It's the 14th year of Tensho (1586). During the second half of the seventh month, the days were gradually becoming cool.
Gripping his wooden staff, long-time traveler Hakuunsai Tozawa (戸沢 白雲斎) slowly scaled up Torii Pass (鳥居峠) in central Shinano Province. For the first time on his trip, he felt his breath becoming labored. His face crinkled; after climbing an elevation, an inflammatory surge struck the side of his ribs, and he took a moment to sit against a tree trunk.
Tozawa has been through the pass many times before with little to no difficulty. Despite the length and uneven terrain, the mountains were a strategic way to avoid wary forces, and were a sure way to and from allied lands. Tozawa particularly liked it for its collected scenery. Aside from the towering sugi forests he admired the stone steles, carved with poems about men long passed in life, and the wooden Buddha statues resting along the gradient to lead travelers with good fortune and wisdom. It all made him overlook the current turbulent times. Eventually, Tozawa reached Togakushi Mountains (戸隠山) in the north. He stopped to cough and catch his breath. Subsequently, he slowly moved down a hill that led to a thick forest. At the base, a lake awaited him.
"Oh goodness," He muttered; one cough sent a jolt through Tozawa's body, and the burning pain from his abdomen brought him down to one knee. His body was propped up by his staff; he looked down at the lake's surface and saw a reflection of his creased face. His face, and the extra prudence he needed to exert in his travels, made Tozawa remember of the countless new moons he had seen in the sky. New moons that turned into months and months that turned into years. He often put the thought aside since he did not want the truth to deter his leisure, and it didn't felt like he wanted to die yet.
Once he collected more air, and more preparation to endure the pain in his side again, Tozawa intended to have a quick drink and wash. However, he was lured elsewhere by some alarming sounds. The origin of the noise was in another forest. Reaching there, Tozawa moved behind a sugi to investigate. He eyed a couple of small hokora, each built with the statue of a monkey wearing a formal cylindrical eboshi court hat. He saw more monkeys around, but they weren't inanimate. Surrounded by the furry animals was someone carrying a bokken in both hands, and beating it against a tree trunk. It was like the bark screamed upon impact; the strikes, along with the high-pitched and preadolescent yells of the wooden sword handler, were earnest enough for Tozawa's ears to pick up from a distance. Further added to the traveler's interest was the monkeys; he watched as they mimic his arms' movements with every stroke.
The boy continued thwacking the tree until he became unsatisfied, "Curses! Curse it more!" He growled, kicked the trunk, and seized it with his arms. The monkeys began to flail their arms around and chatter wildly. While watching, Tozawa clutched his stomach. He curved his mouth and let out a hearty laugh. The monkeys became silent.
"What amusement!" Tozawa said.
Sasuke, a bristle-haired boy who looked no older than ten, turned around and scowled at Tozawa, "You! Did you laugh at me, old man?" His tone did not lack any spirit, and it quite reflected his youth and frustration. The monkeys flashed their jagged teeth, hissing out threateningly; Tozawa didn't answer and scratched the back of his neck.
The boy pointed his sword at the traveler, "You broke my concentration. I'm trying to practice my sword art. Why do you laugh at me? Answer me! You won't be forgiven if the reason's not pure, even if you are an old man."
Such impudence, Tozawa thought, raising an eyebrow. However, he couldn't help but smile genially. Tozawa could sense Sasuke's hot desire to achieve something, and it made him feel admiration for the boy. There was the also the mystical cohesion between the boy and the monkeys that roused wonder.
"It was because you were practicing on a tree. You cannot improve your art in that manner. Training on a tree is like training with a dead enemy." The traveler answered.
The monkeys calmed; Sasuke lowered his bokken and his face seemed to show comprehension. He carefully examined Tozawa; his long snow hair—swept back and tied up at the top of his head— resembled the nobility. During the Warring States period, an elder indicated a long life that has seen many things. Sasuke contemplated for a moment. Tozawa sounded like he knew about combat, and was blessed enough to have eluded death. Aside from hair, Sasuke also judged the old man by his brown and white eloquent attire. He could recall many samurai wearing robes covered in patterns. However, Tozawa didn't wear any swords.
This time, Sasuke pointed with a finger, "I see! Hey old man, are you a master? Please teach me your secrets. Please make me an apprentice." He said.
Perplexed, Tozawa frowned and then asked, "You want to learn so badly?"
"Of course I do! I'm going to pray to the heavenly gods for a master. One that can grant me skill and discipline. " Sasuke said with certainty.
"And what would you do with the arts after you learn them?" Tozawa continued inquiring.
"I'll become a strong swordsman, and win fame and honor!" Like a real child, Sasuke said in a way like he had no sense of upcoming obstacles. If he could do it, he could. Tozawa cupped his chin. Fame came along the service of the Lords, and honor came from being faithful to the same Lord.
After a small moment of thought, Tozawa clapped his hands, "Wonderful wonderful! You are a fine boy! I can see that you have zeal in your goal. In consideration of this, I'm going to teach you a lesson."
Sasuke threw himself before Tozawa's feet and bowed submissively. His monkey imitated the same posture.
"Thank you!" He said.
When the lesson began, Tozawa told Sasuke to attack him. Elated, Sasuke stood ready. He took in one breath, and then he rushed forward. Swinging both arms, his wooden sword flew in a wide arc, and Sasuke suddenly saw nothing. He looked left and right, and then his foot slipped back. He felt a shove from behind and his face fell hard into the dirt.
"Oh my, your reflexes are slow. Look son, you must see through the darkness. You rushed ahead and didn't take my counter into mind. You worried over where I was, and you wouldn't know until it was too late." Sasuke could hear his master's humored voice from above his head, and felt a couple of taps at the back of his neck. It was from the butt of Tozawa's staff.
"Had this been real, you would've been dead." The elder said.
"Why you!" Sasuke rose to his feet. There was anger clear on his face.
"Now now, settle down. I need to get you to defend yourself and to become more alert." The master said.
Throughout the next three years, Sasuke would learn martial arts from Hakuunsai Tozawa. Along with his sword technique, and the ankoku toshi jutsu or "seeing through the darkness" technique, Sasuke Sarutobi would make the style of Koga Ninjutsu his new meditation. As he did, he felt more cunning and agile. This was a beginning tale of one of the Brave Ten.