“Hai! Hai! Hai!”
As Sensei Ro approached the training grounds of his dojo, he heard his senior apprentice, Tan, leading the students in their morning exercises. Excellent! Today’s lesson will be quite instructional.
Sensei Ro was a true master of the martial arts. He was the top student in his old master’s dojo. None of his fellow students had come close to his level. Ro won every contest and competition he entered, won every battle he ever faced. Ro had never been defeated… ever. Ro was, very probably, the greatest martial artist of the era. And, in the course of time, as he grew older, he opened his own dojo. The Dojo of Master Ro was the most prestigious in all the land, his students, the best.
As Sensei Ro entered the dojo, he snapped his fingers. Training stopped; the students lined up, Tan in the middle. Sensei looked closely at his students, his eyes fixing on his apprentice.
“Apprentice Tan, there are scars on your face.”
“Yes Sensei. I was out in the village running an errand, when I saw a gang of bandits robbing a woman in a dark alley. They were armed, and the woman was crying and begging for her life. I confronted them, disarmed them, and defeated them. I let them leave, carrying their wounded with them.”
“Were they so good that they were able to injure you? Perhaps I should have them join my dojo.”
“No Sensei, the bandits were unable to touch me. I beat them easily, without harm to myself.”
Ro cocked his head.
Tan blushed. “After the bandits fled, I tried to help the woman up. She screamed, and scratched my face. Her nails were long, and gouged me. She then ran away.”
Some in the class gasped, others giggled, but most tried to keep a straight face.
Sensei Ro gave the smallest of frowns. “Kneel, apprentice, and reflect on the event.”
Then, the Sensei addressed his students. “Class, why do we train?”
The class chorused, “Sensei, we train to become stronger, and to develop discipline.”
“Why do you wish to become stronger? Why do you need discipline?”
“Because people act on their worst instincts and are usually uncivilized. We must be prepared to deal with them, if they act against us.”
“That is correct, students. People act on their instincts; they do not think. If they want something, they take it. If they fear or envy someone, they attack them. We need strength to overcome others. We need discipline to overcome our own negative emotions, leaving us able to think and act rationally.”
“Yes, Sensei! Thank you, Sensei!”
“We will now take a short break, so that you may meditate on today’s lesson. Apprentice Tan, stand. Walk with me.”
Sensei Ro left the training grounds, Tan respectfully behind him. They walked to the old peach tree, where the Master bade his apprentice to sit with him. He nodded to Tan, and waved his hand toward him.
“Master, it was exactly as you teach us. The bandits were easy to understand. Like others, they were greedy for money, and too lazy to work for an honest day’s wages. But the woman surprised me. I thought she would be grateful, not hostile.”
“That, my apprentice, is the heart of human behavior. People usually show gratitude because they want something. Everything people do can be ascribed to wanting something. A man works because he wants possessions. A woman marries a man because she wants security. A child clings to parents for food and protection. The word love is often used, but without possessions, security, food, protection… well, see where love leads.”
Tan nodded his head slowly. “So the woman…”
“You had served your purpose to her by saving her. She was angry and scared, so she lashed out at you. Tell me Tan, does this incident make you hate people?”
“No Master. But I will not be caught by surprise again. I will be watching people much more closely.”
“That is good, Tan. We must not hate people. They cannot help acting according to their negative nature; it is just how people are. That is why I focus so much on discipline. We must never act in hatred, or we become no better than the people below us. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sensei Ro.”
“One last thing, Tan. Your desire to save a stranger is commendable. I would never discourage that. But do not do it expecting reward, or even gratitude, or you will find yourself disappointed. Do what you do for your own reasons, not for your expectations.”
“Yes, Master. This has been a lesson I will never forget.”
“Good. Finish the students’ morning training. I will be in my office.”
Master and apprentice bowed respectfully to each other, and left the peach tree.
As Sensei Ro walked to his office, he thought, This has, indeed, been an excellent lesson for Tan. With proper training, he will someday become a master. But all training is not to be found in a dojo. One must also be trained in the real world. The actors in his little lesson played their parts perfectly. Ro could not count on the timing of a random robbery taking place as Tan walked by on his errand, an errand the Sensei had set him on, so he made sure a robbery would be there for sure. The ruffians and the woman were well paid for their trouble, and had already left the province. The woman was splendid! She did her part perfectly! Now Tan was developing a proper understanding of the people he would have to deal with in the real world. A fine lesson indeed… the same one Ro’s master had taught him so many years ago.
The barest hint of a smile escaped from Sensei Ro’s lips, as he entered his office.