Landmark Education and the Landmark Forum

May 27, 2008

Win by losing

Filed under: inspiration — Tags: , , , — landmarkeducationinaustralia @ 7:45 pm

Today’s tale comes from Gichin Funakoshi, father of modern day karate. I love this story, because it points to the purpose of battle training to not be to seek violent resolution to conflict, but rather to master one’s own fear so that one can avoid it. Or, to put in other terms, the willingness to not be right is a small price to pay for peace!

Win by Losing

The lonely road to Mawashi wandered through thick pine groves, and in the fading afternoon light was quite dark, so I was taken quite by surprise when two men suddenly sprang from the shelter of the trees into the path to bar my way. They had covered their faces with towels. It was evident at once they were not merely bent on provoking a good natured free for all.

“Well,” cried one of them in a most insolent tone, “don’t just stand there as if you were deaf and dumb. You know what we want. Speak up! Say ‘Good evening, sir’ and tell us what a fine day it is. Don’t waste our time, small fry, or you’ll be sorry. I can promise you that!”

The angrier they grew, the calmer I felt. I could tell from the way the one man who had spoken to me clenched his fists that he was not a karate man; and the other, who was carrying a heavy stick, was also clearly an amateur. “Haven’t you mistaken me,” I asked quietly “for someone else? Surely there has been some misunderstanding. I think if we talked it over…”

“Ah, shut up, you little shrimp!” snarled the man with the club. “What do you take us for?”

With this, the two moved a little nearer, but I did not feel intimidated in the least. “It seems,” I said, “that I’m going to have to fight you after all, but frankly my advice to you is not to insist. I don’t think it’s going to do you much good because…”

The second of the two men now raised the heavy stick he was carrying.

“…because,” I went on quickly, “if I wasn’t sure of winning I would not fight. I know I’m bound to lose. So why fight? Does that make sense?”

At these words, the two seemed to calm down a bit. “Well,” said one of them, “you certainly don’t put up much of a fight. Let’s have your money then.”

“I haven’t got any,” I replied, showing them my empty pockets.

“Some tobacco then!”

“I don’t smoke.”

All that I did have, in fact, were some manju cakes that I was taking to offer at the altar in the house of my wife’s father. “Here,” I said to the men, “take these.”

“Only manju!” Their tone was disparaging. “Well, better than nothing.” Taking the cakes, one of them said, “Better get going, shrimp. And be careful, this path’s kind of dangerous.” With that they disappeared into the trees.

A few days later I happened to be with Azato and Itosu, and in the course of conversation I told them about the incident. The first to praise me was Itosu, who said that I had bhaved with the utmost propriety and that he now considered that the hours he had spent teaching me karate had been well spent.

“But,” asked Azato, smiling, “as you no longer had any manju, what did you offer at your father-in-law’s altar?”

“Since I had nothing else,” I replied, “I offered a heartfelt prayer.”

“Ah, good, good!” cried Azato. “Well done, indeed! That’s the true spirit of karate. Now you are beginning to understand what it means.”

I tried to smother my pride. Although the two masters had never praised a single kata that I executed during our practice sessions, they were praising me now, and mingled with the pride was an abiding sense of joy.


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