Somewhere deep in the mountainous Japanese wilderness, Masutā Tengoku (Master Heaven) sits in stillness in the center of his Bujinkan Hombu training dojo. Behind him, ten students also sit, meditating quietly. Unlike the student’s barely audible inhalations, Ten inhales deep and stridently. As he does, the lit candles before him waver from the reverberation. As he exhales, the air ripples as the power release of his kiai blows out the candles throughout the room completely. Unshaken, the students continue their breathing techniques in darkness. Until finally, Master Ten unleashes a fierce battle cry “Kii-yah!”! Stomping his foot with authority, the wooden floor groans giving away his position; the ten young warriors immediately attack the spot where they hear the sound. And in complete darkness, a battle takes place. Briefly, the sounds of scuffle shuffle softly across the floor. It isn’t long before the defeat of ten highly skilled master students of Taijutsu transpires. The battle, for lack of better words, lasts all of seven seconds.
“Ridiculous!” Master Ten exclaims. In his slow-drawled, harsh and grating tone, he chastises the students. “Why waste my time? For years I have trained you and for years I have been dishonored by lackluster performances.” A candle is lit by Master Ten as he surveys the fallen students in pity. In succession; any student not writhing in pain about the floor slowly begins to light candles as well. “I am old.” He moans as he approaches the aching learners. “I barely used a fourth of my strength.” He continues. “Which one of you could ever be my successor? At this rate, I shall have to recruit elder women from the villages to teach my most sacred techniques.” He lowers his head and begins to shake it in shame. Putting his hands behind his back, he then exits the dojo. “Pathetic.” He grumbles with a final ridiculing grunt.
As he reaches the doorway, he is stopped suddenly and met by a well dressed man in a business suit. The man claps as if he had watched a performance. “This is no show. State your business quickly and leave.” The master says callously. Cowering behind the man’s legs are two small children. Master Ten stares at them coldly. The children quiver in response. “Kids, I believe this is your grandfather, a real charmer it seems?” The suited man jests. He notices Ten glancing at him, incensed. “Hey, settle down old man. The name’s Tatewaki, Tatewaki O’Neal. I work for your son-in-law.” The man smiles while searching for the puzzled expression he usually received from his surname. His only response is a humorless blank stare. “…Irish on my mother’s side.” He offers. Still nothing. “State your business, Mr. O’Neal.” Master Ten finally replies impatiently. Mr. O’Neal straightens up; densely realizing his presence is completely unwelcome. “Sure…” He shoves the kids in front of him realizing this wasn’t going to be one of his easier jobs. He decides intelligently haste not waste is the better option. “These are yours, good luck.” Quickly, he rushes into his black sedan and begins to raise the window.
“Humph?” Ten’s voice rumbles. Mr. O’Neal lowers the window slightly and shouts from the driver’s seat over the sound of the motor. “Sorry dude, but their dad doesn’t have time to deal with brats. He said to drop them off at their grandfather-in-laws and let them learn some discipline. They’re all yours now pops! Adios!” With a screech, a toss of some luggage and a kick of exhaust, Mr. O’Neal left as fast as he arrived. Master Ten watches dumbfounded as the car drives back down the hill from which he came. He peers down to find the children standing just as dumbfounded as he. He sneers, “Your father is worthless. My daughter is better off departed than with that swine. With you in my care, at least the family honor can be preserved. Come.” The kids begin to cry. Turning away slowly, he snarls, “Stop sniveling and come.” He walks three steps, but the children stand frozen in place. He stops, stomps his foot and sends a vibration that sets the kids stumbling clumsily. “NOW!” The children do not refuse again.
Inside the dojo, the young children stood awestruck as the master’s students practice their various Ninjutsu techniques. Some flew across the room like men in wires. Others skitter across the walls, while a few thrust punches that break through solid brick effortlessly. Meanwhile, Master Ten stares at the two boys in curiosity. Ten did not have many contacts with the outside world since his daughter’s death. In her life, she sent him letters of her life and the boy’s development. He knew enough of the boy’s advantaged life to assess judgment. They did not grow up humbly as he and his daughter. Alternately, they grew up in the lap of their father’s luxury. There was Hiroaki; his name literally means “widespread brightness”. He was ten years of age. Ten scowls at the child. This kid was far from bright. His expression was sullen, his posture was slouched and his clothing consisted of dark hues Master Ten thought not favorable for children. Hiroaki looks down at the floor when noticed. Contrasting to him was Shin (Humble). Shin was the younger brother of eight years old. Smaller and slightly androgynous, Shin was an attractive youth. His clothes are fitting of the wealth he came from. Unlike his more brooding brother, he keeps his gaze fixed on something across the room. Ten follows his gape and is dismayed by what he sees. The boy’s eyes are not watching the studious youngsters, but fixated on his own image in the training mirrors crosswise to him. He smiles and stares at himself as he was the star attraction. Ten hangs his head at the dishonor.
Finally, Ten claps his hands twice and the students run to him. In perfect alignment before Master Ten, the children shout in attention. “Students, these are my grandchildren, Hiroaki and Shin. They will be my successors to the Heavenly Fist style.” The children hold it well, but frustration rises quickly in their eyes. Immediately upon the announcement, hate and anger conspire to take over their hearts. Master Ten smirks knowingly calculating that his most tenured prodigies would not take kindly to this offense. “Ryu, Kenji, step forward.” He commands. As he did, two older children run to the forefront. They bow respectfully in the presence of Ten. “Hiroaki, Shin, these are my prize students. They will teach you the basics of Ninpō…now!” Suddenly, both children disappear from in front of Ten. Before Hiroaki knows what hit him, he is on the floor. He recoils in a fetal position, not bothering to protect himself from the incoming onslaught of kicks. Ryu wails at him relentlessly until Master Ten shouts, “Enough Ryu! That is more than enough.” Nearby, Kenji is toying with Shin. Master Ten is impressed to see the young child avoiding Kenji’s strikes despite the fact that Ryu is toying with him. However, his pride quickly turns to humiliation as he sees that Shin only does this to avoid his face from getting hit by the barrage of punches. The boy doesn’t even bother to protect his body. “Arrogant little…” Ten begins, but cuts his sentence short. “Kenji, enough games - End this.” With a faint and an uppercut, Kenji sends Shin flying unto his back. Shin cries out in anguish as he crawls to the mirror to check his face for damage. The kids struggle to cover their laughter. Disgusted, Master Ten looks away disapprovingly.
“Arrogant!” He says as he points accusingly to Shin. “I will teach you Tengu Palm, Slayer of Vanity.” He then turns to Hiroaki, “Coward! Since you like to hide from danger, I will teach you Mu, the Art of Not Being.” Master Ten’s students fidget in silent revolt. These are Master Ten’s most undisclosed and dangerous fighting techniques. He has not shown any of his students these techniques and they are well aware of it. Gazing fiercely at the undeserving boys that cringe about the floor, they fume in irritation. Peering backwards at his students, Master Ten speaks, “If any of you disapprove of my decision, then you are more than welcome to challenge my authority.” The young men, bow in respect and all objection stops. “These children are the perfect example of what the Heavenly Fist techniques were made for. They are weak, morally inept and brittle. I will take these unskilled and privileged children and show them the pathway to Heaven. Just as my master molded me and his master before him; I will teach them the art of Ten-Ken (Heavenly Fist). You would do well to observe them as they grow. Like Amenoukihashi, (Floating Bridge of Heaven/ the bridge between Heaven and Earth) their evolution will also be the bridge to your pathway of enlightenment. You have dwelt too long amongst the dirt and filth, it is time to rise, grow and flourish. Ours is the mastery of the metaphysical world. The essence of Heavenly Fist is the strength that moves the Universe. Now go and reflect in meditation and exorcize the demons that inhabit your hearts. Think about transcending. It is time for the games to end.” Twenty eyes dart about the room quizzically as the students wonder where there had ever been games.
Years after their first traumatic introduction to Master Ten’s Bujinkan Hombu training dojo, their time did not grow easier under Ten’s tutelage. He was strict, he was rigid and he dogged them hardest of all. In spite or more in fact, because of this, the boys now thirteen and fifteen were well on their ways to becoming masters in their own rights. Without a doubt, the boys that had disliked them before still dislike them now; however a gradual respect for their deft prowess had formed over the years. Shin and Hiroaki are now teaching their own classes and greatly surpassing their previous tutors, Kenji and Ryu. Despite their quick learning, aptitude and competence in the arts, Master Ten still held them in great contempt. Over the years the boy’s debauched personality traits seemed to lessen, yet Ten could still feel their underlying depravity. The boy’s had been learning the fundamentals of Heavenly Fist well, yet and still Master Ten knew that they needed to completely defeat the inner demons within themselves or the techniques of the Tengu and Mu would be darkly perverted. Master Ten knew that Heaven could not exist without Hell hounding it for all eternity. Due to this, Master Ten would become determined to investigate the full depth of the boy’s impurity.
Ten-Ken: the Heavenly Fist
Martial Arts: superior (rank 2)
It was a cool morning and Master Ten had woken the boys up early before dawn. They stood barefooted upon the wooden floor of the dojo, but they dared not show discomfort before the Master. As they breathed, misty haze drifted slowly from their nostrils. Likewise a massive exhaust of breath abandoned Ten’s lips as he spoke in his deep gravely voice, “Come children, it is time I teach you the full strength of the Heavenly Fist fighting arts.” Master Ten said stoically. “As you know, there are eighteen disciplines in traditional Ninjutsu learnings. Yet, this is not so amid the Ten School of Ninjutsu. Years ago, the Heavenly Fist School broke free of the treacherous teachings of Ninjutsu. For these were the darker arts of treachery. Traditional Ninjutsu teaches fear, cowardice and deception.” As he speaks, Ten begins to circle the boys, “They would teach you to injure or kill your opponent from a distance like a venomous snake. Ten-Ken teaches you to make your body the shield…your fists and feet the weapons and to learn control over these things. For true power is not in deception, but forthrightness.” They clench their fist in anticipation of a strike as they mask their rapidly beating hearts with measured breathes. “The way of Heaven is not the way of deception…No, for that is the pathway to Hell. The forthright path of Heaven is in Taijutsu (unarmed combat)…”
Suddenly and with a loud, “Kii-Ya!” he attacks Hiroaki. The boy blocks deftly. His stance perfect, regardless the power behind the collision sends him sliding nearly into a wall. Shifting his weight and rising to his toes, the youth uses the momentum to twist around and leap backwards unto a wall. He then runs across it as if were as natural as running across the floor. Bounding into an adjacent wall and with a spiraling flip, he kicks forth into Master Ten. The attack hits Master Ten square in the jaw. Master Ten’s stern face does not yield an inch. Hiroaki then quickly transfers the motion away from the jawbone and uses his other leg to kick his grandfather hard across the chest. With that thrust, he backflips and lands next to his brother who flinches slightly and then goes about ignoring the fight smugly. In the meantime, Ten barely registers a reaction to the tremendously nimble attack. “…Armed combat is for cowards.” He continues talking, completely unshaken. “Your body and mind must be honed to become the only weapons that matter. We must harden ourselves, because our bodies are the true armaments of war.” Lunging forward, Master Ten then leans in with his calloused foot in a mammoth kick towards Hiroaki.
Mu: the Gateless Barrier
Phasing: standard (rank 1)
Again, the child nimbly somersaults backwards, avoiding the punt. Master Ten’s foot comes down hard into a horse stance. The impact from his stomp crushes the timbered tile flooring to splinters. “To find your way down the Heavenly path, you must perfect breathing, method, principle and most importantly…Seishinteki Kyoyo (Spiritual Refinement). This is the second lesson of Ten-Ken. If your body fails…” He pauses and with a deep inhalation, Master Ten draws back his fist near his upper chest. He then exhales and pushes them forward. As he does this, his mass seemingly takes on a vaporous form. Hiroaki takes advantage of the situation and hurdles into Master Ten with a powerful Wind Hook Fist. The strike finds home, only…it does not. As he clearly hits Ten, his hand harmlessly slides through the lion’s share of Master Ten as if he weren’t there at all. Ten’s body wisps away with the strike like the misty air from his breath. Hiroaki attacks again and again with his most lethal moves with no fortune. By the time he finishes, Master Ten’s body is almost completely dissipated like smoke. Hiroaki finally falls back, tired and dumbstruck. Another translucent silhouette of Master Ten begins to take form once again behind Hiroaki, “This is the Gateless Barrier of Mu. This skill is only accomplished through disciplining your mind. To gain this state of enlightenment is to relinquish all cherished possessions of the mind, body and soul. You have failed to hit me Hiroaki, because you cling to so much of your past life; all former opinions, facts, conclusions and assumptions must all be dispersed. What holds you back Hiroaki? Release it and all that is left is Mu: the emptiness from which all things come and all things return. When your body fails, the Gateless Barrier will protect you.” As soon as he finds his shape, he pushes forward with two thunderous God Palm strikes. Hiroaki just barely dodges his father’s thrust, yet is still knocked completely on his back by the force. “The path of Mu is yours to learn, but it seems you lack focus, Hiroaki. I would like to think you are prepared to learn more so than your brother, but your mind still seems much too preoccupied.” The sullen child looks perplexed. “What troubles you boy? That which troubles your psyche must be vanquished or you will never be able to fully grasp the essence of Heavenly Fist.” Suddenly, Hiroaki’s face blushes with fury as he returns to a ready stance. “Yes, I can see the anger is deep within you. It must be erased. It is not time for you to master the Gateless Barrier. There is much more for you to accomplish first. You…are not ready.” Hiroaki lowers his head in shame as Master Ten walks calmly to Shin who is as usual lost in his own world.
Tengu Palm: the Slayer of Vanity
Combat Supremacy: supreme (rank 3)
Master Ten notices the child once again engrossed in his own reflection. Raising his hand, he veers to back hand the child. He swings and surprisingly, Shin quickly avoids the attack. Shin raises his finger and wags it at his grandfather, smirking proudly. “Overconfident.” Ten mumbles. “Disappointing.” Ten then walks passively by the upstart youngster. Shin bounces around eagerly awaiting the attack. “You won’t catch me off guard.” He taunts. “Silence!” Ten yells. “Remember, having strong mind and body is nothing if you do not know how to apply them. This is why Ten-Ken transcends traditional fighting arts. It is sheer mastery and quintessence of body, mind and soul.” While speaking, he thunders forward with his fingers inward and palms outstretched. The target is one of many nearby ancient Japanese marble statue of Tengu (Heavenly Dog), the slayer of vanity. Upon impact, the statue explodes into a fine mist. Shin and Hiroaki fall over shielding their eyes from the glassy spray. Hiroaki’s eyes widen in astonishment and dread as he imagines what the attack would’ve done to Shin’s small frame or to any man for that matter. Master Ten merely rises from his attack stance, dusts himself off and walks away. “Now, let me tell you a story, Shin. Once upon a time there was a monk known as Yamabushi Tengu. He was called the Slayer of Vanity. He was a protector of the people and was known for punishing vain and arrogant samurai. Yamabushi Tengu detested those who were braggarts and tainted the Dharma (Buddhist Law). It is said that the Yamabushi Tengu came to the body of Earth as a meteor. With a deafening detonation he struck the world; his Heavenly power was said to have shook everything on the globe, completely destroying the world that was already filthy in bottomless decadence. The Earth was then reborn into the world we know now.” Master Ten leans menacingly over the now trembling body of Shin. “I have this power in my palms. This is the power of Heavenly Fist. The vain tremble before its might as you trembles now. You…are not ready.” Raising his fist, Master Ten lets out a deafening bellow and slams it into the floor. The collision sends the kids flying rearward and straight through an opposing wall. The impact sends a wave of destruction that smashes the foundation of the building. The small training room collapsed around Ten. When the dust settled, Master Ten sits in the middle of the wreckage with his leg’s crossed, meditating. “You are excused.” He huffs in between breathes.
Tenno: the Heavenly Emperor
Gravity: superior (rank 2)
It has been another five years since that harrowing encounter at the demolished Tengu dojo. Shin now eighteen and Hiroaki now twenty have developed into the most formidable students at the Bujinkan Hombu. But as was expected by Ten, their dispositions had become equally as indomitable. Seeded with a weakly hidden hate for their grandfather and ever present narcissisms, the young men have become sour and deeply jaded. Remorsefully, their entire natures greatly contrast that of the teachings of House of Ten. Often they are punished for using excessive brutality towards the other students, particularly towards Kenji and Ryu who previously tutored them and whom Master Ten had begun to favor. When not training, both recede away like reclusive hermits to their mountain dormitories. The sadism and cruelty does not go unnoticed. Usually respecting his apprentices privacy, on year fifteen Master Ten finally does what he has never done before. On the last year of the boy’s schooling, he leaves his resting quarters to inspect the boy’s rooms.
Walking slowly through the dew laden grass and carrying with him a smallish candle, the darkness from Hiroaki’s facility catches his eyes immediately. It is an aberrant darkness that not just casts a shadow, but seemingly consumes the modest surrounding moonlight that is present. Ten is precautious. Darkness is to be expected in the twilight hours of his excursion, but before him is malevolent gloom. The same gloom that protruded from Hiroaki since his first days, only tenfold. He has seen darkness such as this before in the past. It is the sort of mysterious gloom that is associated with Ninjutsu mahō (Ninja Magic). In the House of Ten, it is strictly and fiercely prohibited. Master Ten stiffens in realization and concern. He pleads to the Heavens that his suspicions are not true as he steps unto the entrance floorboards of Hiroaki’s lair. There is nothing but silence until the low groan his foot causes upon impact with the wooden planked entrance. Ten slides the entryway open and walks cautiously into the nebulous. Enveloped in the abyss that should be Hiroaki’s room, Ten feels as if he has been swallowed whole. He has done darkness training many times before, but nothing could prepare him for this. It is now; in the void that he realizes the unthinkable. Hiroaki has done it. He has tampered with the dark arts. Ten quivers slightly as he becomes conscious that he now stands in the threshold of Yomi (The Shadowy Land of the Dead).
The dull glow of the candle held by Ten barely illuminates the candle itself, much less the surrounding gloom. Regardless, he holds it steady against the dark. Against his better judgment, Ten decides to traverse the dark realm in search of Hiroaki. Despite the fact that the room is only big enough to accommodate one, Ten walks for what seems like hours searching desperately for Hiroaki. It becomes dangerously apparent to him that his search may cause him to be lost forever in this morose wilderness, when suddenly…
“Masutā Tengoku!” A familiar voice calls out.
“Hiroaki…what have you done?” Ten replies sorrowfully.
“Masutā, I found her. I have found mother! Here…here in the dark.”
Ten falls to the floor in despair. His face hangs low as he knows the outcome of this meeting. “You don’t belong here, Hiroaki. We…don’t belong here. This is the world for those who have passed on. We must leave now or be lost forever.”
“No! Damn you! No! All my life, I have done what you say. I abide by your rules and what has that accomplished for me. Nothing! You do not care about anything, but your silly nothingness. When did you ever care for me? When did you ever care for MOTHER?”
Hiroaki begins to sob in the dark. Briefly Master Ten is at a loss for words. Reaching within for inner strength, he gathers the words of elders past. “Hiroaki, you worship your mother for strength, forgetting…you are strong.” Unexpectedly, a shuffle is heard. To Ten’s ears it sounds like several people. Curious, he tosses his candle forward to better view what’s in front of him. It hits solid matter: It hits Hiroaki. Emblazoned, he screams and tosses about. Between the flickers, Master Ten sees a sight that can never be unseen. In a bed near the writhing Hiroaki lies his recently departed daughter’s corpse. In shame, Master Ten looks away briefly, then without hesitation he acts. With a deep gulp of air, he rears back, then forward clapping fiercely. The wallop wafts a gust of wind that completely eliminates the flames for Hiroaki. Quickly he tries to seize the young man and head back where he came. As he does this, horror fills him as he swears that he notices his daughter beginning to rise from the bed. Hiroaki squirms on the floor mostly from pain, but also because he sees the rising of his mother too. “No!” He screams. “Leave me be!” He protests. Hiroaki then pushes away and rushes into the dark. “No!” Ten screams. It is too late. Hiroaki is lost in the murkiness of Yomi. Quick as possible, Ten set sights on exiting the horrid place before he too is lost forever. In the background a low moan can be heard. It is Ten’s daughter. She cries out in sorrow. It chills Ten to the core.
Reaching the exit of Yomi that was once Hiraoki’s domicile, Ten makes leave to Shin’s quarters. With a light kick, he bursts into Shin’s residence and once again a shocking sight floors him. Ten had long taken all the mirrors from Shin’s quarters, but is angered to see a small vanity on the floor. Shin turns quickly, his face a smirking calm. Meanwhile the reflection in the mirror does not turn, but snarls furiously, taunting without sound. “Chimei-Tekina Hansha (Deadly Reflection).” Ten whispers mournfully. “That’s right old man. Hiraoki and I have been learning true skills behind your back for years. I see you know of Kage-Ken (Shadow Fist) and Chimei-Tekina Hansha (Deadly Reflection). They are skills that best represent us now, not that holier than thou teaching of yours. Who needs your repetitive psychoanalyzing now, Masutā Tengoku?”
Master Ten stands stunned in dire mortification. As soon as he looks away, the miniature reflection of Shin in the vanity mirror lunges at Ten’s mirror image. It slashes with cat-like attacks at Ten’s reflection that hack at his face. Likewise, Shin kicks fiercely at the actual Ten. Both attack in deadly unison. “Join me brother!” He cries to Hiroaki. “It is time we take revenge while he is staggered.” Suddenly leaping from a nearby shadow, Hiroaki does just that. As the mirror image attacks Ten’s likeness and Shin pummels his real self, Hiroaki leaps from shadow to shadow nimbly barraging Ten with a flurry of kicks and punches. “Do you see what you have done, Masutā Tengoku…?” But before Shin can finish his vengeful rant, Ten forms his hand in a dagger-like fashion. With a quick thrust, he swipes and pulls the eyes right from the socket of Shin. “It is you who does not see.”
Shin falls to the ground in horrified agony screaming with maddened abandon. Hiroaki falls back as Shin’s mirror image vanishes away. Ten is without a scratch from the previous nuisance. “This Hansha (Reflection) style fits you well, boy. For it exposes your fatal flaw. Your false pride is simply the mask that covers your own ignominy. You both feel responsible for your mother’s death as any child would. Unlike your brother who wallows in fear and mourning, you cover your fears with boorish self-importance. Therefore you wallow in ignorant bliss.” As ten speaks, he begins to wave his arms in a circular formation. His breathing becomes loud and steady: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale… “You’ve turned genuine loving emotions into hate and scorn for others around you. You’ve gone so far as to pity those weaker than you. You even go so far as to feel everyone is weaker than you. In essence, you reflect your own failures unto others. Now, let me reflect your failures unto you for just because I’ve taught you all you know, doesn’t mean I’ve taught you all I know. Let me show you the true power of the Heavenly Fist style.” With a fierce thrust, Ten drives his arms outward. “Now you shall feel the entirety of your own filth. As Mu releases all fixations from your body making you invulnerable to attack, Tennō (Heavenly Emperor) forces them upon you. Every bit of hate, frustration and scorn that you have built inside of you is now doubled back upon you.” As he says this, the boys do indeed double over. Like a weight and a vice grip all in one, they fall to the floor gasping for air. Hiroaki begins to whimper. Meanwhile, Shin still bellows in agony as their bodies are slowly compressed.
Nearly flattened Ten exhales and releases the bombardment, “I have failed you, I have failed my master before me and I have failed the House of Ten. For this dishonor I must atone.” With that, Master Ten calmly exits the domicile. The boys cough and wheeze as the air finally returns to their lungs. Meanwhile, a few of the other students, having heard the commotion rush to the aid of the blind and bleeding Shin. In spite of his anguish, the youngster, embarrassed, pushes the fledglings away. “Damn weaklings every single one of you. What have any of you learned here? It is Hiroaki and I that have attained true power. Get away! All of you! Leave us be!” He screams insanely. The children do just that and scatter. A few disperse harsh tidings before departing and soon Hiroaki and Shin are alone.
Days later, Master Ten rises from a meditative position from within his abode. For the passing of several blue moons, Master Ten has fasted and prayed. Washing away the horrors of the past, he conclusively speaks, “I will enter the Shima (The Path of Death which lead to Life).” And walks towards the children’s lair. As he expected, they have both long departed, fleeing the training grounds forever. With this single statment, he finalizes that in retribution for his failure, he will take his own life, but first he will travel the road of death and extinguish the flame of Ninja no mahō kindled by the boys. In essence, Hiraoki and Shin must die.