Rich Man, Poor Man – Part One

moral short stories

Short Story


Once upon a time, high in the reaches of the mountain range, there was a martial arts master—a hermit would be a more appropriate term—who lived out his remaining years in his hut on the mountainside. One day a young man journeyed up the hermit’s mountain and asked to train under the master. Having not had a student in quite some time, the hermit happily accepted the student and trained him.

Time passed day after day, year after year, for 10 years they lived together and trained tirelessly. Then, there came a moment where the young student had learned every technique the master had to teach. The young man began to grow restless high up in the mountains, ready to see the world and put his training to use, but the hermit would not allow the student to leave the mountain sanctuary.

One day, the student approached the master who was deep in meditation and said, “Master, Master, forgive me for interrupting your mediation, but I have studied with you for 10 years now and I have mastered every technique you have to teach me. If there is nothing else for me to learn, why will you not let me go and leave this place? Is there more for you to teach me?”

The hermit smiled when he heard his pupil’s complaint, as if he had been waiting on this moment for at least 3 years. “After training throughout these years, what is your philosophy, my student?”

“Huh?” the student responded, rather perplexed. “What does philosophy have to do with anything?”

“Skill with no idea for what to use it is meaningless. If one’s mind and body are not in sync, what can be?”

“But, teacher, I still don’t understand. What does all this mean? How can I know the philosophy behind my martial style if you do not teach it to me? Come on, old man, I demand answers!”

The hermit’s smile faded quickly. His eyes, which had been shut until this point, snapped open, very wide and very intense.

“Question after question you ask me, but you do not find your answer. Then you bite the hand that feeds you and expect me to use my other hand! Only a fool disrespects without knowledge and understanding. If anything, I have taught you this!” The pupil shrank away a bit, embarrassed he had pressed his master so. Relaxing a bit, the master continued, “You are right to have come to me, my student. You have reached the end of your training, indeed. However, in order to graduate from my tutelage, you must answer my question and answer it correctly. Are you ready?”

“Yes, Master, I am ready.”

“Ok then, listen to this tale: There was once a very rich man and a poor man. Both men, independent of each other, ventured out into the wilderness, much like that which now surrounds this hermitage. In the wilds of the land they spied a mysterious glen on the side of a ridge very similar to the one we are on. Both men converged on the mountain intent on claiming the land as their own. First the poor man arrived and began to settle into the land, but, shortly after arriving, the rich man approached the poor man. The rich man confidently exclaimed that he had claimed this land for himself; he had money and planned to build a dwelling to live in peace, far from the paupers that begged for money all the time. The poor man argued, saying that he was there first and that it was his land; he had no money to live in town and wished to live in peace, away from the harsh judgement and brash treatment by the families with power and coin. Neither man would give up their ground and the argument escalated. The men fought for hours. Running out of energy, the men put all of their might into one final blow. Both men struck each other—both died. My question to you, my disciple, is who died the worse death?”

The student’s face scrunched with confusion as he pondered the story and inquiry. Comfortably content with his student’s pensive state. “My student,” spoke the master.

“Yes, Master?”

“I am preparing to go into deep meditation. I will be in a state of stasis for a time I will not disclose to you, and I will wake for two reasons, and that is if you have passed my test, or if I leave my meditation. If I awake to your success, you may go off to where your will takes you. If I awake after the three days without a correct answer, you will have to train with me for another 10 years. Is this understood?”

The student, whose eyes were directed towards the ground, looked up sharply only to see his master resume his meditative position. “No, Master, I don’t understand. What if I have more questions?” The hermit did not respond to his request. “Teacher…teacher!” shouted the student, louder and louder each time, but the hermit did not respond. The student sank deep into his own mind. What am I suppose to do now, the student thought to himself. I have not a clue what to do or where to go. Teacher, why could you not at least tell me where to look?


next: Rich Man, Poor Man – Part Two

more by E.J. TANNER

photograph by Travel Coffee Book

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