Arrived at office. Changed shoes, stopped at coffee machine and chatted with copywriter about her sons, one of whom is returning to live with her.
Entered office of Ran Bao-tu, Senior Creative Director and kung-fu master of unmatched skill, nobility and judgment, for morning conference only to find room in shambles and Master Ran lying sprawled on floor, severely beaten and on the brink of death. Cradled master’s head on my knees, imploring: “Who did this?”. Marshaling last ounce of strength, master weakly named Bai Tiao-man, leader of rival kung fu school Cobra Whisper, as his assailant. Master then croaked final breath, dying.
Swore revenge in the name of my ancestors on Cobra Whisper and its contemptible, craven master, Bai Tiao-man.
Began catching up on email.
Sent Outlook meeting request challenging Bai Tiao-man to combat to the death at 5:00 pm. Request was promptly accepted.
Met with members of Media, Production and PR teams to coordinate efforts on new brand rollout scheduled for next month. Received numerous condolences and expressions of sympathy on death of Master Ran.
On way to water fountain, chanced upon my counterpart in Marketing at Cobra Whisper, who disgraced Master Ran’s good name with vile falsehoods and insults. Confrontation quickly escalated into combat. Fight ranged throughout Accounting and Human Resources, ending in front of vice president’s office, where I finally bested my opponent with rapid combination of Crane Plucks Eggs from Nest and Swift Tiger Pounce.
Stood out in lobby alone, silently mourning Master Ran, a single stoic tear streaming down cheek.
Met with Associate Vice President to discuss upcoming product launches. Before adjourning meeting, AVP warned me that my skills were not sufficient to defeat rival kung fu master in battle. Referred me to Chief Creative Officer, rumored keeper of Sword of Hands, the deadliest of all kung fu styles.
Sent Outlook meeting request for appointment with CCO at only time available: 4:45. No reply forthcoming; received an email from secretary saying that CCO was in meetings all day and 4:45 appointment could not be guaranteed.
Impromptu memorial service for Master Ran in break room. Bai Tiao-man, accompanied by several direct reports, brazenly attended service, laughing derisively and promising to swiftly bring death to me and to our school. Melee promptly broke out. In rash fit of anger, rushed Bai Tiao-man intending to strike him down. Rival master quickly parried my enraged and wild kicks and blows. Though a fiend with neither honor nor courage, he nevertheless easily knocked me to the ground, laughed and confirmed our meeting for 5:00 p.m.
Lunch with members of Public Relations and Media Development. Discussed strategies for facing Bai Tiao-man and split large platter of nachos.
Met with members of Marketing, IT and Web to discuss ongoing rollout of new CMS. General agreement that initial schedule was too aggressive and so several milestone deadlines were revised.
Worked at desk on drafts for several upcoming marketing pieces. Thoughts invariably went back to earlier years, when I chose to pledge my loyalty to Ran Bao-tu over mother’s objections. Remembered leaving home for last time, watching through window of bus as mother wept to see me go, father standing behind her, gruff and implacable, his emotion visible only in the sorrowful cast of his jaw.
Googled “Sword of Hands.” Found links to several demonstration videos on YouTube but was blocked from viewing them by company firewall. Also surreptitiously followed several BuzzFeed links and checked fantasy baseball team standings.
Spoke by telephone to CCO’s secretary. Was assured I was “pencilled in” for 4:45 conference.
Delegation of several direct reports visited me in office to ask me not to fight Bai Tiao-man. Though a worthy pupil of Ran Bao-tu and a winner of several regional awards for excellence in advertising copywriting, I was assured my kung fu was no match for that of Bai Tiao-man, and that I could not hope to master the Sword of Hands in time to defeat him. Calmly assured my colleagues that if my only remaining service to Ran Bao-tu was to die in the defense of his honor, I would consider such a death eminently worthwhile.
Team designer and student of kung fu Ma Xia-hui came to office to flatly inform me she could not allow me to face Bai Tiao-man and bring even greater ruin and disgrace to our school. To my astonishment, she presented the Crane at Eventide stance, a clear invitation to combat. At first I offered no defense, refusing to raise a hand in anger at a fellow pupil and colleague of several years’ standing. It became clear that though Ma Xia-hui fought reluctantly, she was nevertheless in deadly earnest, striking swiftly and with great power. After twice enduring blows strong enough to knock me to the ground, as well as the destruction of a new iMac and several items of office furniture, I rose and counterattacked with a combination of Drunken Beggar and Tiger’s Shadow on the Leaves. With the fight with Bai Tiao-man heavy in my thoughts, I resolved to bring the duel to a swift conclusion and felled Xia-hui with Executioner’s Hood, tempered to leave her unconscious but alive.
Called into impromptu meeting to discuss revisions to a campaign slated to start several weeks hence. Even with client’s repeated objections that our approach was “too sophisticated — we’re not selling BMWs here,” my thoughts strayed to my imminent confrontation with Bai Tiao-man. Though I knew I would bring honor to the duel, I could find no way in which I might prevail against Bai or restore our school’s shattered reputation. Teammates appeared reluctant to look me in the eye, and client admitted she hadn’t read most of the draft copy I had supplied her, saying it simply hadn’t “felt right.”
Received request for meeting tomorrow regarding upcoming healthcare campaign. Responded with “Accept Tentatively.”
Returned to cubicle and began preparing status report for all ongoing projects, to assist my colleagues following my inevitable death at the hands of Bai Tiao-man. Ma Xia-hui, recovered from our battle, appeared and promptly fell to her knees, begging my forgiveness. I assured her she was not at fault and hoped that, as the leader of our school following my demise, she would continue to uphold the integrity and values of Master Ran. Choking back tears, she hoarsely thanked me for the honor of fighting and creating award-winning direct-mail and point-of-sale advertising at my side. My own emotions nearly overwhelming me, I replied that the honor had been mine, and turned back to my screen, lest my tears betray me.
Entered team shrine for solitary meditation prior to fighting Bai Tiao-man. Lit incense cones in tribute to my ancestors and to Ran Bao-tu, asking all those who watched over me for the strength to fight with honor and courage. A shadow darkened the altar; it was the team secretary, informing me that the Chief Creative Officer, Wu Xuan-ke, would see me. I looked at my iPhone and saw that it was 4:53.
With no time to spare and fear getting the best of me, I pleaded with Venerable Master Wu to teach me anything he could of the Sword of Hands, surely my only hope of escaping death at the hands of Bai Tiao-man. He smiled. “Master Bai’s weakness is not in his arm or his fist, but in his thoughts. Your late master, the honorable Ran Bao-tu, has already given you all the skills you need to defeat Bai Tiao-man and the blackguard arts of Cobra Whisper.” When I related my earlier disgrace at his hands, he raised a finger. I fell silent. “He who cannot recall the lesson when it is needed most is a poor student. And according to your annual performance reviews, you are an excellent student indeed.” A soft chime emanated from his MacBook Pro on the desk in front of him. He folded his arms and looked kindly upon me. “And now I believe you have a meeting to attend.”
Arrived at the Executive Board Room to find Bai Tiao-man waiting for me. He was alone. He expressed frank surprise that I would have the courage to face him in the end. Like all of Bai’s utterances, it only further revealed him as a man to whom honor and respect were alien. The time for words had passed and I did not dignify his craven taunt. I assumed Crane at Eventide. He laughed and took a further opportunity to slander our school’s good name and to promise that it would die with me this afternoon. He went so far as to take no defensive stance at all, simply waiting for the first blow which, as the challenger, it was my duty to strike.
Enraged at the panoply of insults I had endured at his hands, I lashed out with Crane Catching Pebbles, and was easily turned aside; I responded with Spider at Compass Points, and he struck me a blow that sent me sprawling across the hard oak conference table. He laughed, still having assumed no posture of defense. I rose and we circled, a sneer playing across his thin lips. There was no hesitancy in his movements, no telltale wavering of concentration; he was like a solid wall, impervious to my arts. Determined to break his mocking demeanor, I struck with Firefly Dagger and landed a stinging blow to his sternum. His anger flared and he howled and came at me with arms like pistons, brushing aside my defenses and striking me hard in the chest. Again, I lost my footing, and my head struck the floor and rang with the blow.
I rose, my feet unsteady beneath me. Bai now stood in the Venom Brood stance, his fingers bent like fangs of oak ready to strike me down. My attack was clumsy and obvious. He struck my side and my throat, then haughtily kicked my weakened legs out from under me and I fell yet again.
Fear overtook me as I lay on the blue and gray carpeting, and I struggled to remember some words of my master, anything that would bestow the clarity I needed to prevail. Bai circled near me, fully alert and ready for me to engage him again. I hauled myself to my hands and knees. I saw blood ooze from my mouth onto the carpet. My wounds throbbed with a pain that rippled throughout my body. In an instant the scene around me dissolved and I was in Master Ran’s office, in precisely this posture, having just failed a combat trial in one of my annual performance reviews. He had knocked me to the ground again and again, and this time ordered me to remain on my knees.
“Do not get up,” he said, “until you know why you get up — until you can engage the opponent with thoughtfulness and purpose. Let the enemy come on like the black storm, his heart knowing only rancor and destruction. It is a fool who fights the rain storm. Fight not on the enemy’s terms, but on your own. Face your enemy with honor where he is dishonorable, courage where he is cowardly, mercy where he is cruel. Where he rushes headlong, looking only for the quick path to victory, you must see the blow that is yet to be struck. Look not to the lightning strike, but to the dark clouds that are its portent.”
In an instant the vision had passed and I was back in the conference room, bleeding and stiff with pain. I had not fully understood the lesson that day. But now, facing my own black storm of an enemy, I knew what I must do.
I rose to my feet but assumed no stance. I looked at Bai Tiao-man and for the first time I pitied him — pitied his shrunken heart and his coldness, his pleasure in the weakness and failure of others. I saw how his own lost honor haunted him and drove him to destroy the good and noble wherever he met them. Bai unleashed another taunt, but his words had lost their force. I raised one hand in a parrying stance, a posture one would adopt in facing a novice. In fury he lunged and I stepped beyond his reach. Again he lunged, and again, each time coming within a hair’s breadth. He saw cowardice, for that was what he looked for; and I saw the simple crudity of his attacks, their single-minded dullness. He struck out with great power at that which most easily presented itself. I knew then I could defeat him, and my pity for him grew.
I stepped within his reach and parried his attacks with the Bending Reed form — a form useless for counterattack, but my enemy’s frustration mounted, as I had known it would. His blows grew wilder, and I could now read them in his face before he threw them: now was the subtle flicker of eye and mouth that betrayed the opponent at war with himself. I struck with Fist of Hummingbird and he staggered. There was fear in his eyes now as the specter of defeat entered his mind for the first time, fed on itself and grew larger. Now would he be at his most dangerous — and his most vulnerable. I closed on him with the Hundred Eels Fists, giving him no room to counter, and his will broke. He gave ground and I advanced, diverting his desperate blows and choosing my attacks for maximum effect on my opponent’s mind and body. He cursed me helplessly, unable to see how he himself had given me the key to his defeat. He was now mine to finish. I struck with Hungry Oak and sent him to the floor.
“Why continue?” I asked, with what I sincerely hoped was a note of kindness in my voice. “Has there not been enough death today?”
I watched the struggle of emotions play across his face, his fear and rage and pride combating for dominance. I had little doubt which would be the victor, but honor demanded I offer him a final choice.
“No,” he spat at me between heaving breaths. “There is not quite yet enough death today, little pupil.” He lurched to his feet and came at me one last time.
He was still fast, still powerful, but his will had already surrendered. I was ready with Executioner’s Hood, and I felled him.
Returned to my desk to find Ma Xia-hui waiting for me. Her demeanor was dignified but I read the joy in her eyes. We embraced without embarrassment. She asked if Bai Tiao-man still lived.
I laughed. “Our school still lives. Our honor still lives. Whether Bai Tiao-man still lives is for him to decide.”
Changed response to tomorrow’s meeting to “Accepted.” Shut down computer and left for the day.