning, Mei has him hitting a wooden dummy. She is very pushy about exactly how his feet, arms, hands, and body should be positioned. When he laughs at her request to shout when he hits the dummy, she frowns and mumbles something under her breath. It sounded a lot like her asking which dummy should be getting hit.
As the morning progresses, Mark’s temper gets the best of him after one of the “arms” protruding from the dummy swings back unexpectedly and strikes him painfully in the ribcage. Mei begins to scold him again about his lack of focus, but he has heard enough of her criticism. He screams at her to back off, adding some choice words about her personality. His outburst has attracted the attention of every student in the academy, but he doesn’t let it bother him. He continues shouting that hitting a stupid chunk of wood is a waste of time when he could easily beat anybody here in a fight.
With a look of disgust, Mei shoves him out of the way and takes a stance in front of the dummy. Mei begins an amazing display of skill and grace. Her motions are precise to the point of perfection as she seems to hover around the dummy like a bee would a flower; somehow spending more time suspended in the air than touching the ground. She anticipates every slight movement of the target, and counters each with a perfectly timed block then a precision strike.
She does this for some time, never once taking her eyes off of the target. And with every strike she emits a sharp “Hai!”. Mark realizes that although he had stopped talking, his mouth is hanging open in dismay. Mei stands erect, then gives the dummy a slight bow. She frowns again at Mark and tells him to close his mouth or he will attract flies.
Out of the corner of his eye, Mark spots Jiang Xi; eyes sparkling and wearing a broad grin on his withered face. Mark realizes he has just been taught the lesson on respect Jiang Xi had promised. He spends the rest of the day training with Mei, who speaks even less than before. Mark returns the favor and makes a point of not taking his eyes from the training dummy for the rest of the day. When Jiang Xi claps his hands to end the day’s training, he exchanges a curt bow with Mei while making only brief and icy eye contact.
Jiang Xi summons Mark to meet with him, so after eating supper alone, Mark finds the instructor in a small training studio that looks to be the Xiansheng’s office. He immediately asks Mark what he learned today. Mark reflects for a short time, and then jokes that he learned Mei could probably kick his butt in three seconds flat. Seemingly unmoved by his attempt at humor, Mark tells his teacher that he learned hitting a chunk of wood may not be such a waste of time after all.
Jiang Xi nods and asks Mark what his perception of the training dummy was before and after Mei’s taolu. Mark closes his eyes and pictures the object in his mind. He had spent hours looking at nothing but the target after being put in his place by Mei. He realizes, suddenly, that he can recall every knot in the wood; every detail, nick, and scratch on the varnish. He can see the motion of the arms and how he learned to avoid them. But before that, it was nothing but a stupid chunk of wood.
Mark opens his eyes and glares at Jaing Xi. He knew Mei would lose patience and shut him up with that demonstration. Jaing Xi nods his affirmation of guilt, and adds that Mei had never perfected that particular taolu …until this morning. Jaing Xi dismisses Mark instructing him to reflect on what he learned today, then asks to see him here tomorrow morning before breakfast.
Jaing Xi sits, resting his weary bones. Mark battles with his fear of death and loss, overcompensating with bravado and outer conflict. But in his moments of silence, there is nothing to keep these fears away. Mei is the yin to Mark’s yang. She craves silence and seldom reaches out to others; living a solitary, reclusive life. And she has pushed away those who care most about her, just as Mark has done. If nothing changes, Mei will live out her life more alone and bitter than she is now. And Mark will go on to live with meaningless relationships, surrounded by acquaintances but unable to call any one of them “friend”.
Jaing Xi smiles at the “powers that be” as he recalls his own youthful days. And much like his was; theirs is a match made in heaven.

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