I closed my watery eyes and held them tight, pushing the tears out of them as I pressed the left side of my face against the concrete. When I opened them again, I could see crimson red droplets of blood soak through the white fabric that was wrapped around the torn knuckles on my right fist. I could taste tears still flowing like rain from my eyes down my glowering face, mixing with beads of sweat. It was merely two weeks ago that I was at home, and the thought of home now made me feel sick with envy.

The master, dressed in full black, got down into a prone position beside me and looked into my eyes. "Stop crying, boy." he said, in a deep, monotonous voice that made me feel as if he was yelling at me. I exerted once more, with the little energy I had left to do just one more push-up on my knuckles, feeling my muscles trembling - from the pain of my knuckles on the hard floor, the sheer exertion of my muscles, and the fear of the master's disapproval. When I rose, I looked at him and said assertively, "I do not cry, sir." and continued to push with every ounce of my life that had not yet flowed out of my body in the form of blood, tears, and sweat.

I was preparing for a martial arts tournament held in Paris, France, which would be held in two weeks. As I looked around, some of my colleagues were already giving up and opting out of the trip to Paris. It was down to me and six other black belts, who were also beginning to show the same weakness as I was. I could feel a hint of disapproval coming from my master - after all, I was the smallest, weakest, and least motivated of the few black belts that were left. My lack of motivation came naturally - I felt like I had trained for years, only to go into a rink somewhere in Paris and show off my skills for what seemed like only a few seconds. The long training, especially in the days nearing the competition, was taking its toll on me, and I felt increasingly reluctant and careless about the tournament.

In my mind the training for the competition had become training for war; at the beginning of my training, my sentiments towards training for competition were about winning, but as the training - the war - raged on, all I wanted to do was go home where I could have some peace. There had to be a way that I could have both, perhaps a middle ground somewhere.

So I pushed harder. My angst about the competition turned into rage, and I didn't just ask my body to fight - I forced it to fight. For every waking moment in the next two weeks I was on my feet, practicing each maneuver repeatedly for what felt like hundreds of times. My neighbors would peer out of their window blinds at times to find me in my backyard strangely striking the bark of a tree with my already wounded fists in order to practice and strengthen the impact of my attacks. At that point, it had occurred to me that I was essentially fighting against nature. Instead of pushing myself to win, I had realized that my obsession and fury to win was pushing me.

By that time, there was only one day remaining before the plane was to leave for Paris. I decided it would be time to rest my training before the big day. Whilst the other students trained like mad before the competition, I relaxed at home. Lying on my couch, staring at the ceiling, I began to think about my previous bout with nature, and how important the concept of balance was. In everything I did in martial arts, I needed to balance myself on my feet - otherwise I would fall. The rest and relaxation made me realize that balance was not just important physically, but mentally as well. Suddenly the meaning of everything the master had said over the course of my training about "Zen", "internal strength" and the balance of "Yin and Yang" had become apparent to me. By relaxing my mind and my body, I was able to balance myself and regain the energy that I would need for the upcoming competition.

When we arrived in Paris, I met the grand martial arts master, and I couldn't help but notice the scars on his knuckles resembling my own as I shook his hand. He was humble and smiled as he spoke in a soft French accent to his students. When we had a workshop session with him, however, I found that his movements were quick and powerful. As I watched the Grand Master demonstrate maneuvers and sequences, I found that his moves consisted of a balance of both tension and release. He told us in his soft voice, "For every attack, there shall be a counter-attack."

At last, we checked into the competition, a loud circus of martial arts competitors from all over the world. The first round of competition was sparring, and we waited for our names to be called off the chart. As soon as they called my name, my heart began to beat like crazy, and I began to feel tension building. The referees lined us up according to lines that were taped inside the rinks, and lowered a flag when it was time to begin sparring. As soon as he lowered the flag, I released all of my tension and leaped right into fighting, which allowed the opponent to readily knock me over and win the first bout. In the second bout, I exerted my body fully again, and the opponent was easily able to take advantage of my aggression and attack at my every advance. During the round, however, I began to think about my master's technique, and I stopped fighting. I was tired and there was no way I could survive the way I was fighting. This time I had decided to strictly defend myself and allow the opponent to attack. As soon as the opponent attacked, I took advantage of his weakness in recovering between maneuvers to knock him over with a sweep. The third bout was also successful, as I balanced both my attacks and my counter-attacks.

By the end of the tournament, I was not as tired as I expected to be; I had a renewed energy. When I looked at the other black belts that came with me to the tournament, they were soaking in their own sweat and they were still breathing heavily from the competition. Ironically, I was the only one to come home with an award - first place in the sparring competition. When I stood up on the stage to receive my award, I looked at my grand master and then to my own master, and they nodded in approval.

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