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Friday, July 23, 2010
The Ronin and The Tea Master
There is an old story often told in traditional training halls about a confrontation between a master of the Japanese tea ceremony and a ronin, a rogue samurai. It seems the ronin was passing through the village and while in the crowded square, turned abruptly, banging his scabbard against the tea master's hip.
"You banged my sword," the ronin said coldly. "That is a grave insult, and I will kill you for it."
The tea master knew immediately the ronin really meant to kill him, and he was gripped with fear.
"I meant you no insult, Noble Sir. Please excuse my clumsiness and let me live. As you can see, I am not a warrior and I have no sword."
The ronin could smell the mans fear, and it excited him.
"Then get a sword and meet me on the road tomorrow at noon. There I will let you die like a man. But if you don't show up, I will find you wherever you are and cut you down like a dog." He turned his back on the stunned tea master and walked away.
The tea master was beside himself with fear. What can I do, he thought. I am a dead man. Then he remembered hearing that another ronin, a famous master swordsman, was also in the village. Perhaps he will help me, he thought. So he sought out the swordsman and told him his story. He explained that he had money to pay for his services and offered to hire him for protection.
"I don't hire to commoners," the swordsman said coolly. "Use your money to buy a sword and fight your own battles."
"Then will you teach me swordsmanship? I can pay you handsomely."
"I don't teach martial arts to commoners either. Besides, what do you think you can learn in a day?" the swordsman said.
"What have I to lose?" said the tea master.
Indeed, thought the swordsman. Even though the man was a commoner, the samurai realized he was an innocent victim needing help. He finally agreed to teach the tea master what little swordsmanship he could in a day. The tea master bought a sword, and the two men began their practice that afternoon. But alas, the poor man was hopelessly inept. After several hours of watching the tea master struggle through hundreds of awkward practice cuts, he shook his head and sighed.
"Tomorrow you are going to die," the swordsman said with calm conviction.
The tea master was crushed. He was physically and emotionally exhausted. He dropped his sword to his side and stood there staring at the ground, shoulders sagging and sword hanging loosely from his hand. The samurai pondered him for a moment then said, "Lets have tea." The tea master looked up in puzzlement, but he carefully sheathed his sword and began unpacking his tea set.
The two men settled beneath a tree, and the tea master began his familiar routine. The swordsman marvelled as the man gracefully poured water into the bowl containing the bitter, green powder. As he artfully whisked the mixture into a frothy brew, the swordsman saw a remarkable transformation occur. Gone was the tired, broken man who stood before him only moments ago. Now the tea master's back was straight, his shoulders square, and his head erect. Before the swordsman now sat the solemn, dignified master of an ancient ritual.
The tea master poured the tea into a cup and, turning in the ritual manner, offered it to the swordsman. His face was the picture of calmness, and looking into his eyes, the swordsman knew immediately that the man was in mushin (essentially, mind-without-thinking).
"Stop!" the swordsman said firmly. "Do you want to kill your enemy tomorrow?"
"You said I"m going to die."
"You are, but do you want to die like a warrior? Do you want to kill your enemy?"
"Yes," the tea master said calmly.
"Then do what you are doing right now."
"But I"m doing nothing right now."
"Exactly! Your mind is empty. You neither desire life nor fear death. Tomorrow when you meet your enemy, I want you to empty your mind as you have now and raise your sword above your head. When he attacks, do nothing but cut and die." The tea master, being a master, understood.
The next day the ronin was surprised to find the tea master standing in the road, waiting for him. When he approached and the man raised the sword above his head, the ronin chuckled to himself. But as he got closer, he began to feel uneasy. He expected to see the man shaking with fear, but the tea master's sword was still, and his face was grimly calm. He stopped a few paces away and searched the tea master's eyes. He saw nothing...only death.
The ronin's mouth went dry. After a moment he said, "I cannot defeat you." He turned and walked away.
This story perfectly illustrates power in its most naked form. The ronin began in a position of power. He knew he could kill the tea master, and he knew that he had frightened the man. That gave him power over his victim. But the master swordsman showed the tea master that he was ultimately more powerful than the ronin. You see, the ronin was a competent swordsman, but he was no master. The tea master, on the other hand, was inept at combat, but he was a true master, He discovered the secret of personal power.
Personal power is a quality few but warriors understand. It has little to do with physical strength or technical proficiency. It is quite simply the force that results from freeing yourself from the fear of failure, no matter what the consequences.
We all go through life making decisions by weighing the potential outcomes of our actions. But too often, people decide on a course of action based not on what they can achieve but on what fearful outcome they can avoid. As a result, individuals or circumstances that threaten these people with things they fear have power over them. Achieving personal power means finding the courage to drive ahead no matter what your opponent threatens. Whether the challenge be conflict with an employer, a legal confrontation, or personal combat, when you divorce yourself from fear of consequences, your adversary no longer holds any power over you.
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