Tea Ceremony and Zen Defense

I often find interesting reflections on conflict in Japanese culture, though many people think it very martial and not reflective. I just had this story from my friend Howard B, which I think interesting and generative: 

“Tajima Kozo, a chado-sensei or master of the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu), was challenged to a duel by an unscrupulous ronin (master less samurai) who was a quite competent swordsman. Honor forbade Tajima from declining. refuse the challenge without loss of honor, the master prepared to die.

He therefore went to call on a neighboring master of kenjutsu (sword art) and asked him to teach him how to die properly. ‘Your intention is most laudable’, said the kenjutsu-sensei, ‘and I should be very happy to help you, but first of all kindly serve me a cup of tea please.’ Tajima was delighted to have the chance to practice his skill, probably for the last time, and so he was totally absorbed in the ceremony of preparing the tea, forgetting what was in store for him. The expert was deeply impressed by his degree of serenity at such a solemn time: ‘There is no need for me to teach you how to die’, he told him. ‘Your concentration of mind is so great that you can let yourself encounter any sword expert. When you are facing the ronin, first imagine that you are about to serve tea to a guest. Greet him courteously. Take off your coat, fold it carefully and place your fan on top of it, exactly as you have just done. Then draw your katana and raise it above your head, ready to strike when the opponent attacks, and concentrate on this action alone.’

Tajima thanked him and went to the place appointed for the fight. He followed the kenjutsu-sensei’s advice and took it further. Tajima actually prepared tea, flawlessly carrying out the movements of cha-no-yu in the sands of the dueling place. Honor required that the ronin accept the cup, and go through, not as elegantly, the requisite observations and courtesies. 

Tajima carefully cleaned and repackaged the utensils. He then stood, and, perhaps not in the perfect positions of the sword art, raised his sword and looked at the ronin. Tajima meditated on two precepts of Miyamoto Musashi, “treat your enemy as an honored guest”, and “fight as if you are already dead.” The ronin reached out his perceptions, and could only sense Tajima in the Void. 

The ronin, his belly filled with cold fear, hurled his katana to the sand and prostrated himself, begging forgiveness.


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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