The Master's Word

Last night, at the opening of Sector67 and during a discussion about human language, expression, and the limits thereof, I told a story I’ve read somewhere, but I cannot remember the source. My details on the story are quite fuzzy; I am quite sure it comes from an eastern oral tradition, but googling couldn’t help me. Further, I embellished the details to fit in with a story about kung fu, but this story could equally be a Buddhist koan or something else. Any tips to where it came from would be highly helpful. Without further ado, here’s my version of the story:

The Master had studied kung fu his entire life, and was widely regarded in the land as the best in the known world. He practiced alone in his mountaintop sanctuary for years, uninterrupted.

A Challenger came, a young upstart who had defeated monks and warriors across the land with his kung fu. He was eager to defeat The Master and take his place as the world’s best. As he was undefeated, The Challenger prepared on his own, studying defenses against every form and developing his own offensive technique that he believed could not be countered.

Arriving upon the top of the mountain, the Challenger introduced himself to The Master, who remained silent. The Challenger announced his intentions of dueling with The Master and determining who was the best in the land.

The Master appeared thoughtful for a second, then opened his mouth and uttered a single word. The Challenger fell dead on the spot. The Master had condensed an entire lifetime of learning, knowledge, and experience into a single word. He no longer required the movements of kung fu or the physical realm to defeat The Challenger.

Editor’s note: I imagine, in a Buddhist version of this story, the Master has meditated for years in his mountaintop retreat, and instead of killing The Challenger, The Master utters one word and The Challenger is enlightened.