Episode 10 (Growing in Solitude (1))

October 20, 2023 • 11 min read • 359 views

Lee Gwak spent most of his time alone.

Occasionally, the members of the 13th Squad would visit, offering some assistance, but beyond those moments, he was entirely by himself.

Needless to say, the Jade Heaven Alliance hardly paid him any attention. It’s possible they might have even forgotten his existence altogether. Lee Gwak was just grateful they hadn’t banished him.

All he could do was lie down all day. His sole activity became gazing endlessly at the ceiling.
Lee Gwak blinked.

His eyes grew tired from looking at the Yoga Secret Manual affixed to the ceiling for too long. It felt as if grains of sand had entered his eyes, making them sting. Yet, he couldn’t tear his gaze away from the Yoga Secret Manual.

Lying down was agony in itself, and the only thing that could momentarily distract him from this pain was the Yoga Secret Manual on the ceiling.

With strained eyes, Lee Gwak struggled to read it.

It began with the prologue written by the creator of the Yoga Secret Manual.

[I had heard that in Tianzhu (an ancient name for India), there existed mysterious martial arts and principles vastly different from those of the Central Plains. So, after a journey of nearly four months, I arrived there.

In that land, where the sun blazed fiercely all year round, a grand river flowed, and everywhere I looked, there were practitioners. Some honed their minds and bodies with acrobatics that bordered on miraculous feats, while others used meditation techniques, not unlike our own, to fortify their spirits.

There were countless practitioners, and with them, just as many training methods.

I found their methods intriguing. Their practices stoked my curiosity.

I desired to learn from these practitioners. However, they were not so easily persuaded to share their secrets.

Of course, it was a natural response. For anyone, passing down their secrets to an outsider was never easy. But I was not one to give up easily either.

I sought teachings for three whole years, and eventually, I found a master to guide me.

My master had practised asceticism for a staggering forty years. He saw futures I could not perceive, heights I could not reach.

He told me he had foreseen my arrival. That it was our shared destiny.

To my bewilderment, he told me that in time, as the sands shifted and my training deepened, I would come to understand.

Under his guidance, I embarked on my rigorous practice.

Although I had braced myself for the challenges, the yoga techniques of Tianzhu differed starkly from the martial arts of the Central Plains.

While the martial arts of the Central Plains hinged on cultivating Qi in the Dantian (energy center), the yogic practices of Tianzhu began with unlocking the Huiyin point deep within the perineum.

Truth be told, this was the most challenging part.

Being a martial artist who had cultivated Qi in the Dantian, to harness the Huiyin point, I had to relinquish everything I had learned.

Abandon over two decades of knowledge? I pondered and pondered. Seeing my dilemma, my master spoke.

He told me my journey here was not by chance, and the continuation of his teachings was a result predestined from eons past.

At that moment, oddly, I found solace.

I unhesitatingly let go of my past learnings and embarked on this new discipline.

To those reading this, heed my words.

To truly master these yogic techniques, not only must one forsake prior martial arts knowledge, but also ingrained habits. However, one thing I can assert with certainty: if you fully grasp these yogic techniques, if nothing else, your physique will always remain in its prime.]

The place that suffered the most damage was the preface of Yoga Secret Manual.

After that, the pages remained relatively untouched.

It was evident that many stopped reading after the introduction.

Lee Gwak understood their sentiments.

No matter how amazing the Yogic practices were, it could only be mastered by abandoning one’s existing martial arts. It was a harsh price to pay for learning a Tianzhu technique whose efficacy was uncertain. That’s why most people turned away from the Yoga Secret Manual.

Even Han So Cheon wouldn’t have brought this book to Lee Gwak if she hadn’t heard that the technique could maintain one’s top condition.

Lee Gwak began reading the next section in earnest.

The passage described the fundamental training techniques.

Lee Gwak frowned

He had already prepared himself by reading the preface, but it was too different from the Central Plains martial arts.

The Yogic Arts saw the human body as containing seven gates or whirlpools.

The first gate was the perineum.

To properly initiate into this gate, one had to envision a snake coiling its tail three and a half times within. Both the idea of the snake and the coiling of its tail were difficult concepts to grasp.

Only after the first gate was opened could one proceed to the second gate located at the base of the spine, right at the tailbone.

The third, fourth, and fifth gates were situated along the spine. Each gate had unique properties that affected the human body, and unlocking them was essential for fully understanding and harnessing one’s own physical prowess.

Up to this point, Lee Gwak could somewhat comprehend. However, when it came to the sixth gate located at the very centre of the brain, he couldn’t help but hesitate.

When this central gate of enlightenment was opened, it was said that the “Eye of Intuition” would manifest.

The specifics of the eye’s powers and its function weren’t elaborated upon.

The final, seventh gate was said to be a portal to the spiritual realm.

Opening this gate would awaken a colossal serpent that would complete the practitioner’s journey. But completion was only a starting point; there was more to come.

To some, these teachings may seem exaggerated, much like pseudo-martial arts. It seemed plausible that many, even after enduring the introduction, would turn away upon reaching this section.

Lee Gwak blinked, feeling overwhelmed.

Even from this brief read, it was evident how different Tianzhu’s Yogic Arts were from the established martial arts of Central Plains. The latter, passed down through numerous generations, was stable and efficient.

The martial art techniques Lee Gwak knew were no different.

Although what he practised was just a fundamental technique known among the outer court martial artists of the Jade Heaven Alliance, it was stable and lacked nothing.

Over the past five years, Lee Gwak had diligently trained in these basics. Though he felt limitations at times, he practised out of habit. To master this new art, he would need to erase the biases and rigid perspectives he’d unknowingly adopted. This realisation was, admittedly, a source of trouble.

After thinking about it for a while, he suddenly laughed out loud. It was because he felt ridiculous.

“What else do I have left to lose?”

He had lost his love, and even the freedom of his limbs. The idea of fearing further loss in his current state seemed ridiculous.

A determined look settled on Lee Gwak’s face.

“My journey begins with feeling the snake…”

He was unaware of what the “snake” mentioned in the Yoga Vision meant. It might be the “qi” from the Central Plains martial arts, or it could represent something entirely different. Or perhaps, it was just a fabricated myth.

Yet, it didn’t matter. What Lee Gwak yearned for was not the truth but a glimmer of hope.
And he clung to that hope.
***
Inside the room, a man was sprawled in a mess.

His hair splayed out, reminiscent of a lion’s mane. His face was almost hidden beneath a thick beard around his nose and chin. Despite his haggard appearance, his eyes shimmered with a curious depth and clarity.

It was Lee Gwak.

His attention was solely on the Yoga Secret Manual affixed to the ceiling.

From the moment he opened his eyes, his world was consumed by the Yoga Secret Manual. He couldn’t look away; he was compelled to immerse himself in it.

The only sound in the serene room was Lee Gwak’s deep, rhythmic breathing.

His entire focus was on this breath.

Being immobile only meant he could delve deeper into his breathing. In the tranquil space, only his breath mattered. Everything else became insignificant.

Time blurred as he remained engrossed in the Yoga Vision, which he had been fixated on for over three months. An ordinary person might have given up by this point, but Lee Gwak was different.

Then, he felt it.

He started to feel a tickling sensation under his anus.

At first he thought it was an illusion.

He’d felt similar sensations before, but they always turned out to be mere illusions, fading away as time passed.

But this time, the tingling persisted.

He soon realized that this wasn’t a mere fleeting feeling. Something was stirring within him.

He directed all his concentration to this sensation.

The “qi” was moving. It resembled a tiny serpent, albeit more akin to a worm at this stage.

“It must grow to coil its tail.”

According to the Yoga Secret Manual, the serpent coiled its tail three and a half times.

The nascent serpent within Lee Gwak was not yet mature or strong enough for that. It needed nurturing.

Lee Gwak’s entire being was absorbed in the Yoga Secret Manual, and his eyes held a trace of fervent determination.

Time continued its relentless march.

It was then that Seok Yi Cheon came to visit Lee Kwak.

He gazed sorrowfully at the emaciated figure of Lee Kwak.

Now, Lee Gwak looked as skeletal as a ghost. His arms and legs were thin and frail, resembling dried twigs, and his complexion was deathly pale. It was a wonder he was still breathing.

Lee Gwak, who once spoke animatedly during previous visits, was now silent, seemingly without even the energy to speak, his mouth firmly shut.

“This poor soul!”

Seok Yi Cheon turned away. He felt like he was going to cry if he kept looking at Lee Gwak.

“Those damn traitors!”

He cursed the Jade Heaven Alliance.

Despite Lee Gwak’s dire condition, the alliance acted indifferent. No doctors came anymore; everyone acted as though Lee Gwak was non-existent. Only the 13th squad remembered and cared for him.

Trapped in this tiny room, lying down all day, Lee Gwak was pitiable.

Seok Yi Cheon wiped away a tear and checked Lee Gwak’s bedding, in case he had soiled himself.

“Huh, it’s clean.”

Seok Yi Cheon was puzzled.

By now, one would expect signs of excretion, but the bedding was immaculate.

“Then again, one needs food to excrete. Sigh!”

Seok Yi Cheon exhaled deeply.

For the past few days, Lee Gwak had refused even a morsel of food. He wouldn’t even drink water. He tried to force feed him, but he refused to open his tightly closed mouth.

“Inseok, if you wish to eat, just tell me. Understand? You must never give up.”

After a moment’s gaze at Lee Gwak, Seok Yi Cheon left.

Once Seok Yi Cheon’s presence was gone, Lee Gwak opened his eyes. The determination in them was not that of someone who had lost hope or given up on life.

He had stopped eating because this was a crucial moment.

Over the last few days, the energy that had been gathering in his body began to wriggle on its own.

Lee Gwak referred to it as the ‘first snake’.

This first snake was wild.

Although small, it was unpredictable and frequently resisted Lee Gwak’s control. Still, he persevered.

He relentlessly tried to control this first snake, managing to move it somewhat by sheer will.

Whirl!

The first snake was slowly coiling around his perineal acupoint, looking as if its head was trying to bite its tail.

‘Faster!’

Instantly, the rotation of the first snake accelerated. Still, the head couldn’t reach the tail.

‘It needs to be longer.’

Lee Gwak imagined the snake stretching out, and miraculously, the coiling snake began to elongate.

One coil, two coils, the snake began to twirl.

Heavy sweat droplets streamed down Lee Kwak’s face. Pain surged from the perineal acupoint, racing up his spine.

It felt as if lightning was piercing through his spine.

Lee Gwak’s face contorted in pain, but he kept his lips sealed. Instinctively, he knew that if he opened his mouth now, the last three months of effort would be in vain. Even if it killed him, he couldn’t open his mouth.

Zing! Zing!

As the pain intensified, the first snake grew longer.

Whirl!

The first snake twirled.

Two and a half coils, three coils, and then three and a half coils were formed.

The moment the snake’s head bit its tail, Lee Gwak’s waist jolted upwards.

“Ah!”

A moan escaped Lee Kwak’s lips.

His body felt numb, as if struck by lightning. A bizarre euphoria and an odd sensation of elation took over, making his body convulse.

This was the first change in Lee Gwak since he was confined to this room six months ago.