Committed to Death ∞
One day a farmer was taking the fruits of his labor to the village market, as he did every month. The noise and hectic hustle and bustle gave the village a carnival-like atmosphere. He sold his merchandise and met up with his friends to keep their monthly appointment at the local tavern. The day wore on and the conversation between the farmer and his friends got louder and louder. Sitting across from the merry group was the lone figure of a samurai who had just lost his post as a retainer due to his lord's death. Looking at this ronin, it was easy to tell that he was proud, strong, and followed the Zen code of Bushido. The farmer, more than a little intoxicated through drinking to much sake, got to his feet and, staggering slightly, bade farewell to his friends. As he turned around the saya of his wakizashi swept across the ronin's table and knocked his plate of food on to the floor. Apologizing profusely, the farmer offered to pay for another meal. However, the ronin stood up and challenged the farmer to a duel the following week, telling him that if he did not appear he would not rest until he found him. He then walked out of the tavern.
The farmer barely knew anything about fighting. He had had his sword with him purely to protect himself against animals or the odd bandit. Knowing that there was no way out of this challenge, the farmer went to see the local kenjutsu sensei and told him of his plight. "I will only have time to teach you one cut" said the sensei, "and one stance." When the ronin attacks he will test you to see what skill you have, so don't move. Don't go meet him or cross swords, just wait. Only when he goes to make his killing cut will you strike. The farmer resigned himself to the fact that in seven days he would be dead. However, he decided that he was not going to go down without a fight. So he spent the week practicing the one stance and one cut that the kenjutsu sensei had shown him.
When time for the duel came both men faced each other and drew their swords. The ronin took his stance with the sword raised to waist height and pulled over to the side in a two-handed hold. The farmer simply raised his sword above his head and waited for the imminent encounter. The ronin moved in, slowly sliding one foot forward in front of the other rather than taking a step. He circled the farmer one way then the other, once or twice pushing forward slightly in a threatening way which was merely a feint to goad the farmer. Still the farmer stood his guard and faced the ronin. He knew death was just a second away, but his mind was totally focused on his task of delivering the one cut. For more than an hour the ronin switched back and forth around the farmer, looking for an opening to cut him down. The farmer remained statue-like with his sword seemingly frozen in the air above his head, eyes staring and strangely calm. He had accepted death and so there was no look of fear upon his face. Suddenly the ronin stopped, lowered his sword and stepped back. "Farmer" he said, "When I challenged you I saw you as nothing more than a peasant and did not respect you. But today I see that you have no opening in your defense for me to strike at you without receiving a fatal blow myself at the same time, and you seem not to fear death. You have the spirit of a samurai and I salute you. For me the affair is over." The ronin bowed low, turned and walked away. The farmer, however, still stood motionless. His friends came over, wisely calling to him before approaching, and congratulated him for his bravery. The farmer seemed almost unaware of the events that had transpired, such was his total focus upon delivering his one blow. Nothing else mattered, not even death.
Tea Combat ∞
A master of the tea ceremony in old Japan once accidentally slighted a soldier. He quickly apologized, but the rather impetuous soldier demanded that the matter be settled in a sword duel. The tea master, who had no experience with swords, asked the advice of a fellow Zen master who did possess such skill. As he was served by his friend, the Zen swordsman could not help but notice how the tea master performed his art with perfect concentration and tranquility. "Tomorrow," the Zen swordsman said, "when you duel the soldier, hold your weapon above your head, as if ready to strike, and face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you perform the tea ceremony." The next day, at the appointed time and place for the duel, the tea master followed this advice. The soldier, readying himself to strike, stared for a long time into the fully attentive but calm face of the tea master. Finally, the soldier lowered his sword, apologized for his arrogance, and left without a blow being struck.
People's reactions to this story ∞
"Peace and tranquility are sometimes more powerful and intimidating than anything else."
"The tea master showed great courage. That's what stopped the soldier."
"The soldier bowed to the tea master because he had a higher level of confidence."
"If you are perceived as competent and able, you will be considered an equal."
"The story seems to suggest that it is the appearance of the tea master that deters the attack. He looks calm and confident, but it's an illusion. Simple illusions can defeat enemies."
"If you look like you know what you are doing, people will not think otherwise. Where I work all of the supervisors park inside the gate while everyone else parks outside. But if you act like you're SUPPOSED to be inside the gate and drive right through, the security guards won't stop you! It's a matter of confidence."
"All that we ask others to give us we already possess."
"Each of us possesses certain skills, but none of us possesses all skills."
"There is nothing to fear but fear itself."
"I like this story because it demonstrates how you can do things you never thought you could - like face death."
"I really thought the soldier would fight anyway! But I guess people in Japan think differently than we do. Maybe they are more able to see bravery in others, and even step back to swallow their pride."
"I don't like this story because it's not realistic. If you stand your ground and show others you are not afraid, they won't necessarily leave you alone. You might get shot! Hey, I live in the city! What can I tell you."
"Good overpowers evil."
"This reminds me of the movie Star Wars. Oby just stands there and lets Darth Vader
strike him down. But as a result, Oby becomes even more powerful than before."
"Musashi Kensei once said something like: 'Underneath the upraised sword you tremble at the gate of hell. But advance fearlessly and there you find heaven.'"
"Seems like some kind of assertiveness training that failed."
"Maybe the tea master's quiet determination made the soldier see that a fight was not
necessary. It moved him to see the master's intrinsic worth and to accept the apology
that the master had offered."
"The actions that one performs daily may actually be special skills that only others truly
see in you. These skills are an extension of who you are. Maybe that's what the soldier
suddenly realized about the master."
"It's not easy showing kindness in the face of hostility. But kindness does win over
anger. The other person comes away with a changed heart."
"You can't control other people's actions, only your own actions and your own state of
mind. This is what stopped the soldier. He couldn't control his own mind, but he saw
that the tea master could."
"I like that the tea master didn't try to control what would happen. He just accepted the
situation and whatever outcome might result. That's true wisdom. That's what the
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