There are numerous stories concerned with a man – perhaps a farmer – completely ignorant of fencing who has to fight a duel against an expert. He consults with a master of the Way, a retired fencer, who tells him what to do. In many of the stories the master tells him that he must make up his mind that he has no chance of saving his own life; the best he can do is kill his adversary at the same time. He makes the farmer sit and meditate on this for some time, until at last the latter says, ‘I am resolved now – there’s no escape for me, and all I want to do is to preserve honour by taking his life for mine.’
Then the master goes with him to the courtyard where the duel is to be fought the next day. The master looks for some distinctive mark on the ground, say a small reddish patch, and points it out to the farmer. ‘Tomorrow arrive early and take up your position here, with your left foot on this patch. This is your starting point. You will be facing the sun and he won’t object – he will be smiling at your ignorance. I’m not going to show you how to hold the sword – take it up any way you like. Now I stand a little distance in front of you, and I want you to watch me and imitate exactly my movements.’
There is a certain risky coup in Japanese fencing, which depends on taking two very large steps – almost leaps – quickly and without any hesitation. It means passing right under the threat of the opponent’s sword, and even fairly experienced fencers sometimes fail in their attempt because inner tension makes them hesitate and also shorten the steps. In practising this coup, a student often feels that he is making wide steps, but an expert onlooker sees that in fact they are short. The fear of coming in right under the other sword contracts the muscles and inhibits free movement. The action itself is not difficult; what is difficult is to make it without any hesitation and to keep the steps very long.
The farmer soon learns to make the move, and the teacher gets him to lengthen the steps more and more. Now the master stands with his left foot on the reddish patch. He makes the two strides himself like lightning, giving a tremendous shout, as his sword swishes in the final cut. He says, ‘You saw that my feet trod on these two places in the ground. I am now going to press two pebbles into the earth on the exact spots. Those places are charged with my power. Try now a few times – bring your feet on to those pebbles and make the cut in a single movement. Tread on the same places as I did and you will feel my power; make the same cut as I did and you will feel my power} give the same shout as I did and you will feel my power. Now try . . . you feel the power, don’t you! Tomorrow, do that. He will be a man standing on a little rock in front of a mighty wave. His sword may cut it, but it knocks him off the rock and he is drowned.’
The next day when the referee gave the signal, the farmer leapt forward with a tremendous shout, and his startled opponent was unable to react in time.
There are many such stories, but it is not sufficient merely to know them. Intellectual people tend to write off such things as psychological tricks, suggestions which are ‘untrue, but give confidence – to those who believe them’. As a result they themselves get nothing out of it. All the time they are saying inwardly, ‘All that talk about charging with power . . . the teacher wanted to give him confidence, and it might work with simple people, but intelligent people can see it isn’t true.’ Anything a teacher says is neutralized by being ‘interpreted’ as some kind of psychological means.
This is a mistake, and those who persist in it make little progress in the Ways. What the teacher says is true, and has to be accepted as true. There is a literal transference of power from the teacher to the pupil through the pebbles, through the shout. In the tiny area of that particular technique, on that particular occasion, the teacher does transfer his power and skill to a pupil who has real faith, and who has given up the idea of preserving anything of his own. By putting his feet on the pebbles, by the shout, by the spiritual preparation, the pupil momentarily becomes the teacher} for an instant he actually feels the confidence and power of a past-master. It is a fractional manifestation of the Way.