What Say You, Dog-Faced Foe?

18 Jul

It was once said that all good myths are, to some extent, based upon reality. I do not know whether the following actually occurred or is similar to Aesop’s famous fables, a story that relates a lesson.

A great battle between two warring Daimyo was drawing to a close. Both sides had suffered extreme losses. On a remote section of plateau, away from the core of the battle, two opposing Samurai encountered each other from a distance of about one hundred feet. The one samurai had his sword drawn, the other had an arrow set in his bow ready for the killing flight. Surely, the sword-bearing samurai, having a great distance to cover in order to reach his opponent, was about to die. Now, the myth ensues:

 The Archer called out to his opponent:
“What say you dog-faced foe?”
To which the Samurai replied:
“Whose only thoughts are of his Ancient Mother.”
After hearing this reply the archer returned his arrow to its quiver and spared the life of the samurai.

 Why did this occur and what is its significance?

First, it must be remembered that samurai of old were not only skilled in the martial arts, but were also skilled in other arts, including poetry and calligraphy. The preferred form of poetry was Haiku. Haiku has a rigid set of rules concerning structure. It is generally a short poem that is intended to convey an emotion or vision to the reader without specifically detailing the emotion or vision. A favorite activity was for one person to start a Haiku and for another to finish it. Such was the exchange above.

The encounter illustrates that the Samurai facing death still retained his composure and calmness and was able to furnish a reply that deeply touched his adversary. To face death and think not of oneself, but of one’s “ancient mother” is indeed profound.

Second, the story also illustrates the concept of Bushi No Nasake – “The tenderness of a warrior”. Many mistakenly believe that killing for a samurai was automatic once a battle commenced. In actuality, a warrior could spare the life of his adversary. However, mercy could not stem from a blind impulse. It must be rendered with due regard to justice and backed with the power to save or kill. Remember that it was a Samurai’s honor and duty to die in battle, thus, if his life was spared, it must be for a noble reason, less the life would be one of disgrace for both warriors.

Today, sadly it appears that such a concept of Bushi No Nasake is the exception and not the rule. At its heart, the concept recognizes the characteristics of honor, respect and the value of human life. Given today’s headlines reporting stories on domestic abuse, child neglect and such new phrases as “road rage” and “thrill-killing”, it is clear that humans no longer respect each other. People no longer cloak themselves in that blanket known as a sense of honor. If one cannot comprehend honor and respect, one cannot understand true mercy and the strength of character required to outwardly manifest same. The only response becomes one of aggression.

As karate-ka, we have the ability to self-govern ourselves to avoid such aggressive behavior. We test ourselves routinely through our training (particularly kata training) and as such, no longer have to prove anything to ourselves, or others. Thus, we can act with compassion in situations that others would meet with aggression.

When training, please remember to bear in mind the concepts of Bushi No Nasaki, compassion, tenderness, honor and a sense of justice within one’s own actions. Justice can and should never be compromised. The qualities are difficult to grasp, but through the enlightenment of karate training in general and kata training in particular, are never lost. The end result of any human encounter can ultimately involve devastating results, one must have the strength of character to properly access the encounter, to then apply the appropriate response and finally, to live peacefully with the result. Please remember too that this applies to all human encounters, work-related, social, economic, fleeting, etc., not only martial encounters.

In closing I remain, a dog-faced foe, embracing Bushi-No Nasake

   szmitowski_print_small   HANKO-DEF-R-reverse

Sensei John Szmitkowski

lab collage-3   For a refreshing and innovative discourse on kata and bunkai, please feel free to visit Sensei John’s Kata Laboratory and “THINK * SWEAT * EXPERIMENT” using this convenient link: http://senseijohn.me/category/kata-laboratory/

seiza - ringwoodFor details on how to “cyber-participate” in Sensei John’s most recent group Sanchin Kata session, please use this link: http://senseijohn.me/category/a-sanchin-pilgrimage/

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