It was boring and tiring being an apprentice, for the routine was repetitive and they had to get up at the crack of dawn every morning. First, they would have to practice horse-riding steps for an hour, and then, most of them, had to help out inside the smelting room while the other older apprentices were forging some tools. Apprentices of a young age, such as Junior Leopard, also had to spend the afternoon learning some basic smelting skills, in addition to serving as helpers.
They would have to work until evening, and then they would clean up the mess made from a busy day in the smelting room.
"Just as it is written in the book, an apprentice has no human rights!" In the yard, Junior Leopard silently criticised this evil world as he hammered away on a pile of timber that was about the size of a bowl.
This was the daily routine for every afternoon. In front of the stone table on which there was a pile of bowl-sized timber, they each held a hammer.
That was right, a pile of bowl-sized timber. What they were supposed to do was to knock on it with the hammer. Of course, there was also the requirement that you must knock at precisely the same point. That was to say, you must hit the exact same place over and over.
It was not as easy as you'd think. The timber not only had some elasticity but it was also shaped like a semicircle. As you could imagine, it was extraordinarily difficult to knock on.
"Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat !" This sound spread over the yard like a dull thunder, interplaying with the clunking and chinking of the metals from the smelt.
"Boys, more concentration please. As long as you pound out a hole during the afternoon, I can teach you what you should do next. If you do not complete it in the next six months, you then must go home!"
Old Xing strolled in circles in the yard, keeping his eyes on these apprentices. Finally, he noticed Junior Leopard.
"This kid is young, but his ability to concentrate is impressive. Besides, he had practiced some martial arts before, and thus, has a good build. He's a very suitable for doing this job!"
When compared to the other apprentices, Junior Leopard, who had arrived less than ten days ago, was obviously far superior. The strength of his hammering was not too strong but under his control, so that when he hammered down, the hammer would not spring back. His other hand held the wood firmly, so even after a hit on it, he kept it as still as before.
The only disappointment was that he could not knock it in precisely the same place, although he tried hard to. At last, he had also knocked a bowl-size hole in the piece of wood.
"Little boy, take it easy. When you hammer, your right hand is not stable. So no matter how steady your left hand is, you'll not be able to do it!"
Old Xing suddenly said, after standing by Junior Leopard's side for a long time.
"Thanks, teacher!" Junior Leopard gratefully cast his eyes to Old Xing. At that moment, he began hammering slowly, and gradually he started to appreciate and feel the force of the hammer and the movements of his hand.
"What are you all looking at? If your wits are equal to his, then I'll also guide you. Practice, quickly now!"
While Old Xing talked with Junior Leopard, the other apprentices could not help but stop and look over.
However, before they could have a clear look, Old Xing scolded them and made them all continue their work silently. At times, Junior Leopard could feel the jealous and disgruntled glances they were casting on him, making him feel a little uncomfortable.
"Damn it! Who cares what they think anyway?"
Noticing his own emotional fluctuations, Junior Leopard burst into laughter. He, at about 40 years old, had lived two lives and experienced so much that he was already mature. Still, he was surprised to find such a stirring in his heart just now.
Nobody envied meant that you were a mediocrity!
In his former life, he was indeed mediocre. He had got a doctorate, but this alone was not enough to be enviable. After graduation, he worked in an office, and before he had had the chance to make his fortune, that life was over. So, he had not experienced the feeling of being envied before.
To his surprise, in this life, he would be receiving such envy at only eight years old, and not only that but in a "steady" career like forging iron.
"I wish that these little boys would not bother me... it's such a pain to deal with!" Junior Leopard smiled bitterly and silently. Then he turned all of his attention back to his work.
There actually is a link between forging iron and my martial arts skills. The key point is of one's strength, that's what Old Xing had said anyway, how could this be the same as the punching skill, which Wang Tianlei had taught me?
While thinking it over, he tried applying what he had learned from the punching skill while hammering at the piece of wood. Slowly, his spirit ascended into a mysterious phase.
"Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat... Bang! Bang! Bang..." There was a subtle change in the sound of the hammering. The change was so subtle that the other apprentices did not catch it, however, Old Xing did.
At that moment, he was standing by the side of an apprentice with a lower aptitude than Junior Leopard, and his back toward him. This apprentice's skill was no match for Junior Leopard, but, to some degree, he had potential. Old Xing was just about to guide him in the same way when an incredible sound rose to his ears.
At first, he thought he must have misheard. When he turned around, he found Junior Leopard focused on hammering down the piece of wood, one blow after another. At first, he was stunned, then next he was wildly joyful and hurried towards Junior Leopard. As he approached he carefully watched him as Junior Leopard kept a straight face and a blank look. Old Xing consciously stepped back. He moved so quietly as if he was afraid of disrupting Junior Leopard.
Old Xing's unusual actions attracted the attention of the other apprentices. They stopped their work and also cast their eyes upon Junior Leopard.
This time, Old Xing did not scold them, even though their attention drifted from their work.
Slowly, they started to realize the secret of Junior Leopard's hammering. They realized that even though his pace was slow and he had little strength, he kept every hit hammering down on the same exact point. After every hit, the point of impact would drop a little more. Above all, Junior Leopard kept every hit at the same frequency and his action became more and more deliberate. His rhythm became smooth and created a harmonious atmosphere.
Junior Leopard hadn't noticed that the others were focused on him. Actually, he was totally unaware. His spirit was completely buried in his state of concentration.
After some time, an unusual sound suddenly broke Junior Leopard's concentration. His movements suddenly paused, as if he had just awoken from a dream and his face was returning to normal. He found, to his amazement, that he had hammered all the way through the piece of wood, which now had a fist-sized hole in it. The unusual sound that had broken his trance was the sound of his hammer breaking through the wood and hitting the stone table.
At that moment, he became aware of his surroundings and he was dumbfounded.
"Junior Leopard, follow me. Everyone else, get back to practice— !" Old Xing shouted, barely restraining his delight. Each of the other apprentices all miserably returned to their work.
Junior Leopard's behavior indeed had something magical about it. In the eyes of the other apprentices, it was strange and magical. But this group of children, little more than 10 years old, could not understand the meaning. They just regarded it simply as magic.
However, Old Xing was different from them.
He understood what state Junior Leopard had ascended to. It was insight, insight, insight! All of a sudden, he had perfectly understood the general principle, and then his understanding of the entire field became adept. This was indeed insight.
There was no connection between aptitude and insight; it only relied on luck. Some sages were unable to ever achieve insight, while some idiots obtained insight several times throughout their lives and they were able to reach high levels of achievement in some areas.
Old Xing had never ascended into this kind of state. But, this term "insight" was very widespread, and it was just like the lucky chance in the historical records and stories. Although he had not actually experienced it, at least he could recognize it—since he had heard of such things.
And, the state that Junior Leopard had gone into was just like what he had heard of. Yes—it was insight for sure!
While thinking about this, Old Xing's heart was full of ups and downs. Then, a look of tenderness came into his eyes, which frightened Junior Leopard.
"Does this old man have some... peculiar tastes… ?!"
Fortunately, this old man did not have any peculiar tastes and he just cherished the boy's talent.
"Come here and sit down!"
As they entered the room, Old Xing pointed amiably to a bench by his side.
Junior Leopard wanted to sit, but after thinking for a moment he decided to stay standing. He said respectfully, "In front of my teacher, how can I sit?"
"Who'd have thought it, you're so courteous!" Old Xing glanced at Junior Leopard with surprise. "Not like a typical mountain villager!"
Junior Leopard smiled, "Although I came from the village, I've learned a little and naturally, I understand how to treat others, and how to behave."
"How long have you been studying?" Old Xing said excitedly, "Can you read a few words?"
In this world, literate people were quite rare; just as in ancients times, there was a very high rate of illiteracy. Old Xing, standing there, could recognize about 100 characters at most and could only write his name. Being able to read a few characters was very good, especially considering the remote village Junior Leopard lived in. So, it was beyond his expectation that Junior Leopard could read.
Junior Leopard smiled shyly. "Yes, thanks to my brother-in-law." he said. Then he told Old Xing what Wang Tianlei did in the village. After hearing that, Old Xing felt great admiration for Wang Tianlei.
"I see, he has such foresight! No wonder, I recently heard that there's a village near Qingyang Market which is very prosperous. That must be your village."
At that moment, he glanced over at Junior Leopard with a look of joy on his face, and asked, "How do you feel? Was it magical?"
"Huh? Oh, well, it was so strange!" Junior Leopard was confused, but then he understood what Old Xing was asking, and said at once, "But— !"
"But now it's difficult to get back to that state. You can't find that feeling again, can you?"
"Yes!" Junior Leopard nodded quickly.
"Don't look at me like that. I haven't had such luck, so I've never experienced insight before. I've only heard about it from others!" Old Xing was embarrassed by Junior Leopard's hopeful eyes. "But, after experiencing it, you'll now be adept at hammering. It's a pity that you're only just an apprentice here. I heard that you've also learned some martial arts, is this true?"
"It's true, my brother-in-law was in the ranks of the military and I learned a punching skill and how to control my Internal Qi from him." He said with sincerity and a stir in his heart.
"You've practiced the internal Qi before?!" Old Xing was surprised again. He had heard that Junior Leopard had done some martial arts, but he just thought that it was the normal External Strength. However, the truth was that Junior Leopard had practiced them both.
"Were you able to practice your Internal Qi successfully?"
"Yeah, but my practice time was short, so—"
Before he could get the last word out, Old Xing stretched out his left hand to grasp Junior Leopard's right hand. Suddenly, a stream of Internal Qi flowed into Junior Leopard's palm.
Junior Leopard's expression suddenly changed. Before he realized what was happening, the Ignis Internal Qi in his body started to fight back.
"Oh, good boy, this must be the Internal Qi of fire!" After Old Xing sensed the resistance from Junior Leopard's Qi, he operated his own Internal Qi and broke Junior Leopard's, with a heavy force.
But, Junior Leopard had deliberately restrained his Internal Qi. If not for this, he would have been able to resist.