In the year 644, as a young student of the Wudan style, it was my job to sweep the training area each morning.
I started this job at 3:45am - and, with vigor, would finish with a few minutes to spare before the 6am training.
There was an old man with no hands and no feet - the only man, to whom Master Po would bow - who would sit atop a tree trunk and watch me complete this task.
Every morning, he appeared and watched in admiration. It was a full 219 years, before I mustered the courage to speak with him. “Why do you watch me sweep?” I asked, puzzled.
“Ah, young Cobra, what better unison of the hands and the feet than sweeping a floor? If you were in my position, you would savour the task!” he replied.
I looked at the stumps where his hands and feet once were, then looked up at him. He knew what I wanted to ask... But I was afraid to appear disrespectful.
Truly, it was none of my business. Curiosity got the better of me. “What happened to you?” I said, looking towards the ground.
I was sure he was contemplating reprimanding me. I was pleased, when he began to speak.
“Wudan was not always such a peaceful place,” he began. “Warring tribes fought for this mountains power and strange creatures lurked in every corner. Before myself and a few brave others, including Master Po, banished them from the mountain.”
I placed my broom on the floor, sat down and continued to listen.
“While fighting bandits near the Yushu river, a water snake grabbed my right foot and began to pull me under. Fearing for my life, and unable to see the snake through the bloodied water, I removed my right foot with one slice of my sword. The only alternative was to drown.”
Still looking down, I raised my eyes to take a glimpse at his right stump. “What about your left foot?” I asked.
He placed his right leg under his robe and exposed his left before continuing his story.
“The next day, I was limping and slowing the group down. I asked to be left to die, but Po demanded that I fight. Soon, a daughter of a previously slain bandit had spotted us and fired an arrow from a ridge which landed squarely in my left foot. Fearing gangrene, I removed my left foot with one slice of my sword.”
“What happened to your hands?” I asked quickly.
“My left hand was snared by a Golden Dragon in that now empty cave you children enjoy, to avoid being pulled into darkness and killed. I removed my left hand with one slice of my sword...”
He paused. “My right hand was caught in a bear trap the same afternoon, fearing death, I removed it with my teeth.”
I looked at his right hands stump. It was ragged. Not a clean cut like the others. It still looked painful. He looked relieved when the story was over, it pained him to relive the events.
He took a sigh of relief and moved his gaze from me back over to the floor I was sweeping. I however was confused.
“How did you find the strength, to remove limb after limb in such gruesome fashion? I don’t think I could do that.”
He smiled. “Well then you would be dead. And you would never tell your story to anybody, would you? I didn’t find the strength to die.”
I bowed and returned to sweeping. The conversation made me minutes late for training. Master Po beat me severely.
The next morning when I rose to sweep, the man was not there. I never saw him again.
Such is the way of Wudan.