The way of a warrior is difficult to master, perhaps even impossible to master at all, and that's why they are a dying breed. Perhaps they are even extinct. They say that in martial arts, it is a spiral. The popular belief is that the black belt is the pinnacle of success; it means you can kick some serious ass; you have gone as far as you're going to go. People have no idea how wrong that is. Here's a little secret: the black belt is not a symbol of the end; it's the beginning. It means that's when you're ready to really begin to learn.

That's why there aren't many warriors today. Everything is rush, rush, rush. Hurry, scurry, scramble. It's all about the looking good and the looking down. The world's a staged play where nobody knows if the script is supposed to be a comedy or a tragedy, a satire or an opera. Nobody has time for warriors and heroes; it's all politics and no honor. Oil this, terrorism that. Nobody knows what a warrior really is.

I've never thought the fate of growing old and withering away was very satisfying; I always fancied I would not mind dying for a cause I thought with all my heart was right, if only I could find one.

Were I born in a land that I could call my own, I would be a warrior-poet, with the skill of the sword and the brush. I would sing of the wandering warrior from the mountains, and the bandit prince who ran with wolves. I would paint the legend of the girl-king who masqueraded as a soldier and I would write down the conquests of the warlords who were feared across the land.

I would know the song of the phoenix and hear the riddles of the sphinx. I would see the dragons like great eels in the sea and watch the griffons take flight from the sky-cliffs. I would walk with heroes.

Before all this, I would be a low-ranked soldier of the Empire's army, and I would crawl from the battlefield, the first one I would fight upon, having survived only by falling to the ground and feigning death. I would be abandoned by my fellows and left to rot, and I would have to wait there until the sun rose the next morning, when the enemy had finished carting off their own dead.

I would go down the to the river when the mist rolls in thick from the mountains, and walk down the center of it without weapons nor provisions to ease my journey. I would walk for nine days and nine nights until the mist lifted in shreds of white veil. Across the boundless lake that had once been a river, I would see the boats. The water would be like glass, with nary a ripple to announce my passing for my steps would, by then, be as smooth as a whisper through the night. The boats would pass me by as the water would slink upwards, beyond my shoulders and lapping at the nape of my neck. The boats would be sleek and beautifully fashioned from black wood, with their intricate serpent-headed bows adorned with little swinging lanterns and no oars nor rudder to steer with.

The fifth boat would pass by me with a rope as silver as the moon and as slender as a blade of grass. I would pull myself to the boat but phantom hands in the water would drag me down; the lake is bottomless and I would have to swim to keep alive, for in the belly of the lake lies the gate to the world of the dead.

I would kick off those ghost hands and with the last of my strength tumble into the boat, taking care to coil the rope at the bow to discourage the lake-phantoms from accompanying me. I would drift on mirror waters for three nights, in a place where there is no day.

After those three nights I would reach the misty mountains of the spirits and I would stay there for what is ten years there, and two in the lesser world. I would live alone and I would learn from the spirits of the mountains. The tigers would teach me to fight and the owls would teach me to hunt. The bears would teach me to protect what's worth protecting. The eagles would teach me to be free even in chains and the cranes would teach me patience. The wolves would teach me the importance of loyalty.

I would leave when I could stand upon a pole with one leg for seven days and go without food for five. I would leave when I could defeat a mother bear and a king tiger both with nothing but my bare fists, and move as well as a snake through the grass without disturbing a single blade. I would leave when I could beat a cheetah and a pronghorn in a footrace and outwit a fox.

I would descend from the misty mountains with tattered clothes and nothing else but a stick of bamboo. I would cross two years' worth of grassland in a day until I set foot beyond the carved stone gates of the spirit world.

The weight of reality would burden my every step and I would seek out the nearest city as a beggar. I would not plead for food and look pitiful on the streets; the jackals had taught me to be smart. I would steal money and food and I would harden myself once again to the cruelties of the world. I would buy myself new clothes and wander afar when my face became too well known. I would travel from city to village to wilderness and over again, and I would use what I learned from the spirit mountains. I would begin anew with the knowledge I gained, and I would meet a one-armed warrior and a wandering witch-doctor who would teach me to live. And perhaps, one day, I would become that warrior-poet who walked with heroes, and I would teach the world to dream.