A Story from Zen and the Martial Arts

September 16, 2010 at 6:57 AM | Posted in Annals of Management, Leadership | Leave a comment
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Every time I’ve read Zen and the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams one story or one of the 28  short chapters has stuck with me more than another. This time, after my sixth reading, I keep thinking about the chapter Karate without Weapons. Zen, like all old traditions, is built on stories handed down from teacher to a student who then becomes a teacher who passes the wisdom on … and as Vonnegut wrote, “and so it goes.” 

A chapter to ponder

 

Hyams relates a story written by Gichin Funakoshi in his book Karate Do: My Way of Life. Funakoshi, who wrote this book when he was 90, tells the following story of his teacher, Master Matsumura. Matsumura, the greatest Master in the land had been fired by the head of the clan for teaching too well — and for, in effect, showing up the clan leader.The Master meets an engraver who is a strongman and great in his own right. The engraver humbly asks Matsumura to teach him. 

Matsumura is insulted and refuses the engraver. How could he, who once taught the head of the clan, now teach a humble engraver? The engraver then proposes a fight which doesn’t quite come off as the Master finds himself. His words are worth study: 

“When I came into your shop yesterday, I was unhappy about being reprimanded by the head of the clan. When you challenged me I was worried about that too, but once we decided on a match, all my worries vanished. I realized that I had been worried about relatively small matters — with refinements of technique, with the skills of teaching, with flattering the head of the clan. I had been preoccupied with retaining my position…. Today I am a wiser man than I was yesterday. I am a human being and a human being is a vulnerable creature who cannot possibly be perfect…. Vanity is the only obstacle to life.” 

       —-  Zen in the Martial Arts, Joe Hyams, Page 129.

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