Chapter 6: Qigong Training
The old freak told him how to sit, how to do deep abdominal breathing, how to hold his breath, how to breathe in deeply and exhale shallowly… He even smacked and pressed and poked various points on his body, and took out a jade bottle and had him swallow three large, strange dark brown sweet-smelling pills each the width of a finger. The old freak’s forehead was dripping with sweat.
After practicing for two hours Little Wenchang was lightheaded and exhausted. The old freak told him to get up and move around, wiping off his own sweat as he spoke. “That’s all for today. Come here again tomorrow, at daybreak if you can.”
“Eh! You didn’t tell me to practice in the water, only made me sit here and practice. How the hell is that gonna let me be able to dive?”
“It’s not time yet, child.”
“I don’t know if I can come that early tomorrow.”
“If you don’t come in the morning then there’s no point.”
Little Wenchang lowered his head in thought. “Ok. I’ll come. Uncle won’t be back home for a couple weeks, so I can slack off.”
“If you come every day, make sure not to tell anyone I’m here. And if you can bring some food that’d be great. I haven’t eaten in three days.”
“What? Haven’t eaten in three days?”
“Yeah. I’m all worn out, no energy left to scrounge up something to eat.”
“Ok. I’ll sneak something out for you. Oh, why do you want to teach me how to dive?”
“Don’t ask. I’ll tell you in ten days.”
His uncle wasn’t home and his aunt didn’t care about him. The hired hands would be only too glad to let him have a breather. Without his father there to back him up, the young master, Wenhui, hid out in the inner compound and didn’t dare provoke him.
He slipped out every day before sun up, grabbed a chicken from the front and rear of the village, wrung their necks to kill them and then tucked them under each arm and climbed over the northwest corner wall and slunk off, not returning home until after dark.
Ten days passed in the blink of an eye. These past few days his wall climbing ability had improved dramatically, like a leopard cat, leaping nimbly and swiftly.
Early morning on the eleventh day, before the first light of dawn had crept over the eastern horizon, he was already up, furtively heading toward Third Uncle’s backyard in the northeast corner.
Little Wenchang was odd. He didn’t get along with the villagers, but he was good friends with all the village dogs. All he had to do was whistle softly and the village dogs wouldn’t bark at him but instead run to him affectionately.
Third Uncle had five big yellow dogs who guarded his gates well. But a whistle from Little Wenchang would send them running, shaking their heads and wagging their tails, pouncing on him and panting happily.
Little Wenchang scratched their necks for a bit, then said softly, “Go on! Go on!”
The five big yellow dogs didn’t want to go, so he just went straight for the rear courtyard, clambered up the ten-foot high wall with both hands and leapt up and over the other side to the chicken coop in the corner.
The cocks crowed in the coop and the hens clucked as he lightly opened the coop door. He reached in, felt a hen’s belly, and grabbed it with his right hand. The hen didn’t move and let him haul her out of the coop.
Once the hen was out he wrung its neck with his left hand and held it close. It struggled at first, but was soon quiet and still.
He got two of them and tied them to his belt, then bolted over the wall and left.
Stepping onto the thick frost and into the cold night wind that penetrated to the bone, he crossed over the village wall and ran like mad. In this cold you pretty much had to run to keep from freezing.
After practicing his breath rejuvenation technique for a couple hours, the old freak sat at the edge of the pond before the first rays of the morning sun and instructed Little Wenchang how to deal with the strong swirling eddies, how to dive faster and deeper, and how to hold his breath and take a breath, etc. Taking a breath was actually something he couldn’t do under water. He wasn’t a fish. And Little Wenchang couldn’t reach in so short a time the miraculous fish-like ability to stay under water. He could only use his breathing techniques to extend the time he could stay under. His deep-breathing exercises and efficiency practice were the most reliable in helping him in being able to dive to greater depths.
Soon after, they were seated before a fire waiting for their chickens to roast. Little Wenchang was so cold he was shivering, but his mind was in good spirits. The old freak, on the other hand, looked worse than he had before. He seemed more exhausted, feeble, and listless. It was obvious he was close to death’s door.
The old freak leaned against the face of a rock and spoke feebly. “You’ve made amazing progress. You give me more hope. So I’ve decided to wait two more days so you can gain more confidence. Come back here tomorrow at the appointed time.”
Little Wenchang turned the fat, half-cooked chicken as he stared at the old freak. “Uncle, don’t you think you ought to tell me what this is all about?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. Tomorrow you must find a three-hundred-foot long rope as a backup. Today we’ll talk about the breathing techniques you’ve been learning.”
“Uncle, why don’t we talk about why you’ve been so lifeless these last few days?”
“You wouldn’t understand so why talk about it? Hey, have you noticed recently your movements becoming more nimble, and your body becoming light as a swallow?”
“Yes. I also feel that my strength has increased a lot.”
“This rejuvenation technique is called Darkheaven Breath Refining or Ultimate Breathing. I discovered it in a stone chamber five years ago while strolling through Small Pristine Void…”
“What’s Small Pristine Void?” Little Wenchang interrupted.
“The alchemists of the School of Mysteries…”
“What are alchemists of the School of Mysteries?”
“Don’t ask so many questions, okay? You’re too little to understand anything, but you ask about everything. Ugh! Alchemists of the School of Mysteries are Daoist priests. Daoist priests are people who cultivate in order to become divine transcendents. Alchemists of the School of Mysteries come from many different sects, so they all have different ideologies, and they have different names for the famous mountains. Some call them grotto-heavens, others call them blissful lands. There are ten major grotto-heavens and thirty-six minor grotto heavens. It’s all a big mess and no one knows who’s right. Small Pristine Void is the grotto-heaven of Mt. Wangwu, one of the ten major grotto-heavens. So if you hear a Daoist priest mention Small Pristine Void, you know he’s talking about Mt. Wangwu.”
“Where is Mt. Wangwu?” Little Wenchang continued.
“I told you not to ask so many questions,” the old freak said, aggravated. “When I first discovered this mysterious breathing technique I was so happy I nearly went mad because on the stone wall there were words carved which said that perfecting this technique could prolong your life and make you impervious to fire and water and increase your strength and help you conquer your passions, and make your muscles and bones strong, impervious to sword and spear, and allow you to transcend to the path of celestials…”
“Ah! So if everyone perfects that technique, wouldn’t there be too many immortals and no more normal people?” Little Wenchang looked at the old freak’s complexion and shook his head. “You want to teach me that breathing technique, but you must have already learned it, yet you haven’t become an immortal. Instead you’re near death.”
“Nonsense, I don’t dare learn it.”
“Eh! You don’t dare learn it? Why not? But you want me to?”
The old freak avoided Little Wenchang’s sharp eyes and his question which had cut to the core of the problem. He swallowed twice. “I lost heart after I read the rest of the words carved on the wall. Not only must one begin practicing the technique as a child, during the first foundational stage of training one must avoid feminine wiles in order to preserve one’s original essence.”
“How many stages are there?”
“Three in total. The first stage takes ten years, and the second goes even deeper, takes twenty years. Once you reach the second stage you’re already an exceptional person. The third stage has no time limit. Once you reach that stage you are near to transcendence. I’m so old, how can I practice it?”
“If you put it that way it doesn’t seem so difficult.”
“Shit! Hmph, you think it’s so easy? Natural ability, luck, willpower and perseverance, a good teacher’s instruction, practicing location… Heavens! You think that’s easy? If I hadn’t stolen those nine-cycle pills you wouldn’t have felt any progress these ten days and would have already backed out of practicing.”
“What are nine-cycle pills?”
“They belonged to a Daoist priest. He spent thirty years journeying all over looking for magic potions, ginseng, nine-capped linzhi, thousand-year knotweed, etc., and refined them into miracle pills he bottled and named the Arcane Nine-Cycle Elixir. There were eighty-one pills in the bottle. He took eighteen of them himself, and I stole the rest and took ten to save my life. As for the rest, think about it. How many have you eaten the past few days?”
Little Wenchang bent his fingers as he counted them off. “I took six the first day, then three every day after that. Eleven days… Oh, thirty-six pills altogether.”
“Tomorrow you must eat six more so that you will be able to hold out underwater. That will make forty-two nine-cycle pills. These pills not only can prolong your life and fortify your body, if you are injured or sick, one pill can snatch you back from the jaws of death…”
“Like hell!” Little Wenchang broke in. “You’re nearly dead so why don’t you take one? Liar.”
The old freak smiled wryly. “No wonder you don’t believe it. The Arcane Elixir really can save your life from the brink of death, but it can’t draw out deadly poisons from your body. I used eight pills to delay it for eight months, but I can’t delay it any longer. Two hundred fifty days after being poisoned, not even a transcendent could save me.”
“Why didn’t you take the whole bottle’s worth?”
“No, they are too strong. If you take too many at once it will actually burn up your vitality too quickly and you’d die even sooner. This Arcane Elixir is rare and priceless, but it’s worth using forty-two of them if it can save my life.”
“You let me take forty-two pills to save your life? Get outta here.”
“You’ll understand tomorrow. You took forty-two Arcane Nine-Cycle Elixir pills. Assuming you live long enough, then if you have the willpower and perseverance to work hard for thirty years, then Heaven knows, you might become a transcendent immortal yet.” Little Wenchang noticed the ominous gleam in the old freak’s eyes. He shuddered, the hairs on his arms standing on end. This old freak has a terrible look in his eyes, he thought. So frightening.
But he didn’t dare say anything, just lowered his head and turned the chicken.
That day the old freak supervised his training, having him sit and practice his breathing and practice diving deep under the water. They didn’t do anything else. When Little Wenchang dove, the old freak gave him a pearl bag with a large luminous pearl inside and told him to pay attention to the layout at the foot of the cliff at the bottom of the pond, taking note of his surroundings for every foot he descended. The old freak seemed really interested in the layout and appearance of the cliff wall, at turns satisfied and worried. It was really puzzling.
The appointed time finally arrived. Early that morning Little Wenchang swallowed three nine-cycle pills and practiced his ultimate breathing for two hours, then went in the water twice.