Many stumble on the road to Heaven, not because they are unsure of foot, but because their eyes look too deeply into the mirror of a still pond. Nixon was such a man.
Grandmaster of the Swaying Snake style, Nixon had defeated many foes. He was known for his innovation on the tournament ground, for subtle feints and devastating flurries from unexpected directions. Though the Golden Child had defeated him in the last decade, Nixon remained resilient, eventually wresting control of his school from his rivals and rising to become President.
Nothing stood in his way to challenge for the position of Sifu-Sai-Sifu, Master of Masters.
Lord Buddha, though, is unequaled in sagacity. He had decreed that the title of Sifu-Sai-Sifu could only be held by one who had tasted the Fruit of Compassion, which grew in the Vineyards of the White Plains, beyond the Gate of Water. These grapes were said to hold the wisdom of Lord Buddha himself, and would bestow upon any who tasted them the wit and skill needed to rule as Sifu-Sai-Sifu.
Nixon grew wroth. He knew, deep in himself, that he was Sifu-Sai-Sifu. Had he not bested his enemies? Had he not faced the Jackal School using the Checkered Dog style? Had he not thrown down Romney and Rockefeller with his faithful sworn-brother Spiro at his back? Had he not stood astride the Kingdom of Qin like a god? How could he not receive the mandate of Heaven when his stars were so auspicious?
Nixon determined that the Fruit of Compassion must be his. He commissioned a wandering band of masterless men, devotees of no style and of all styles, the assassins known as “The Creep”, to move in shadow beyond the Gate of Water and obtain the grapes of Heaven’s Garden.
Lord Buddha, however, has sight in the most unexpected of places. Praise be to Lord Buddha and his wisdom.
The Creep were caught beyond the Gate of Water. They revealed to Lord Buddha the members of Nixon’s school who had hired them. Across the land, dark whispers were told of Grandmaster Nixon. The collected brotherhoods averted their eyes from his path. Though none had named him, all spoke of the chaos within the Swaying Snake school. How could he be sifu, and not have known?
Nixon did not stay and fight for his honour.
He broke his jian across his knee using the Four-Fingers Upraised Technique and walked away from the White House of his mastery. Many tore their hair and rent their garments. Others cried out in jubilation to the wisdom of Lord Buddha for revealing the Snakes’ treachery.
Nixon went to meditate in the Heavenly Mountains. None saw him for years.
One day, however, as he sat, there was a great twittering of sparrows from below. Up the mountain path stepped Lazar the Swift, master of the Storm Dance, sifu to the Honeyed Coast. He had long sparred with Nixon, and taught him many things.
“Great tidings, Noblest of Men!” cried the Lazar, bowing before Nixon, who sat unmoved, his legs in lotus, on his stump.
“Go away, Swift One,” spoke Nixon, “I am contemplating the wheel of the Universe, that raises men high and casts them low once more.”
The Lazar bowed again. “The Great Wheel turns once more in your favour, August Personage. I bring a message from David Frost.”
David Frost was a foreigner, a man of no great repute. Like Lord Siddartha that was, Frost was fat with wealth, known for his easy graces. He spoke highly of his Smiling Ice style, but the gossips said he fought only painted actors and lesser clans.
“What is David Frost to me?” asked Nixon. “He dwells far to the south, in a desert land of ghosts. It is clam-shells, not bones, that break beneath his feet. I was to be Sifu-Sai-Sifu. Now I am nothing. Let me dwell in peace.”
“Oh, Mighty One,” said the Swift sifu, “Far be it from this one to correct you, but David Frost may be all to you. He sends messengers far and wide. They all speak of one thing. David Frost possesses the Jade Circlet. It is a treasure he offers to you, Nixon, if you can take it. Defeat him in combat, and the Jade Circlet is yours.”
Nixon stretched legs long accustomed to the post of contemplation. A grin spread across his face, and his fists moved to elegant zhaoshi techniques. “That lapdog, that cur, wishes to fight me? With the Jade Circlet, none amongst the Thousand Schools could deny me entrance. I could not be Sifu-Sai-Sifu, but they would need to welcome me back amongst their number! Once more my place would be on the tournament field, not in the shadows. My honour would be restored!”
The Lazar bowed again. “Just so, August Personage. Just so. Defeat Frost, and who knows who will deign to fight you next. The Jade Circlet is an honour many men desire.”
Nixon spun, and with a blow of his Impeccable Low Knee Technique shattered the stump into a million pieces. “Go now, Lazar. Find Jack Brennan, who was once my student. Hie with him to Frost and tell him, we shall fight. Brennan may set the terms on my behalf. RUN!”
The Lazar hopped away.
The terms were set. Frost and Nixon would fight for twelve days and twelve nights. Nixon left his Peaceful Castle high in the mountains and descended to meet Frost by the bay. Many came from leagues away to see if Nixon could restore his honour in the duel.
No-one knows what Frost and Nixon said to each other before the battle, though many rumourmongers speak of many things. What is known is that Frost and Nixon bowed to one another, and battle was joined.
Long they fought. For each move Frost assayed, Nixon had a countermove. The Rain of Impossible Fists was countermanded with the Obfuscating Shadow Technique. The Structured Exploding Palm Delivery was resisted with the Entangling Ropes of Ratungara. Frost’s icy fists launched forth assaults, coupled with a fierce aside. “How could you disobey the teachings of Lord Buddha?”
Driving the Golden Jaguar Punch into Frost’s sternum, Nixon replied only. “When the President does it, it is not a violation of the teachings of Lord Buddha!”
All was thought lost. Frost was no match for Nixon’s long-held mastery of style. The harder he fought, the swifter Nixon countered. For every blow Frost could muster, Nixon had an answering technique.
But Lord Buddha is not fooled. It is not knowledge of the styles that makes a man a master of qing-gong, nor is the loyalty of jianghu born out of the swiftness or the strength. It is focus which makes a warrior a master. Discipline. For Nixon, Master of a Thousand Enemies, the loss of focus was the loss of all.
A high kick from Nixon took Frost in the shoulder, spinning him through a forested copse of trees. Leaping through the blinding rain, Nixon floated above him, borne aloft by the air, his body in perfect harmony. He prepared to finish the interloper.
David Frost stood still. He did not look up at Master Nixon as the Razor Talon Implosion descended upon him. He held his fists close, to his centre of being, mastering his qi.
As Nixon descended, Frost asked in a whisper. “Mr President. Why didn’t you earn the grapes?”
The rest of the battle is history. Nixon never regained his honour. He could not meet the challenge.
Know in this teaching Lord Buddha makes examples of all men. Mighty was Nixon in his skills, mightier than all he assayed. But mastery of the self is mastery of the world, and Nixon could not see beyond what he thought he deserved. Contemplate this, and fight well.