following story relates the "perfect man" concept as it is
told in a tale related by Suzuki. (Z&JC p.210-212)
swordsman called Umedzu, probably of the early seventeenth century,
was known for his proficiency in the art of swordplay and was quite
conscious of it himself. When he heard that Toda Seigen was coming to
Mino, where Umedzu was teaching the art, he was anxious to try his
skill with him. Seigen, however, was not at all eager to accept the
challenge. He said, `The sword is used only when criminals are
punished or when honor is involved. Neither of us is a criminal, nor
is there any question of honor between us. What then is the use of a
contest?" Umedzu took this for an excuse on Seigen's part to
avoid defeat. He grew all the more arrogant and publicly asserted
himself to that effect.
Yoshitatsu, lord of Mino, heard of the challenge and, getting
interested in the matter, dispatched two of his retainers and
courteously asked Seigen to accept. But Seigen refused to respond.
The request was thrice repeated. Not being able to refuse any longer,
he consented. An umpire was to be elected. The place and the date
took the matter quite seriously and devoted two nights and three days
in succession to practicing a religious rite of purification. Someone
suggested to Seigen that he follow the example. But he quietly
declined, saying. `I am always cultivating a heart of sincerity. It
is not something the gods will give me in cases of emergency. I have
no idea of hurting anybody. I have simply accepted the challenge
because I thought it was not, after all, gentlemanly to keep on
refusing so persistent a request from the lord of the province.'
the day came, both combatants appeared in the appointed field. Umedzu
was accompanied by a large number of his pupils. He carried a wooden
sword as long as three feet six inches, while Seigen had a short one
no longer that one foot three inches. Umedzu then asked the umpire to
permit the use of a real sword. This was transmitted to Seigen who,
however, declined the proposal, adding that if Umedzu wished he was
free to have a real sword instead of a wooden one in the impending
contest; as for himself, Seigen was contented with his short wood
substitute. The umpire decided that each should have a wood piece and
not the steel, though its length was left to each to choose his own.
were now ready. Umedzu with his longer weapon acted like a fierce
lion trying to strike the opponent down with one blow. Seigen looked
quite nonchalant, like a sleepy cat about to catch a rat. When they
had been facing each other for a while, Seigen uttered a cry and at
once his short sword apparently struck Umedzu's neck, for it began to
bleed. Incensed with this blow, Umedzu tried to crush the opponent
with all his energy in one sweeping stroke of his long heavy stick.
But before this was done, Seigen gave another hard blow on his
opponent's right arm, which made Umedzu drop his weapon. It was
broken into two pieces under Seigen's feet. Umedzu now attempted to
unsheathe the sword in his belt, but his arm failed to obey his will,
and he fell to the ground. One of the onlookers later reported,
`Seigen's action was like splitting a piece of bamboo - so easy, so
clear-cut, so indifferent'. -And `so unobstructed', the Kegon
Buddhists might add.
was no more a mere swordsman, he was Chuang-tzu's `perfect man' who
`could not be drowned in water nor burned in fire'. Umedzu was just
the opposite. He knew nothing of the moral and the spiritual side of
his art that was really the essence of it. His egotistic pride was
boundless. He thought his self-asserting aggressiveness, backed by
his mastery of the technique, made complete swordsmanship. He never
realized that mere offensiveness, characterizing the Japanese method
of swordplay, was after all nothing unless something transcending the
sportive spirit of winning and losing controlled the entire procedure
of combat. Not only must the desire to be victorious or to be not
defeated be entirely absent itself from the consciousness of the
combatant; the philosophical problem of life and death must be fully
settled, not theoretically or conceptually, indeed, but in the most
concretely practical way. For this reason Ichiun as well as Yagyu
Tajima no kami emphasized the importance of Zen training whereby the
swordsman would be able to transcend the limits of his technique."
The Swordsman and
was once a swordsman called Shoken, who was very much annoyed by a
furious rat in his house. The rat was bold enough to come out of its
hiding place even in the daytime. Shoken made his pet cat go after
it, but she was not its equal, and being bitten by it, she ran away
screaming. The swordsman now hired some of the neighboring cats noted
for their skill and courage in catching rats. They were let loose
against the rat. Crouching in a corner, it watched the cats approach
it and furiously attacked them one after another. The cats were
terrified and all beat a retreat.
master became desperate and tried to kill the rat himself. Taking up
his wooden sword he approached it, but every effort of the
experienced swordsman proved ineffectual, for the rat dodged his
sword so skillfully that it seemed to be flying through the air like
a bird or even lightning. Before Shoken could follow its movement, it
had already made a successful leap at his head. He was perspiring
heavily and finally decided to give up the chase.
a last resort, he sent for the neighboring Cat widely known for her
mysterious virtue as the most able rat-catcher. The Cat did not look
in any way especially different from other cats that had been invited
to fight the rat. The swordsman did not think very much of her, but
let her go into the room where the rat was located. The Cat went in
quietly and slowly as if she was not cognizant of any unusual scene
in the room. The rat, however, was extremely terrified at the sight
of the approaching object and stayed motionless, almost stupefied, in
the corner. The Cat almost nonchalantly went for the rat and came out
carrying in by the neck.
the evening, all the cats who had participated in the rat-catching
had a grand session at Shoken's house, and respectfully asked the
great Cat to take the seat of honor. They made profound bows before
her and said: "We are all noted for valor and cunning, but never
realized that there was such an extraordinary rat in the world. None
of us was able to do anything with it until you came; and how easily
you carried the day! We all wish you to divulge your secrets for our
benefit, but before that let us see how much we know about the art of
black cat came forward and said: "I was born in a family reputed
for its skill in the art. Since my kitten days I have trained myself
with a view to becoming a great rat-catcher. I am able to leap over a
screen as high as seven feet; I know how to squeeze myself through a
tiny hole which allows a rat only. I am proficient in performing all
kinds of acrobatics. I am also clever at making the rats think that I
am sound asleep, but I know how to strike at them as soon as they
come within my reach. Even those running over the beam cannot escape
me. It is really a shame that I had to retreat before that old rat
The following poem is from The
Way of Chuang Tzu by
Thomas Merton (Merton, WofCT, p.143).
Prince of Wu took a boat to Monkey Mountain. As soon as the monkeys
saw him they all fled in panic and hid in the treetops. One monkey,
however, remained, completely unconcerned, swinging from branch to
branch - an extraordinary display! The Prince shot an arrow at the
monkey, but the monkey dexterously caught the arrow in mid-flight. At
this the Prince ordered his attendants to make a concerted attack. In
an instant the monkey was shot full of arrows and fell dead.
the King turned to his companion Yen Pu'i: `You see what happened?'
he said. `This animal advertised his cleverness. He trusted in his
own skill. He thought no one could touch him. Remember that! Do not
rely on distinction and talent when you deal with men!'
they returned home, Yen Pu'i became the disciple of a sage to get rid
of everything that made him outstanding. He renounced every pleasure.
He learned to hide every `distinction'.
no one in the Kingdom knew what to make of him. Thus they held him in