See also "How are you?"
Committed to Death ∞
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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.