The art of the wonderful cat and the fencing master!
Today I want to talk to you about a story, “the art of the wonderful cat and the fencing master!”
I want you to know this story, even if it doesn’t have something technical for combat or self-defense actually teaches you a lot.
I hope you will feel the importance in your path as a fighter to understand something that goes beyond your physicality and your technique because the art of fighting is a way of life, it is in your daily life.
Whether you practice combat sports, self-defense or martial art this story has an important message for you!
The art of the wonderful cat and the fencing master
Once upon a time there was a fencing master called Shoken.
In his house, a large rat caused disorder.
He ran everywhere even in broad daylight.
One day, the landlord locked him in his room and told the pet cat to take it.
But the rat jumped at the cat’s throat and bit him so cruelly that it ran away meowing very hard.
Shoken later brought several nearby cats, renowned for their great value, and let them into the room.
The rat was sitting, curled up in a corner, and as soon as one of the cats approached him, he jumped on him, bit him and put him on the run.
The rat looked so fierce that none of the cats dared to approach him a second time.
Then the landlord went on a rampage and gave himself the hunt for the rat to kill him.
But the latter avoided all the blows of the skilful fencing master who ended up breaking doors, shoji, karami and other objects, while the rat cleaveed the air, as fast as lightning, dodging his every movement.
And finally, leaping over his face, he bit him.
In the end, dripping with sweat, Shoken called his servant:
“It would seem,” he said, “that six or seven cho away, live the most valiant cat in the world. Go and bring him here.”
The servant brought the cat.
In fact, it was a cat that didn’t look very different from the other cats.
He didn’t look particularly smart or particularly dangerous.
At first glance, he did not inspire a particular confidence even to the fencing master.
Nevertheless, he opened the door to her and let her in.
Calm and silent, as if expecting nothing singular, the cat advanced into the room.
The rat had a jump and never moved.
The cat, with simplicity, slowly approached him, took him with his mouth and carried him out.
That night the defeated cats gathered at Shoken’s house.
Respectfully, they offered the old cat the place of honor, knelt before her and said modestly:
“We all have a reputation for being intrepid and valiant. We trained in this way and sharpened our claws in order to defeat any rat, and even otters and weasels. Never, however, could we have believed that such a strong rat could exist. What art made it so easy for you to defeat him? Don’t keep it a secret, tell us.’
So, the old cat laughed and said,
“You other young cats, all quite valiant, ignore the real Way. That’s how you’re not successful when you’re faced with something you have no idea about. But first, tell me how you trained?”
A black cat came up and said,
“I come from a offspring famous for catching rats. So, I decided to continue on this path. I often jump two-meter-high vests. I can slip into a tiny hole where only a rat can slip in. As a child, I practiced in all acrobatic arts. When I see a rat running on a beam, even though I have just come out of sleep and not fully in me, as soon as I find the lucidity of spirit, with a single leap I catch it. But this rat was the strongest I’d ever met, and I suffered the scariest defeat of my life. I feel ashamed of it.’
So, the old cat said,
“What you have practiced in is only one technique (shosa, a purely physical art). When the ancients taught the technique, for them it was one of the forms of the Way (michisuji). Their technique was simple but it encompassed the highest wisdom. Today’s world is all about technology. Of course, many things were invented according to the recipe: “As long as you do this or that, you get this or that”. But what do we get? Just skills. Abandoning the traditional route, it is established, using intelligence until abusing it, competition in technology and at that point no more advances. This is always the case, if you think of nothing but technique and if you use only your own intelligence. It is certainly a function of the spirit, but if it does not take root in the Way and if it aims exclusively at skill, it becomes the germ of the false and the result is nefarious. So gather in yourself and practice from now on in the right sense.”
He came up, in turn, a large tiger-haired cat who said:
“I think that in chivalrous art only the spirit counts. So, I’ve always worked to strengthen the power of ki. It seems to me that now, my spirit is as hard as steel and free; full of the spirit (ki) that fills earth and sky. As soon as he perceives the enemy, already this powerful ki fascinates him and captures him and in advance the victory is mine. Only then do I approach, without thinking, just as the situation requires. I orient one’s ‘sound’ to my opponent. I enchant the rat according to my will, right, left, I understand and control all its movements. I take care of the technique as such. It is self-made. A rat runs on a beam: fixed it… and it already falls, it’s mine. But here, this mysterious rat arrives without form and leaves without a trace. What is it? I ignore it.”
So, the old cat said,
“What you have given so much pain to, is only a psychic force and there is no result of the good that deserves the name of good. Just being aware of the power you want to use to win is enough to act against your victory. Your self comes into play. But if the other’s self is stronger than yours, what’s going to happen? If you want to defeat the enemy only by your superior strength, he opposes his. Can you imagine that only you are strong, and do you think everyone else is weak? But how can we behave if there is something that cannot be defeated, even with the best will, with one’s own superior strength? Here’s the question. The spiritual strength that you feel in you “as hard as steel, free and that fills earth and sky”, is not the great Power (Ki-no-sho) in itself, but only its reflection. And so your spirit is only the shadow of the great Spirit. It seems to be the vast Power, but it’s actually far from it. The Spirit of which Mencio speaks is strong because it is constantly illuminated by a great clearly. Your spirit, on the other hand, has its own power only under certain conditions. Your strength and the one mencio talks about have a different origin and their effect is also different. They are as opposed as the eternal yang-tse-kiang current and a sudden night tsunami. But what spirit should be shown when one is in the presence of what cannot be won by any contingent spiritual force (kisei)? A proverb says: ‘A trapped rat also bites the cat’. The enemy in the face of death does not depend on anything. He forgets his life, forgets every need, forgets himself, is free to win and fail. It no longer aims to preserve its existence. That is how one’s will is like steel. How can we overcome it with a spiritual force that is conferring on oneself?”
Then an older gray cat bowed and said:
“Yes, in truth it is as you say. However great the psychic power may be, it contains a form (katachi). But anything that has a shape, however subtle it may be, can be grasped. For this reason, for a long time, I have trained my soul (kokoro: the power of the heart). It is not I who exercise this power that terrifies the other spiritual mind (the “self”, like the second cat). And I don’t even fight (like the first cat). I ‘reconcile’ with the one in front of me, he and I are but one and I do not object in any way. When the other is stronger than me, I give in and abandon myself, so to speak, to his will. In a way, my art is to use a soft net to seize a rock that has been hurled. The rat that wants to attack me, as long as it is, finds nothing to lean on, nothing to gain momentum from. Still, this rat was not at the game. He has arrived, he has left, elusive as a deity. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Then the old cat replied:
“What you call conciliation does not come from Being, from great Nature. It is a deliberate, artificial, cunning conciliation. Consciously, you want to escape the aggression of the enemy. But if your thought goes to this, albeit for a moment, he realizes your intention. Well, if having such a inclination shows you conciliatory, your spirit ready for attack is altered; your perception and action are agitated at the root. Everything you undertake with a conscious intention hinders the original vibration of the great Nature, prevents the gushing of the secret source and disrupts the flow of its spontaneous movement. So where could miraculous efficacy come from?
It is only not thinking about anything, not wanting anything and doing nothing, but abandoning yourself in your movement to the vibration of Being, that you will not have a form that can be grasped. Nothing that exists on earth can stand as anti-form. And so there is no longer an enemy that can resist.
I am not at all of the opinion that all that you have striven to acquire is worthless. Everything and anything can be a way of following the Way. Technique and Via can be identical. In this case, the great Spirit, “the agent,” is integrated into it and manifests itself in the action of the body. The strength of the great Spirit (ki) is at the service of the human person (ishi). If someone’s Ki is free, he knows how to face everything, in the right way, in his infinite freedom. In combat, without using a particular force, his spirit, in a state of conciliation, will not yield to gold or stone. Only one thing matters: that the slightest suspicion of self-consciousness does not come into play, otherwise all is lost. If you think about the purpose, even in a fleeting way, everything becomes artificial. This does not come from Being, from the original vibration of the via-body (do-tai). In this case, the enemy will not be at your mercy, but will resist you.
What method, what art, should you use? Only if you are in the position of being free from all consciousness of the self (mu-shin), only if you act “without acting”, without intention and without cunning – in harmony with the great Nature – then, and only then, you are on the true Way. Abandon all intention, train for non-intention and let The Being do it. This Way is endless and inexhaustible.”
Then, the old cat added something amazing: “You must not believe that what I have just told you is the highest you can find. Not long ago, in a village near mine, a cat lived. He slept throughout the day. Nothing in him hinted at something resembling a spiritual force. He stood there, lying like a piece of wood. No one had ever seen him catch a rat. Well, where he slept and lived, as well as in the surroundings, there were no rats. Wherever he appeared and lay down, there was no sign of rats. One day I went to see him and asked him how this should be interpreted. I didn’t get a response. Three more times, I asked the question. He was silent. Not because he didn’t want to answer, but because, clearly, he didn’t know what to answer. So I understood: “He who knows something, does not know that he knows.” This cat had forgotten himself and, at the same time, had forgotten everything around him: he had become “nothing” and had reached the highest degree of non-intentionality. And we can say that he found the divine Way of the Knight: to win without killing. I’m way behind him.”
Shoken listened to all these things like a dream. He approached, greeted the old cat and said, “For a long time now I have been trained in the art of fencing, but I have not yet reached the end. I have listened to your words and I believe I have understood the true meaning of my way; but now, now, please tell me more about your secret.”
Then the old cat said, “How can such a thing be possible? I’m just an animal and the rat is my food; what do I know about human issues? I only know this: the art of fencing is not to win over an opponent. Better yet, thanks to this art we come, at a given moment, to the great clarity of the luminous foundation of death and life (seishi wo akiraki ni suru). A true knight, through his exercises, must devote himself to spiritual training in the sense of this clarity. Well, in order to do so, it must first explore the doctrine of the foundation of being, of life, of death and of the order of death (shi no ri). But only the one who is free from all that distracts him from the Way, free above all from the thought that limits and stops him, can achieve great clarity. Unltered, left to himself, freed from the self and everything else, the Being and his movement (shinki) will manifest itself in complete freedom when and where this is necessary. But if the heart is attached to something, albeit very little, the Being is hindered and blocked. Well, if the heart has become ‘stuck on itself’, there will also be a self stuck on itself and something that is opposed to it. Thus it happens that two forces oppose and fight for their existence. But in this case, the best functions of Being, which are up to every change, are inhibited. And if death comes at that moment, the very sense of clarity of Being is lost. How could we, under these conditions, face the enemy in the right way and safely consider victory or defeat? Even if victory were to be achieved, it would only be a blind victory that has nothing to do with the sense of art of true fencing.
Being free from everything does not mean emptiness at all. Being as such has no nature of its own. It is beyond all forms. In addition, it does not accumulate anything in itself. This means that if we ever try to hold back even the smallest thing, the great Force clings to it and the original balance of forces is lost. No matter how little The Being finds itself attached to something, it is no longer free to move and no longer flows or springs into its full and whole abundance. If the balance that comes from Being is disturbed, its strength quickly overflows where, in spite of everything, it can flow, but where it cannot flow, nothing is possible.
So what is called freedom from everything means nothing but this: if nothing accumulates, if nothing is based, if nothing is blocked, there is no strong non-contradiction, neither I nor anti-I. And if something happens, you meet it unconsciously and it leaves no trace. In Eki (The King “The Book of Change”) it is said: “Without thinking, without action, without movement, everything is silent: only in this way can one be witnesses from within the Being and the Law of Things, completely unconsciously, and finally become One with Heaven and the Earth.”
He who exercises the art of fencing in this way and lives like this is close to the truth of the Way.”
Shoken, having listened to these things, asked, “What does it mean that there is neither I nor I, nor subject, or object?”
The cat replied, “Because there is an ego, there is also an enemy. If we don’t manifest ourselves like I do, there won’t even be any adversaries. What we call that is just a different name for opposition. For as long as things maintain a form, they always have a counter-form. Every time something freezes, there’s a particular shape. If my being is not conceived as a particular form, there is not even its counter-form. Where there is no opposition, there is not even something that can be against. This means: there is neither I nor anti-I; if one abandons ourselves totally, if in this way one becomes free from everything, one is in harmony with the Universe, One with everything, in the great Solitude. Even if the form of the enemy is extinguished, we do not become aware of it. Not that we don’t notice it, but you don’t stop there; the spirit moves, continually free from all fixation and responds simply by acting freely from the bottom of Being. If the spirit is free from all occupation, the world, as it is, is entirely our world and only forms one with us. It is then understood beyond good and evil, sympathy and antipathy. Nothing bothers us anymore and nowhere is it related. All opposition, gain and loss, good and evil, suffering and joy, come to us.
That is why in all the extent of Heaven and the Earth, nothing deserves as much to be known as its being. An ancient poet said:
“A speck of dust in our eye, and the three worlds still hold us close.
This means: if a speck of dust enters the eye, it can no longer open, since a clear sight is not possible until it is empty. May this serve us as a parable for Being, which is enlightening light and free in itself of all that is something.
Another poet said:
“Surrounded by a hundred thousand enemies, I shall be crushed as a form. But Being is, and remains, however strong the adversary may be. No enemy can ever penetrate it.”
“You cannot steal the Being, not even that of a simple man.”
But if the spirit becomes disordered, the Being turns against us. That’s all I can tell you. Now gather and look for yourself.”
A teacher can only try to inform his disciple and explain his reasons to him.
But only I myself can recognize the truth and integrate it.
This is what is called self-integration (jitoku). The transmission is from heart to heart (ishin denshin).
It is a transmission that takes place in addition to doctrine and erudition (kyogai betsuden).
This does not mean: to contradict the master.
He simply wants to say: even a teacher would not be able to convey the truth.
This is not just true of Zen.
Starting from the spiritual exercises of the ancients, passing through the culture of the soul, to the fine arts, self-integration is always the central node, and this is none other than heart to heart.
Each “teaching” merely indicates, to orient towards what is already within itself without it being known. Therefore, there is no secret that the teacher can “transmit” to his disciple.
It’s easy to teach. It’s easy to hear.
It is difficult to become aware of what is within one of us; to find it and really take possession of it.
This is called: “Looking into one’s being. Vision of Being (ken-six, ken-sho).
If this happens to us, we have the Satori: the great Awakening from the dream, from illusions.
To awaken, to look in one’s being, to understand the Truth of Self: all this is the same coast.
Extract from an ancient Taoist and Zen-inspired book dedicated to fencing.
Probably written by one of the first masters of the Japanese School Ittôryû, founded in the 17th century.
This version was reported by K. von Dürckheim from Japan.
There is another version in “Zen and Japanese Culture”, London, 1960, by D.T. Suzuki.)
This also serves in the path of martial arts and self-defense.
The art of the wonderful cat and the fencing master!
Street Fight Mentality
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